Obama to host US summit with South-east Asian nations Feb 15-16

 Obama (right) at the Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 21, 2015.
Obama (right) at the Asean Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 21, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONOLULU (REUTERS) –President Barack Obama will host a summit with leaders from the Association of South-east Asian Nations in California on Feb 15 and 16, the White House said on Wednesday.

“This unprecedented gathering – the first hosted by the United States with the Asean leaders – builds on the deeper partnership that the United States has forged with Asean since 2009 and will further advance the Administration’s rebalance to Asia and the Pacific,” it said in a statement.

The meeting will take place at the Sunnylands retreat centre in Rancho Mirage, California, a place where the White House has staged other high-profile meetings outside Washington.

Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, previously announced his intention to hold the meeting, but the White House had not disclosed the dates.

The United States is eager to promote Asean unity in the face of increasingly assertive behavior by China in pursuit of territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Four Asean members – Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam - are also part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which is the key economic plank of Obama’s economic and security pivot to Asia in response to China’s growing power.

The choice of Sunnylands is symbolic as the retreat was the venue of an informal meeting between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 that sought to chart a new way forward in US-China relations but did little to ease tensions.