WASHINGTON (Alliance News) - US President Barack Obama will welcome leaders from south-east Asian nations to a California retreat centre Monday for talks centred on economic and security issues as part of his administration's broader focus on Asia.
The two days of talks with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are the first of their kind to be held on US soil and illustrate the nations' role as a "hub" within the region, White House officials said ahead of the meeting at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California.
"This summit is meant to send a signal going forward that the US values ASEAN, that we are going to be engaged in south-east Asia, we're going to be engaged in working with the nations of the Asia Pacific to set clear rules of the road on the various issues of common interest that we share with them," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said.
Obama will welcome the ASEAN leaders on Monday for talks on the economy focused on promoting innovation and entrepreneurship and a working dinner.
Myanmar's outgoing president, Thein Sein, said last week he will not attend the summit as originally planned, and will send a vice president instead, after his party suffered an unexpectedly comprehensive defeat in the November elections.
Four of the countries attending are part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal agreed last year, which Obama hopes to shepherd through Congress before he leaves office.
Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, praised the stability of the region and said it was a driver of economic growth. He stressed the summit was not being held as a response to China, noting that each of the countries has their individual relations with Beijing.
On Tuesday the leaders will discuss security concerns, including terrorism and efforts by Islamic State to gain a foothold in the region, as well as the dispute over the South China Sea.
China claims almost the entire sea, overlapping with territory of several ASEAN nations, and the dispute has overshadowed recent gatherings of the bloc.
The California meeting "will provide leaders a forum to strengthen cooperation" under the new US-ASEAN strategic partnership on political, security, and economic issues, which was launched in November in Kuala Lumpur, the White House said when it announced the summit.
Also on the agenda are climate change, combating pandemic diseases, good governance and the importance of democratic reforms.
Obama's last year in office marks a "year of significant attention on the Asia Pacific," with planned trips to Japan in May and China and Laos in September.