US-ASEAN “Sunnylands Summit” To Take Up South China Sea

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (JGL) – The United States and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will address “challenges on a diverse range of issues — from combating terrorism and pandemic disease, to upholding international law and standards in the South China Sea and in cyberspace, to taking meaningful action on climate change, inclusive economic growth, and trafficking-in-persons.”

On the eve AseanMembersFlagsof what the White House calls a two-day “Sunnylands Summit” that will be held in Palm Springs, California starting Feb. 15, a White House fact sheed described the first U.S.-ASEAN standalone Summit in the United States and the first Summit for the ASEAN Community as a “new milestone in our cooperation.”

U.S President Obama and leaders from the ASEAN, including Philippine President Benigno Aquino, will gather in Palm Spring starting Monday, the President’s Day, a federal holiday honoring the first U.S. President George Washington and other U.S. presidents on the third Monday of February. Other leaders from ASEAN attending the summit are those from Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (Burma).

In what is considered President Obama’s farewell meeting with Asean leaders, the summit underscores the United States’ strong backing of Asean’s central role at the heart of the evolving institutional architecture of the Asia-Pacific region, “as demonstrated by our commitment to institutions like the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+), an important forum for advancing security cooperation.”

A fact sheet issued by the White House Friday said in 2011, the United States became the first country to establish a dedicated Military Advisor/Liaison Officer at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta. The Secretary of Defense hosted his ASEAN counterparts in the United States for the first time for the U.S.-ASEAN Defense Forum in Hawaii in 2014 to discuss important strategic issues.


In 2015, the United States announced a new Technical Advisor to ASEAN to support increased information-sharing on transregional threats. ASEAN members are important partners in global security efforts, including the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (Malaysia, Singapore) and counter-piracy off the Horn of Africa (Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand).

Collectively, the ten member states of ASEAN comprise the third-largest economy in Asia and the seventh-largest in the world, with a combined GDP of $2.4 trillion.

The ASEAN region is young and dynamic, with a combined population of 632 million people–more than 65 percent of whom are below the age of 35. The United States and ASEAN share a strong interest in building and sustaining a rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific, one in which countries can pursue their objectives peacefully and in accordance with international law and norms.

It said the ASEAN’s leadership of regional institutions is founded on respect for international law and norms and peaceful resolution of disputes, principles the United States shares.
In 2015, ASEAN formally launched the ASEAN Community to mark nearly 50 years of integration efforts. The United States strongly supports ASEAN’s effort to realize a “rules-based” Community that serves the people of ASEAN and ensures human rights and fundamental freedoms, including by helping ASEAN integrate international human rights standards into legislative and judicial processes.

It said the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, endorsed in November 2015, is a landmark achievement and established a framework to effectively address human trafficking and ensure protection of people throughout the region. The United States will continue to support ASEAN’s leadership in ensuring full implementation of the Convention.


The United States and ASEAN pledged more than a year ago to achieve a new global climate change agreement, which “we did with the rest of the world in Paris last December.” The United States and ASEAN cooperate closely to create a low-carbon economic growth trajectory and build more climate resilient societies. U.S. assistance for climate change adaptation in Cambodia and the Philippines has strengthened the capacity of local authorities to mitigate the impacts of destabilizing disasters.
In Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, U.S. climate change mitigation programs are promoting environmentally sustainable development strategies. The United States works with ASEAN institutions, like the ASEAN Coordinating Center for Humanitarian Assistance, to improve disaster response coordination in support of the ‘One ASEAN, One Response’ initiative.

The statement said ASEAN countries collectively provide 4,866 personnel to U.N. peacekeeping efforts. Fifteen years ago, many feared that Southeast Asia would be the “second front” in the fight against terror. Instead, Southeast Asian nations have made major strides in dealing with terrorism, though it remains a threat as elsewhere.

“We are committed to working together with ASEAN to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda around the world and in the region. Our economic development and governance programs in countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia have helped to generate jobs, increase incomes, and create a more reliable regulatory environment,” the White House fact sheet added.

The U.S. is also partnering with ASEAN to advance the Global Health Security Agenda. By accelerating capacity to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to infectious disease threats, “we are saving lives and advancing peace and security.

“Our investments in health and education in seven ASEAN countries are increasing prospects for expanded and more inclusive economic growth. The United States will continue to partner with ASEAN countries like the Philippines and Indonesia that are promoting good governance and transparency across the region, including through the Open Government Partnership. Our support for democracy programs in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Burma are building institutions that foster rules-based order and respect for human rights.”

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