US-Asean summit to focus on South China Sea claims


EVER heard of Sunnylands?

Just Google and you will find some interesting facts about this place situated in Rancho Mirage, California.

It has a sprawling estate known as the Annenberg Retreat where world leaders with diverse perspectives gather in peace to share ideas and find common ground.

And from tomorrow, the US President Barack Obama will be hosting 10 Asean leaders for the US-Asean Summit in Sunnylands.

A long list of issues has been prepared for the two-day summit – on the economy, peace, terrorism and security.

On the first day, after a session on the economy, Obama will host a dinner for the leaders, who include Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

It is interesting to note that the programme says once the leaders are seated for dinner, Obama will make opening remarks, to be followed with an open discussion with no fixed agenda.

“Participants may raise any issue of importance to them,” states the programme.

That is where the catch is. Asean meetings have always been regimented.

Leaders deliver their prepared remarks or known as intervention, often times being cautious on issues that may offend other member countries or dialogue partners.

But this is Washington’s way of doing things. And it is a free-for-all format meeting.

A diplomat felt that what the US was hoping to do, if possible, was to get the Asean leaders to be frank on an issue that has been a contentious one during Asean meetings – the South China Sea.

Four Asean countries – Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – are claimants to the resource-rich area, along with China which has been rather aggressive with its reclamation work that saw the construction of airstrips big enough for military planes to land, in an effort to establish a de facto 12-mile territorial zone also claimed by Beijing.

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