Obama Tells Asean U.S. Has ‘Enormous Stake’ in Asia

President Barack Obama told leaders of Southeast Asian nations the U.S. has an “enormous stake” in the region and intends to play a leadership role in Asia.

Exports to Southeast Asia support millions of jobs and the U.S. will pursue additional trade relationships there, Obama said at the start of a luncheon he’s leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations in New York.

Today’s gathering is the first such meeting in the U.S. and reflects Asean’s importance as an economic power, he said.

As part of U.S. engagement in the region “we’ve strengthened old alliances; we’ve deepened new partnerships, as we are doing with China; and we’ve reengaged with regional organizations, including Asean,” Obama said.

Asean nations were the fourth-biggest market for U.S. goods last year and the fifth-largest trading partner. Obama is seeking closer ties to Asean nations to counter China’s growing clout in the region. China’s share of Southeast Asia’s total commerce has increased to 11.6 percent from 4 percent in that time, while the U.S. portion fell to 9.7 percent from 15 percent, Asean statistics show.

The summit continues the “president’s commitment to deepen America’s engagement with Asia more broadly,” U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in a conference call earlier this week.

Beyond Japan and China

The summit with Asean leaders shows the administration doesn’t consider the U.S. relationship in Asia to focused only on Japan and China, the world’s two biggest economies after the U.S., Rhodes said.

The president met yesterday at the UN with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Those meetings also were focused largely on economic issues.

Obama has targeted the region for increased trade. Less than two months before congressional elections, with the economy a top issue for voters, the president is highlighting his goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years as a driver of economic growth.

The president’s export advisory group, headed by Boeing Co. Chief Executive Officer James McNerney and Xerox Corp. CEO Ursula Burns, released a report Sept. 16 recommending the government step up trade promotion and complete work on free- trade agreements.

Asean comprises Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

To contact the reporters on this story: Julianna Goldman in New York at jgoldman6@bloomberg.net; Kate Andersen Brower in New York at kandersen7@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva@bloomberg.net

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