15 February, 2016
At a meeting of Southeast Asian nations in California, President Barack Obama is looking to solidify America's leadership role in the Asia Pacific region.
All 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, are meeting with the U.S. at the historic Rancho Mirage retreat in Sunnylands. Behind the beautiful backdrop, the leaders will take on difficult issues important to the region.
Obama hopes to continue his Asian pivot to place more American political and military power in the fast-growing area. The U.S. and China are competing for influence among Asian nations.
The talks will include closer relationships on people, trade and commerce, cooperation against violent extremism, and establishing rules and principles to guide nations on different issues.
South China Sea dispute
A main discussion point will be territorial disputes in the South China Sea and China's increasing activities in the region.
White House officials said the U.S. will send "a very clear message" to ASEAN leaders that it opposes China's "militarization" of the disputed territories, and any increase in tensions there.
The U.S. is not a claimant in the South China Sea disputes. But it will continue to press for freedom of navigation. The U.S. "interest in the South China Sea is the free flow of commerce," said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security advisor.
The administration says ASEAN is "the heart" of the Asia Pacific, and the best way to build a structure for peaceful and legal pursuit of interests.
"The more that we can establish clear rules of the road for how issues are managed, for how disputes are resolved, the more stable and prosperous this region is going to stay going forward," said Rhodes.
North Korea's recent rocket testing is also expected to be discussed at the meeting. The U.S. and ASEAN leaders will discuss how China can help pressure Pyongyang to end its "provocative" actions.
The U.S. and China disagree on North Korea, but the U.S. sees common interest in keeping the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.
"We are exceptionally candid in confronting the many differences and tensions that exist between us," said Daniel Kritenbrink, National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs.
He said our relationship with China is "stable" and "complex."
Daniel R. Russel is Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He said the ASEAN summit is "not about China," but about creating an ASEAN committed to rules and fairness.
"It allows major countries like the United States and other powers to engage constructively as partners," Russell said.
Obama will speak about human rights and democracy at the meeting. But administration officials said ASEAN countries have very different political models and human rights and democracy records.
American officials say that countries that show positive movement towards democracy, like Myanmar, will get U.S. support.
Mary Alice Salinas reported on this story for VOANews. Anne Ball adapted this story for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
What agreements do you want to see come from the ASEAN summit? Let us know. Write a comment in the section below or on 51VOA.COM.
Words in This Story
solidify - v. make something stronger
retreat - n. a place that is quiet and private
pivot - n. the action of turning around
pursuit –n. the act of following or chasing someone or something
prosperous –adj. having success usually by making a lot of money
provocative – adj. causing discussion, thought, argument, etc.
candid –adj. honest
stable –adj. in a good state or condition that is not easily changed or likely to change
commit –v. to say that someone will definitely do something to make someone obligated to do something