OBAMA WARNS CHINA VS. RECLAMATION OF SOUTH CHINA SEA

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US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA and the ASEAN leaders during their summit
By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA and PhilAmPress
RANCHO MIRAGE, California (via PhilAmPress/JGLi) – U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including President Benigno Aquino III, concluded their two-day special summit here on Feb. 16 with economic and trade relations discussed as they warned of security threats posed by China due to its continued reclamation and military buildup in disputed islands and shoals in South China Sea and West Philippine Sea.
Obama, who hosted the summit, invited the ASEAN leaders to the US-ASEAN when he attended the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit in Manila and later reiterated during the ASEAN meeting.
The summit focused on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and its implementation and the East Sea issue during the first working day on the theme “Promoting Regional Prosperity through Innovation and Entrepreneurship.”
The TPP is a high-standard free trade agreement with the engagement of four ASEAN member states – Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Viet Nam.
Several other ASEAN countries have expressed their wish to join the trade pact, and the US voiced hopes that the agreement will be ratified by the involved parties as scheduled.
President Obama and Lao President Choummaly Sayasone delivered speeches at a closed door meeting after the opening ceremony, followed by discussions between ASEAN and US leaders.
The second working day focused on sea-related issues, with a stress on navigation freedom and security in the East Sea.
President Aquino III’s presence in the special summit between the ASEAN and the United States  showed the Philippines’ solidarity with the other ASEAN leaders in promoting regional stability, Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. said.

Aquino was joined on the trip by Secretaries Rene Almendras (Cabinet) Herminio Coloma (PCOO), Adrian Cristobal (DTI), Albert del Rosario (DFA), Cesar Purisima (DOF), Julia Abad (PMS), Emmanuel Esguerra (NEDA), Voltaire Gazmin (DND), PAGCOR Chairman Cristino Naguiat, PCOO Undersecretary Rey Marfil (PCOO), and Climate Change Commissioner Emmanuel de Guzman.

Aquino returned to Manila on Friday, Feb. 19, after five days in California during which he also met with the Filipino American community, top executives of three big Los Angeles-based companies. While in Los Angeles, the President will have a series of business meetings with officials of Walt Disney International, Western Digital Corp., and AECOM’s Enterprise Growth Solutions.
President Aquino  met first with Andy Bird, chairman of Walt Disney International, and discussed “the investment policies and the climate in the creative sector, particularly game development and animation”. with Radio-Television Malacañang.
The President also met with Stephen Milligan, chief executive officer of Western Digital Corporation.
Ambassador Cuisia said that during their meeting, President Aquino and Milligan discussed how Western Digital Corporation can expand its operations in the Philippines.
Western Digital is a data storage solutions company. It has a plant in Laguna Technopark with more than 10,000 employees.
“They are quite a large employer in the Philippines. The President will also explore with them the possibility of their setting up shared services in the Philippines,” he said.
President Aquino met with Michael Donnelly, Group President of AECOM’s Enterprise Growth Solutions.
The summit aims to build deeper partnerships that the US has forged with ASEAN since 2009 and further advance Washington’s rebalance to Asia and the Pacific.
The US and the ASEAN have worked toward stability, prosperity and peace in Southeast Asia for nearly 40 years.  
The event will provide leaders a forum to strengthen cooperation on political security and economic issues under the new US-ASEAN strategic partnership, which was launched in November 2015 in Kuala Lumpur.
Del Rosario has resigned for health reasons effective March 7. 
President Aquino accepted his resignation, according to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
The DFA is mum on Del Rosario’s replacement. 
Aquino  discussed “the growing tension between the Philippines and China over sovereignty issues in the South China Sea” when he addresses the Los Angeles World Affairs Council (LAWAC) on February 16.
According to LAWAC, President Aquino discussed “the new defense agreement between Manila and Washington, security in East Asia, and the future for economic growth in the Philippines and its neighbors in Southeast Asia”.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is currently hearing the case filed by the Philippines against China’s claim on the disputed West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.
Prior to his LAWAC speaking engagement, President Aquino attended the summit organized by US President Barack Obama with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on February 15 to 16.
Trade, maritime security and terrorism were among the talking points during the US-ASEAN Summit at the Sunnylands estate here, the same venue where President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping back in 2013.
President Aquino discussed the results of the special US-ASEAN summit during his speaking engagement with LAWAC at the Intercontinental Hotel on the evening of February 16.
After attending the US-ASEAN Summit, President Aquino proceeded to Los Angeles for a working visit. While in Los Angeles, the President had a series of business meetings with the executives of three Los Angeles-based companies.
President Aquino took the opportunity to greet the members of the Filipino-American community in Los Angeles before he  returned to Manila on Feb. 17

 

ASEAN is a significant trade and investment partner for the United States. Collectively, the 10 countries of ASEAN represent the United States’ fourth-largest goods trading partner, ahead of Japan, with $216 billion in two-way goods trade in 2014.
In 2014, U.S. goods exports to ASEAN were $79 billion, making ASEAN the United States’ fourth largest export market. U.S. goods exports to ASEAN support over 370,000 American jobs. The major U.S. exports to the region are machinery, aircraft, optical and medical instruments, and mineral fuel and oil. The United States also exported over $11 billion in agricultural products to ASEAN countries last year. ASEAN is an important and growing services market for U.S. companies. The United States exported $23 billion in services to the ASEAN region in 2014, and recorded a $7 billion surplus in services trade with ASEAN.

“The summit is an opportunity for leaders of the ASEAN and the US to have candid conversations about issues of mutual concern. It is an important step for the leaders to substantiate their strategic partnership between the US and ASEAN,” said Cuisia.
“More to the point, the summit underscores the central role of ASEAN in ensuring stability and prosperity in the region. As a member of ASEAN, the Philippines appreciates the significance of a summit in the development of a regional framework,” he added.
He noted that the summit reaffirms the commitment of the US to continue playing a key role in ensuring the regional security architecture for the 21st century.
US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said President Obama has stressed that any disputes among China, the Philippines and other nations must be settled in a peaceful manner and in line with international standards.
The ASEAN-US Summit is of special significance as it is the first summit between the bloc and a partner country after the official formation of the ASEAN Community on December 31, 2015.
This is also the first time the ASEAN-US summit has been held in the US, which demonstrates the importance that both sides attach to their strategic partnership.
In a speech during the opening, Obama reiterated his country’s commitment to build a “strong and enduring” partnership with the 10 member countries of the ASEAN.
Donning a suit without a tie, President Obama welcomed the ASEAN leaders one by one at the Annenberg Retreat in Sunnylands for the two-day special summit.
Obama said he was looking forward to having a fruitful meeting with the ASEAN leaders as they discuss various issues such as trade, commerce, innovation, entrepreneurship, maritime security, terrorism, climate change, human rights, and resolving disputes in the region through peaceful and legal means.
“Economic growth that is inclusive, creating opportunity for all; mutual security and the peaceful resolution of disputes; human dignity, including respect for human rights, and development that is sustainable — that is our vision. That’s what brings us here together today,” he told the ASEAN heads of state, among them Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III.
He said his engagement with ASEAN leaders is part of the US’ goal to play “a larger and long-term role” in the Asia- Pacific amid “urgent threats” confronting the world.
Obama noted that as part of his administration’s aim of deepening partnership with the ASEAN countries, he has met with the leaders of the ASEAN seven times, more than any former US presidents had ever made.
These meetings have led to the elevation of the partnership between the ASEAN and the US to a strategic level, which was sealed during the ASEAN Summit in November last year.
“Our sustained engagement is delivering concrete results that benefit all of us — momentum that we can build on here at this summit,” the US President said.
Obama urged ASEAN leaders to continue “to increase the trade and economic partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for our people.”
He cited the 55 percent increase in trade between the US and ASEAN nations during his administration.
The ASEAN, he said, is currently the fourth largest goods trading partner of the US, which has generated more than 500,000 jobs for Americans.
“US companies have been the largest source of foreign investment in ASEAN — one of the many reasons that the region’s GDP has surged in recent years, lifting people from poverty into the middle class,” he said.
He said he expects leaders at the summit to build on the progress of ASEAN integration and do more to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.
Obama likewise rallied ASEAN leaders to work together in increasing security cooperation.
He said that in recent years, the US has increased maritime security assistance to its allies and partners in the region, “improving our mutual capabilities to protect lawful commerce and to respond to humanitarian crisis.”
“Here at this summit, we can advance our shared vision of a regional order where international rules and norms, including freedom of navigation, are upheld and where disputes are resolved through peaceful, legal means,” he stressed.

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LOS ANGELES (JGL) – President Barack Obama reaffirmed Tuesday the United States’ strong commitment to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for “a regional order where international rules and norms — and the rights of all nations, large and small — are upheld” at the end of the two-day US-ASEAN Summit in Rancho Mirage California.
Mr. Obama and ten other ASEAN leaders, including President Aquino, concluded the first US-ASEAN Summit on Tuesday.
In a speech after the Summit, Obama said, “We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas. Freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded.”
In a blunt warning to China, Mr. Obama said, “I reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same. 
“We will continue to help our allies and partners strengthen their maritime capabilities.  And we discussed how any disputes between claimants in the region must be resolved peacefully, through legal means, such as the upcoming arbitration ruling under the U.N. Convention of the Law of the Seas, which the parties are obligated to respect and abide by.”
He said, “I made it clear that the United States will continue to stand with those across Southeast Asia who are working to advance rule of law, good governance, accountable institutions and the universal human rights of all people. 
 
ENCOURAGE RETURN TO CIVILIAN RULE
 
“We continue to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand.  We will sustain our engagement with the people of Myanmar as a new president is selected, and as they work to implement the ceasefire agreement and move forward with national reconciliation.”
President Obama also said, “We’ll continue to stand with citizens and civil society and defend their freedom of speech, of assembly and of the press.  No one, including those in political opposition, should ever be detained or imprisoned simply for speaking their mind.  That only stymies progress, only makes it harder for countries to truly thrive and prosper.”
He also offered assistance to help ASEAN countries better “leverage Interpol data to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters” and agreed to implement the Paris climate change agreement, including helping developing countries adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, which will be critical and will enable them to leap ahead to new and affordable clean energy.
Mr. Obama said the United States and ASEAN are doing more to deal with transnational challenges together.  “I offered our assistance to help ASEAN counties better leverage Interpol data to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters.  We agree that implementing the Paris climate change agreement, including helping developing countries adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, will be critical and it will enable them to leap ahead to new and affordable clean energy.”
He said he is also launching a new competition – an innovation challenge to encourage students across ASEAN to develop new solutions to boost agriculture.
Mr. Obama added he is also moving ahead with “our Global Health Security Agenda to prevent future epidemics and I pledge additional U.S. assistance to help ASEAN combat the horror of human trafficking.”
 
REBALANCE (PIVOT) TO ASIA PACIFIC
 
He said he will keep America’s foreign policy rebalance (pivot) to the Asia Pacific, including Southeast Asia, to be a foreign policy priority of his waning presidency.
At a briefing prior to Mr. Obama’s speech, National Security Adviser Susan Rice told the media “
U.S.-ASEAN relations have never been stronger.  With nearly half the Earth’s population, one-third of global GDP, some of the world’s most capable militaries and some of the earth’s most critical ecosystems, the Asia Pacific region is increasingly the world’s political and economic center of gravity.  Which is why President Obama, from the very beginning, has prioritized engagement with Asia, recognizing that this region is central to U.S. interests in the 21st century.”
The former US Ambassador to the United Nations said the economic ties are also booming.  “We have a quarter-trillion-dollar trade relationship with ASEAN, up 55 percent since 2009.  The ASEAN region is now the fourth-largest goods export market for the United States.  Trade with ASEAN countries supports more than 500,000 American jobs.  Last year alone, companies from right here in California exported $11 billion in goods to ASEAN.  In fact, companies from all 50 of our states engage in trade with ASEAN.  U.S. companies have been the largest investor in ASEAN, with a stock of more than $226 billion nearly doubling since 2008.”
During the press briefing, Ms. Rice said, “We will continue to work with our ASEAN partners on a potential statement by the partners” that will be ironed out at the end of the Summit. A press reporter told her that China was pressuring countries like Cambodia and Laos to tone down any strong statement against China’s aggressive reclamation of South China Sea.
On the North Korean issue, Rice said negotiations are “continuing on a Security Council resolution, which we expect will contain new sanctions, progress. And so we’ll be working on this issue, as we have been on multiple fronts simultaneously in the coming days.”
 
QUESTIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS RECORDS

Told that some of the leaders attending the Summit have questionable human rights records like
Thongsing Thammavong of Laos, Hun Sen of Cambodia and Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei, Rice said, “We take every opportunity, both publicly and privately, to underscore our grave concerns about human rights.  That’s why I made mention of that in my opening statement.  That’s why I spent an hour and a half last week with leaders of ASEAN civil society to hear their points of view, to ensure that their perspectives and concerns were incorporated into our thinking and planning for this summit.”
She said the US has been a significant supporter of civil society organizations, citing Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, which said, “is about the United States building people-to-people ties with the next generation of the region’s leaders.  So just because, in Asia, as elsewhere, we are obliged to deal with governments, including in some cases those with whom we have significant disagreements on things like human rights, does not mean that we’re legitimizing them or their behavior, or that we have in any way lessened our commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society.”
Ms. Rice said President Obama used the venue at Sunnylands as a relaxed venue where heads of state and other leaders, his counterparts from around the world, can have a more informal, casual discussion.  In Washington, there’s a little bit more of a stiffness.  And the President wanted to be able to afford the world leaders here more of an opportunity to have a more candid, relaxed discussion.
All ASEAN countries were represented by their leaders, except Myanmar, who sent Vice President Nyan Tun. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung turned up, reversing an earlier decision not to come.
According to White House pooled reporter when Mr. Obama greeted the 11 leaders on Monday, the order was arranged by how long they have been in office. The leaders who stay longer, the later they were greeted.
 
SULTAN PILOTED HIS WAY TO THE SUMMIT
 
President Obama first greeted ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh, and then the leaders from Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Laos, and Brunei. Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, has been in office for nearly five decades (he assumed office in 1967), so he was the last one to be greeted by President Obama.
The Sultan of Brunei piloted his jumbo airplane, which is bigger than Air Force One, to the airport of Palm Springs. While most of the leaders arrived in Palm Springs by airplanes, three leaders actually came here by motorcade from Los Angeles.
Several leaders are at the end of their terms, Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, will step down in May, and the President of Philippines, Benigno Aquino, will end his term of office on June 30, 2016.
A tidbit reported by the pooler was when President Obama asked the Prime Minister of Malaysia Mohd Najib Razak about his wife, he responded, “she’s in LA.”
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he had “spent the last four days in San Francisco.”
Obama greeted Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo with a few words in Bahasa Indonesia, which Widodo responded to. Mr. Obama then asked Mr. Widodo, “How is your family?’
Mr. Obama also asked the Sultan of Brunei about family, saying, “How’s it going? How’s your wife?” before turning to the retinue of ministers that each leader brought, saying, “Let me say hi to your delegation.”
None of 12 leaders wore a tie, including President Obama, but they all wore coats under the 90-degree sun of Sunnylands.
 
8 CABINET SECRETARIES
Cabinet secretaries accompanying President Aquino to the summit include Albert Del Rosario (Foreign Affairs), Cesar Purisima (Finance), Voltaire Gazmin (Defense), Adrian Cristobal, Jr. (Trade), Emmanuel Esguerra (NEDA), Herminio Coloma, Jr. (Communications), Jose Rene Almendras, and Emmanuel De Guzman (Climate Change Commission).
The US-ASEAN Summit is the first standalone meeting held in the United States. It took  place at the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, where US President Obama hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2013.
Later in the afternoon, President Aquino attended the first retreat session of US-ASEAN Summit on the theme of “Promoting an Innovative, Entrepreneurial ASEAN Economic Community.” It will be followed by his attendance to the working dinner hosted by President Obama.
On February 16 (Tuesday), President Aquino participated in the second retreat session of the Summit under the topic “Protecting Peace, Prosperity, and Security in the Asia-Pacific.” Then he joined his counterparts for the official family photo opportunity.
After the summit, President Aquino headed to Los Angeles for a working visit, where he  received three major American companies, Western Digital Corporation with its CEO Stephen Milligan, Walt Disney International with Chairman Andy Bird, and AECOM Enterprise Growth Solutions with its President Michael Donnelly. He later addressed the Los Angeles World Affairs Council (LAWAC), where his father the late Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. also spoke, at the Intercontinental Hotel.
President Aquino also greeted the members of the Filipino-American community in Los Angeles before flying back to Manila on February 17. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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