The United States is preparing to unveil a plan to set up centres in Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta as part of an effort to help promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Asean.
Each centre - likely to be set up within the US missions in each city - will help coordinate existing US programmes and channel US business investment in the region, as well as develop new projects.
It will be part of an initiative known as Asean-US Connect that is aimed at enhancing US economic engagement in the region.
The initiative has not been officially announced and few details of the plan were released on Monday (Feb 15) US time.
But President Barack Obama is said to have brought it up at the economic session of a two-day US-Asean summit at Sunnylands. And without citing the programme by name, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told The Straits Times that the US wants to connect Asean to US businesses and identify barriers to increased entrepreneurship.
He said the US sees its experience with entrepreneurship and innovation as a competitive advantage.
"That's what the US has to offer. I went to Laos in October. We are never going to invest as much in infrastructure in Laos as China or Japan, but we can bring a quality of investment and capacity building... so that they are improving their human capital and we can also, frankly, provide a connection to the global economy that can allow innovation to take root in places like Vientiane," he added.
Innovation and entrepreneurship emerged as a key theme on the first day of the US-Asean summit as leaders discussed ways to boost the economic ties between the two sides.
Leaders shared views on how to promote a more innovative Asean economic community and met with business leaders from companies like Microsoft and Cisco.
In his opening remarks, Mr Obama said that Asean should do more to "encourage entrepreneurship and innovation so that growth and development is sustainable and inclusive and benefits all people".
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in turn, said at the session on economics that he welcomed the US effort to help Asean build an entrepreneurial and innovative economy and added that the region has much to learn from the US entrepreneurial culture.