CHICAGO (JGL) – President Barack Obama reaffirmed Tuesday the United States’ strong commitment to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for “a regional order where international rules and norms — and the rights of all nations, large and small — are upheld” at the end of the two-day US-ASEAN Summit in Rancho Mirage California.
Obama and ten other ASEAN leaders, including President Aquino, concluded the first US-ASEAN Summit on Tuesday.
In a speech after the Summit, Obama said, “We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas. Freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded.” In a blunt warning to China, Obama said, “I reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same.
“We will continue to help our allies and partners strengthen their maritime capabilities. And we discussed how any disputes between claimants in the region must be resolved peacefully, through legal means, such as the upcoming arbitration ruling under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Seas, which the parties are obligated to respect and abide by.”
He said, “I made it clear that the United States will continue to stand with those across Southeast Asia who are working to advance rule of law, good governance, accountable institutions and the universal human rights of all people.
ENCOURAGE RETURN TO CIVILIAN RULE
“We continue to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand. We will sustain our engagement with the people of Myanmar as a new president is selected, and as they work to implement the ceasefire agreement and move forward with national reconciliation.”
President Obama also said, “We’ll continue to stand with citizens and civil society and defend their freedom of speech, of assembly and of the press. No one, including those in political opposition, should ever be detained or imprisoned simply for speaking their mind. That only stymies progress, only makes it harder for countries to truly thrive and prosper.”
He also offered assistance to help ASEAN countries better “leverage Interpol data to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters” and agreed to implement the Paris climate change agreement, including helping developing countries adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, which will be critical and will enable them to leap ahead to new and affordable clean energy.
Obama said the United States and ASEAN are doing more to deal with transnational challenges together. “I offered our assistance to help ASEAN counties better leverage Interpol data to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters. We agree that implementing the Paris climate change agreement, including helping developing countries adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, will be critical and it will enable them to leap ahead to new and affordable clean energy.”
He said he is also launching a new competition – an innovation challenge to encourage students across ASEAN to develop new solutions to boost agriculture. Obama added he is also moving ahead with “our Global Health Security Agenda to prevent future epidemics and I pledge additional U.S. assistance to help ASEAN combat the horror of human trafficking.”
REBALANCE (PIVOT) TO ASIA PACIFIC
He said he will keep America’s foreign policy rebalance (pivot) to the Asia Pacific, including Southeast Asia, to be a foreign policy priority of his waning presidency.
At a briefing prior to Obama’s speech, National Security Adviser Susan Rice told the media “U.S.-ASEAN relations have never been stronger. With nearly half the Earth’s population, one-third of global GDP, some of the world’s most capable militaries and some of the earth’s most critical ecosystems, the Asia Pacific region is increasingly the world’s political and economic center of gravity. Which is why President Obama, from the very beginning, has prioritized engagement with Asia, recognizing that this region is central to U.S. interests in the 21st century.
” The former US Ambassador to the United Nations said the economic ties are also booming. “We have a quarter-trillion-dollar trade relationship with ASEAN, up 55 percent since 2009. The ASEAN region is now the fourth-largest goods export market for the United States. Trade with ASEAN countries supports more than 500,000 American jobs. Last year alone, companies from right here in California exported $11 billion in goods to ASEAN. In fact, companies from all 50 of our states engage in trade with ASEAN. U.S. companies have been the largest investor in ASEAN, with a stock of more than $226 billion nearly doubling since 2008.”
During the press briefing, Rice said, “We will continue to work with our ASEAN partners on a potential statement by the partners” that will be ironed out at the end of the Summit. A press reporter told her that China was pressuring countries like Cambodia and Laos to tone down any strong statement against China’s aggressive reclamation of South China Sea.
On the North Korean issue, Rice said negotiations are “continuing on a Security Council resolution, which we expect will contain new sanctions, progress. And so we’ll be working on this issue, as we have been on multiple fronts simultaneously in the coming days.”
QUESTIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS RECORDS
Told that some of the leaders attending the Summit have questionable human rights records like Thongsing Thammavong of Laos, Hun Sen of Cambodia and Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei, Rice said, “We take every opportunity, both publicly and privately, to underscore our grave concerns about human rights. That’s why I made mention of that in my opening statement. That’s why I spent an hour and a half last week with leaders of ASEAN civil society to hear their points of view, to ensure that their perspectives and concerns were incorporated into our thinking and planning for this summit.”
She said the US has been a significant supporter of civil society organizations, citing Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which said, “is about the United States building people-to-people ties with the next generation of the region’s leaders. So just because, in Asia, as elsewhere, we are obliged to deal with governments, including in some cases those with whom we have significant disagreements on things like human rights, does not mean that we’re legitimizing them or their behavior, or that we have in any way lessened our commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society.”
Rice said President Obama used the venue at Sunnylands as a relaxed venue where heads of state and other leaders, his counterparts from around the world, can have a more informal, casual discussion. In Washington, there’s a little bit more of a stiffness. And the President wanted to be able to afford the world leaders here more of an opportunity to have a more candid, relaxed discussion.
All ASEAN countries were represented by their leaders, except Myanmar, who sent Vice President Nyan Tun. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung turned up, reversing an earlier decision not to come. According to White House pooled reporter when Obama greeted the 11 leaders on Monday, the order was arranged by how long they have been in office. The leaders who stay longer, the later they were greeted.
SULTAN PILOTED HIS WAY TO THE SUMMIT
President Obama first greeted ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh, and then the leaders from Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Laos, and Brunei. Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, has been in office for nearly five decades (he assumed office in 1967), so he was the last one to be greeted by President Obama.
The Sultan of Brunei piloted his jumbo airplane, which is bigger than Air Force One, to the airport of Palm Springs. While most of the leaders arrived in Palm Springs by airplanes, three leaders actually came here by motorcade from Los Angeles.
Several leaders are at the end of their terms, Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, will step down in May, and the President of Philippines, Benigno Aquino, will end his term of office on June 30, 2016.
A tidbit reported by the pooler was when President Obama asked the Prime Minister of Malaysia Mohd Najib Razak about his wife, he responded, “she’s in LA.” Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he had “spent the last four days in San Francisco.
” Obama greeted Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo with a few words in Bahasa Indonesia, which Widodo responded to. Obama then asked Mr. Widodo, “How is your family?’ Obama also asked the Sultan of Brunei about family, saying, “How’s it going? How’s your wife?” before turning to the retinue of ministers that each leader brought, saying, “Let me say hi to your delegation.” None of 12 leaders wore a tie, including President Obama, but they all wore coats under the 90-degree sun of Sunnylands.
8 CABINET SECRETARIES
Cabinet secretaries accompanying President Aquino to the summit include Albert Del Rosario (Foreign Affairs), Cesar Purisima (Finance), Voltaire Gazmin (Defense), Adrian Cristobal, Jr. (Trade), Emmanuel Esguerra (NEDA), Herminio Coloma, Jr. (Communications), Jose Rene Almendras, and Emmanuel De Guzman (Climate Change Commission).
The US-ASEAN Summit is the first standalone meeting held in the United States. It took place at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, where US President Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2013.
Later in the afternoon, President Aquino attended the first retreat session of US-ASEAN Summit on the theme of “Promoting an Innovative, Entrepreneurial ASEAN Economic Community.
” It will be followed by his attendance to the working dinner hosted by President Obama On February 16 (Tuesday), President Aquino participated in the second retreat session of the Summit under the topic “Protecting Peace, Prosperity, and Security in the Asia-Pacific.” Then he joined his counterparts for the official family photo opportunity.
After the summit, President Aquino headed to Los Angeles for a working visit, where he received three major American companies, Western Digital Corporation with its CEO Stephen Milligan, Walt Disney International with Chairman Andy Bird, and AECOM Enterprise Growth Solutions with its President Michael Donnelly. He later addressed the Los Angeles World Affairs Council (LAWAC), where his father the late Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. also spoke, at the Intercontinental Hotel.
President Aquino also greeted the members of the Filipino-American community in Los Angeles before flying back to Manila on February 17.