President Barack Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have met in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session. The U.S. and ASEAN committed to strengthening relations, and underscored the growing strategic importance of the relationship.
A White House readout of what was only the second U.S.-ASEAN summit – the first was in Singapore last year – focused on economic as well as global and regional issues, including non-proliferation, counter-terrorism efforts and climate change.
The statement said the prosperity of the U.S. and ASEAN are “increasingly intertwined”, noting that ASEAN economies together comprise the fourth largest export market for the U.S., with $146 billion in total two-way trade in 2009.
ASEAN leaders briefed Mr. Obama on the planned ASEAN Economic Community, to establish a single market and production base by 2015. President Obama, the statement said, pledged additional help in support of this goal.
The president said the U.S. as a Pacific nation has an enormous stake in the ASEAN region. “We need partnerships with Asian nations to meet the challenges of our growing economy, preventing proliferation and addressing climate change. As president I have therefore made it clear that the U.S. intends to play a leadership role in Asia. So we have strengthened old alliances, we have deepened new partnerships, as we are doing with China, and we have re-engaged with regional organizations, including ASEAN,” he said.
Mr. Obama said he has accepted the ASEAN invitation to attend the East Asia Summit, scheduled for Jakarta next year. That would be Mr. Obama’s second visit to Indonesia as president, after one scheduled for November on his way to a G-20 Summit in South Korea and the APEC Summit in Japan.
Vietnam’s President, Nguyen Minh Triet, spoke through an interpreter as the current chairman of ASEAN. “Vietnam and ASEAN always support the deepening of the relations between ASEAN and the U.S., bilaterally and multilaterally and we want to take our relations to the next level toward greater comprhensiveness and more substance for the peace, stability and development or our region,” he said.
Though not mentioned in the brief public speeches, North Korea, and Burma figured prominently in Friday’s talks.
The White House said Mr. Obama renewed his call on Burma’s military government to embark on a process of national reconciliation by releasing all political prisoners, including democracy figure Aung San Suu Kyi, and holding free and fair elections in November.
In a separate joint statement, ASEAN leaders reiterated a call for the elections in Burma to be conducted in a free, fair, inclusive and transparent manner in order to be credible for the international community.
They also welcomed what they called the continued U.S. engagement with Burma’s military government, saying they hope this will encourage Burma to undertake political and economic reforms to facilitate national reconciliation.
On North Korea, the U.S. and ASEAN reaffirm the importance of implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions. They call on Pyongyang to implement Six Party Talks commitments to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and return, at an early date, to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
The joint statement said Obama and ASEAN leaders also agreed on the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes in the region, freedom of navigation,stability, and respect for international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and other international maritime law. The White House summary said this included the South China Sea.
The White House noted on Friday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will take part in an initial East Asia Summit meeting in Hanoi at the end of October, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates will attend a meeting of Asia-Pacific defense ministers in Hanoi, also next month.