11 February, 2016
United States President Barack Obama will host the leaders of the 10 ASEAN members next week in California.
ASEAN is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Its 10 member countries are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Last year, ASEAN leaders created the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). The aim is to increase trade, investment and economic ties among the 10 nations.
ASEAN leaders will meet with President Obama at the 80-hectare Sunnylands estate in California. The estate was once the home of a billionaire publisher. President Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping there in 2013.
President Obama personally invited all the ASEAN leaders to Sunnylands when he attended the ASEAN summit last November in Malaysia.
The summit participants will address key regional security and trade issues. They are also expected to discuss climate change and human trafficking.
U.S. role in ASEAN
Obama administration officials see ASEAN as a key part of America's foreign policy focus on Asia and the Pacific. The U.S. also wants to increase its economic ties with the region.
But observers do not expect any major results or developments from the meeting.
Simon Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. He said that because 2016 is President Obama's last year in office, he does not believe "a great deal of substance" will come from next week's meeting.
Observers expect a key topic at the meeting to be China's growing assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.
The Philippines and Vietnam are among the countries involved in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. Leaders from both countries want the United States to give them guarantees about security. But other ASEAN member countries do not want to anger Chinese leaders.
That divide among member nations could also make it difficult for major developments to result from the meeting in California.
Chin Leng Lim is an international law professor at Hong Kong University. He said ASEAN member countries do not agree on several major issues. Because of this, he says, the United States is "firmly in the driving seat of this summit." In other words, the United States could have control of the meeting.
A major topic among ASEAN nations is trade.
Last week in New Zealand, 12 countries signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP trade agreement includes four ASEAN members: Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Two other ASEAN members, Indonesia and Thailand, could also soon join the TPP.
ASEAN members have been talking with six other countries about forming another free trade agreement called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Those six countries are Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Deborah Elms is executive director of the Asian Trade Center in Singapore. She says the signing of the TPP and the RCEP negotiations mean ASEAN is facing more competition. She says ASEAN should "take regional integration seriously" to remain globally important.
ASEAN launched its own economic community, the AEC, at the beginning of the year. It creates a single market for goods, services, capital and labor. So far, it has not shown strong results.
But its supporters say that it will reach its goal of being a single market and production base by the year 2020. The Asian Development Bank says it has "the potential to become one of the largest economies and markets in the world."
ASEAN nations have a population of over 626 million people, and an economy valued at $2.4 trillion. ASEAN represents the third-largest economy in Asia, behind China and India, and the seventh-largest economy in the world.
I'm Mary Gotschall.
Steve Herman reported on this story for VOANews. Mary Gotschall did additional reporting and adapted this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
host – v. to entertain guests socially or as a job
trafficking – n. the act or business of illegally buying something and selling it especially in another country
substance – n. the quality of being meaningful, useful, or important
assertiveness – n. aggressiveness
territorial – adj. of or relating to land or water that is owned or controlled by a government
in the driving seat – idiom. to be in control of a situation
launch –v. to begin (something that requires much effort)
integration – n. the act of making (a person or group) part of a larger group or organization
launch – v. to begin (something that requires much effort)