Date
22 July 2017
President Barack Obama welcomes Philippine leader Benigno Aquino III at the start of the US-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands, California. Photo: Reuters
President Barack Obama welcomes Philippine leader Benigno Aquino III at the start of the US-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands, California. Photo: Reuters

China is elephant in the room as Obama hosts ASEAN allies

President Barack Obama is hosting leaders from Southeast Asia in a summit aimed at boosting trade and creating a common stance on the South China Sea.

The White House hopes the meeting will cement US influence in the region, Reuters reports.

Obama will discuss efforts to curb North Korea and fight Islamic State militants during the two-day summit with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders in Sunnylands, a California resort.

The meeting, at the same location where Obama once hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping, is designed to show Washington’s commitment as a counterweight to Beijing and as an eager trading partner with ASEAN members.

It also helps cement a legacy issue for Obama, who has championed a trade and foreign policy pivot to Asia during his presidency and is determined to present the United States as a Pacific power.

“The Asia Pacific region is increasingly the world’s political and economic center of gravity,” White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice told reporters on Monday.

She said US companies have more than doubled investment in the region since 2008.

China’s role in the region hung over the meeting.

Rice said she expected China would support new international sanctions on North Korea for its recent rocket launches.

The first day of the summit was scheduled to focus on economic issues and trade, including discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which includes four ASEAN members — Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia.

Others are interested in joining and the White House wants to make sure the pact takes effect.

On Tuesday, the leaders will discuss maritime issues, including the South China Sea, where China and several Southeast Asian states have conflicting and overlapping claims.

White House officials have said Obama will deliver a tough message to China that disputes over the area must be resolved peacefully and not by bullying.

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CG/RA

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