PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is in Los Angeles, joining other Asean leaders for the special summit between the United States and Asean, hosted for the first time by President Barack Obama.
The summit is being held as US and Asean had, during Malaysia’s chairmanship of Asean last year, elevated the dialogue relations to strategic partnership and adopted a five-year plan of action.
Asean-US relations have progressed well since it started in 1977, starting from dialogues on political and security matters and evolving to technology and in the 1990s focusing on trade and investment.
In 2010, the US became the first dialogue partner to appoint a resident ambassador to Asean in Jakarta.
Malaysian officials described the summit to be held in Sunnylands, two hours away from Los Angeles, as important as it would decide on the direction of the relations in the next five years.
The two-day summit, beginning Monday, is being held as Obama enters his final year of presidency, and he wants to leave his pivot to Asia legacy.
“When he became president, he was focused on Asean. Just look at his record with Asean.
“He has been to South-East Asia almost every year since he took office. He looks at this region as an important one,” said a Malaysian senior official.
Malaysian ambassador to the US Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussein in a media briefing said the US was Asean’s fourth largest trading partner with trade amounting to US$212bil in 2014 and US$13bil in investments.
During the Asean summit in November last year, the regional leaders and Obama who attended the meeting in Kuala Lumpur adopted the Plan of Action to implement five priority areas of cooperation – economic integration, maritime cooperation, transnational challenges including climate change, emerging leaders and women’s opportunities.
Dr Awang Adek said Najib would be making remarks as Malaysia is the country coordinator for Asean relations with the US.
He said during the first day of the summit, the leaders would talk on Asean Economic Community promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.
“There will be a leaders’ dinner held in an informal setting where the leaders would be able to discuss freely on issues affecting Asean,” he added.
On the second day, the leaders would discuss regional peace, terrorism and security issues.
Malaysian officials expect the South China Sea issue would also be raised.
“Both the US and China are important dialogue partners to us. China is important to Asean as the main trading partner.
“But at the same time we also want to have a more peaceful and secure region. So the US would probably have a role in terms of balancing regional power,” said an official.
Officials also took note that Obama had hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping for an informal Summit in 2013 in Sunnylands.
The South China Sea issue has been plaguing Asean meetings in the last few years and often turned into a war of words between Beijing and claimant countries of which four are Asean members, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines and Vietnam have been openly critical of the growing assertiveness of China in the South China Sea as Beijing built airstrips and other facilities for its military forces.
Asean and China have long worked on a binding code of conduct to address numerous issues faced by claimant countries.
However, only a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was finalised and signed in 2002.
The declaration reaffirms the parties’ commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other international laws on state-to-state relations.
It also states that Asean members and China should resolve disputes “by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations.”
Dr Awang Adek also said the Prime Minister during his one-week working visit to California will also meet Malaysians living in Los Angeles and meet captains of industries, tour Apple Inc and Tesla Motors in San Francisco.