KUALA LUMPUR: UNITED STATES President Barack Obama is due to arrive here today, his second visit to Malaysia since last year, to attend summits related to the 27th Asean Summit.
Obama is arriving after a whirlwind schedule of summits in Turkey and the Philippines, and his presence here underscores the importance the US places on Malaysia and the region.
He will attend the 3rd Asean-US summit tomorrow and the 10th East Asia Summit (EAS) on Sunday.
Obama joins his Asean counterparts at a significant time in the grouping’s history as it establishes the Asean Community at the 27th Asean Summit.
The first EAS was held here in 2005, the last time Malaysia held the rotating chair of Asean, and is seen as a premier leadership-level forum to address political and security issues.
The leaders from the 10 Asean nations will join those of the regional grouping’s eight dialogue partners — the US, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and India.
Among those expected to join summits related to the Asean Summit here is Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Li and Obama’s attendance will focus the attention of the international media on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, which sees China and several Asean member nations having overlapping claims on the strategic area that straddles vital trade routes.
China has embarked on an accelerated programme of reclamation of the shallow reefs and atolls in the South China Sea that have outstripped the activities of other claimant states.
The US is not party to the dispute, but has been strident, in deed and action, in its opposition to China’s actions.
One of the top items on Obama’s agenda will likely be the Trans Pacific Partnership and his administration’s “re-balance” to Asia.
“The president’s re-balance to Asia is about building a rules-based order in Asia in which all countries pursue their national interests and their prosperity peacefully,” Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, had said in Washington, DC last week.
At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila on Wednesday, Obama was quoted as saying: “We agree on the need for bold steps to lower tensions, including pledging to halt reclamation, new construction and militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea.”
Upon arrival here today, Obama will attend a town-hall session as part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
After that, he is slated to hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
Matters on security, the environment, trade and human rights will likely be raised by Obama during his bilateral meetings with other leaders on the sidelines of the summits.?
The town-hall session is being billed by the White House as the YSEALI Summit, and will gather 500 emerging leaders from 10 Asean countries.
Before the summit tomorrow, Obama is due to visit a refugee centre run by a non-governmental organisation, and he will attend a gala dinner hosted by Najib and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, in the evening.
Obama will address the media on Sunday before leaving for Washington, DC.-nst