President Barack Obama’s plan to meet Southeast Asian leaders this month reaffirms U.S. trust in a group that’s leading efforts to meet global economic and financial challenges, a regional official said.
“Re-engagement by the U.S. with Southeast Asia opens up new diplomatic possibilities, creates new trade and investment opportunities,” Surin Pitsuwan, Jakarta-based secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said today in an e-mailed response to questions by Bloomberg News. “Growth in this region is more robust and sustained than any other regions, North America and Europe included. Asean can play a modulating role in regional strategic and security relations.”
Obama has scheduled a Sept. 24 summit in New York with leaders of Asean, the fourth-biggest market for U.S. goods and a region his administration has targeted for increased trade.
The U.S. faced criticism last month for skipping a meeting of Asean trade ministers in Vietnam, as regional leaders awaited a schedule for the summit. Obama is seeking closer ties to Asean members to counter China’s growing clout in the region.
Obama last met with Asean leaders in Singapore in November 2009, the first U.S. president to do so.
“It will be significant for both sides to ensure that momentum created last year at their Singapore meeting will continue to gain faster pace,” Surin said. “Leaders can raise and discuss any issues in a free-flow format.”
China’s trade with Asean surpassed that of the U.S. in the past decade, growing to $178 billion last year. China’s share of Southeast Asia’s total commerce 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.
Asean members include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.