OBAMA KICKS OFF TALKS WITH ASEAN LEADERS, EYES ENDURING PARTNERSHIP

OBAMA KICKS OFF TALKS WITH ASEAN LEADERS, EYES ENDURING PARTNERSHIP

RANCHO MIRAGE, United States — US President Barack Obama on Monday opened a meeting with leaders of Southeast Asian countries, looking to deepen what he called a “strong and enduring partnership.”

The two-day gathering, the first of its kind on US soil, will focus on economic and security issues.

Speaking at the opening session, Obama said he looked to build on the momentum of US engagement with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The two sides forged a strategic partnership aimed at deepening economic and security ties in Kuala Lumpur in November last year.

On Monday, the meeting focuses on economic issues, including discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral free trade pact signed earlier this month in New Zealand.

Four ASEAN countries are in the 12-member trade bloc, namely Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Other ASEAN members are Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand.

ASEAN countries are collectively the United States’ fourth-largest trading partner. Trade in goods expanded 5 percent in 2015 and now tops USD 226 billion, according to the White House.

On Tuesday, the two sides will hold a session on political and security issues, including terrorism, climate change, pandemics and maritime disputes.

Amid concerns that the United States might attempt to corral ASEAN countries into a united front against China, many observers have stressed that ASEAN has its own foreign policy principles and Washington should refrain from using the meeting against China. PNA/Xinhua/northboundasia.com