US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has pitched for a free and open Indo-Pacific, a strategic region that has witnessed renewed global focus in view of China's expansionist behaviour.
Addressing the US-ASEAN virtual summit on Friday, O'Brien highlighted the tremendous benefit the partnership has brought to the prosperity, security and well-being of over one billion people in the United States and ASEAN nations, the White House said in a statement.
He reaffirmed the US' longstanding commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, it said.
The ASEAN is considered one of the most influential groupings in the region, and India and several other countries including the US, China, Japan and Australia are its dialogue partners.
The virtual ASEAN summit, which kicked off on Thursday, is taking place amid China's aggressive behaviour in the disputed South China Sea. A number of ASEAN countries have territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Beijing claims almost all of the 1.3 million square-mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory. China has been building military bases on artificial islands in the region which, in parts, is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Beijing has impeded commercial activity like fishing and mineral exploration by neighbouring nations in recent years, saying the ownership of the resource-rich maritime territory belongs to China for hundreds of years.
The 10 member countries of ASEAN are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
O’Brien, who participated in the Summit as Donald Trump’s Special Envoy, shared a message on behalf of the President welcoming the 5th anniversary of the US-ASEAN Strategic Partnership.
Trump attended the ASEAN summit in 2017 but sent only representatives during the last two meetings. A special summit with the ASEAN that he was supposed to host in Las Vegas in March was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
O'Brien will also represent the US at an East Asia virtual summit on Saturday.
The East Asia Summit (EAS) is the premier forum in the Asia-Pacific region to deal with issues relating security and defence. Since its inception in 2005, it has played a significant role in the strategic, geopolitical and economic evolution of East Asia.
The virtual summit on Saturday will be chaired by Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and will see participation from all the 18 EAS countries.
Apart from the 10 ASEAN member states, the East Asia Summit includes India, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Russia.