Obama announces plans to host Asean leaders in the US in 2016

US President Barack Obama speaking in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 22, 2015.
US President Barack Obama speaking in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 22, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - United States President Barack Obama on Sunday (Nov 22) announced plans to host the leaders of 10 South-east Asian nations next year as he rejected accusations that Middle East turmoil was distracting him from focusing on Asia.

Mr Obama said he had invited leaders from Asean to the United States, insisting that good ties with Asian nations were "absolutely critical" to US security.

"I'm pleased they accepted and I look forward to continuing our work," he said, speaking in Kuala Lumpur at the end of a marathon week of diplomacy which has taken in summits in Turkey, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Mr Obama said his Asia tour, which had been initially overshadowed by the militant attacks in Paris, Lebanon and Mali, was neither distracted by, nor "somehow disconnected from pressing global events".

"This region is not a distraction from the world's central challenges but is critical to security, prosperity and human dignity around the world," he said.

America's self-styled "Pacific president", Mr Obama has been frustrated to see his stops in Malaysia and the Philippines - designed to highlight his stated re-focus on Asia - overshadowed once again.

The invitation to Asean comes after a week which has seen the US and China repeatedly trade barbs over the tense maritime stand-off in the South China Sea, as they jostle for influence in the rapidly developing South-east Asian region.