by Xinhua Writer Ran Wei
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) shakes hands with Philippines President Benigno Aquino III (C) alongside Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during a group picture at a meeting between President Obama and ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in New York, September 24, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
NEW YORK, Sept. 24 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of the United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met here Friday in a bid to deepen their ties. However, experts believe symbolism outweighed substance at the meeting.
In his opening speech at the meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to deepen U.S.-ASEAN relations, saying his country had an enormous stake in the region.
The two sides agreed to further deepen the current partnership, according to a joint statement afterwards.
The 25-point statement covers a wide range of issues, including climate change, economics, and non-proliferation.
Analysts say the former Bush administration seemed to be ignorant of ASEAN, the regional bloc grouping 10 Southeast Asian states, evidenced by the absence of then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at two important ASEAN meetings.
Since he took office, Obama announced his new diplomatic priorities, including improving relations with the Muslim world, a back-to-Asia strategy and an emphasis multilateral diplomacy.
However, these goals can not be realized without engaging ASEAN, which has become an increasingly significant regional organization. In addition, there is a huge Muslim population within the bloc. Indonesia has the biggest Muslim population in the world.
Last year, Obama met all 10 ASEAN leaders for the first time in Singapore, the first U.S. president to do so. Besides Friday's meeting, he has confirmed that he will attend the East Asia summit next year in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Judging from these moves, Obama has a strong motivation to get involved in Southeast Asian affairs.
"The Bush administration got diverted by the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Obama is trying to resume the U.S.'s past activism (in Asia) and restore the previous level of involvement in Southeast Asia," Douglas Paal, vice president of research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Xinhua.
Simon Tay, research fellow with Asia Society in New York, told Xinhua: "I think the Obama administration has come to realize, in the relationship with Asia, ASEAN has played an important role, as a hub for many of the Asian meetings, so it is important to engage ASEAN."