President Barack Obama gathered with leaders from Southeast Asia on Monday to strengthen trade ties and form a common stance over the South China Sea in a summit that the White House hopes will solidify U.S. influence in the region.
Obama, who leaves office next year, has championed a foreign policy pivot to Asia during his presidency and is determined to present the United States as a Pacific power.
His meeting with leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was aimed at cementing that legacy.
“This reflects my personal commitment, and the national commitment of the United States, to a strong and enduring partnership with your 10 nations,” he said at the start of the two-day summit at Sunnylands, a California resort.
The meeting, at the same location where Obama once hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping, was designed to demonstrate Washington’s role as a counterweight to Beijing and as an eager trading partner with ASEAN members.
White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice told reporters U.S. companies had more than doubled investment in the region since 2008.
On Monday the leaders were slated to focus on economic issues, including discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which includes four ASEAN members: Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. Others are interested in joining, and the White House wants to make sure the pact takes effect.