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Aquino to meet Obama for last time

Boosting cooperation on economic integration and maritime security will be high on the agenda of the meeting between US President Barack Obama and the 10 Southeast Asian leaders in California next week, officials said yesterday.

Another key topic in the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations-US summit is defending the region from threats of terrorism and violent extremism.

The summit, which aims to deepen their newly-elevated strategic partnership, will take place at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, on February 15 and 16 upon the invitation of Obama.

President Aquino is expected to depart for California on Monday for the regional summit as well as meetings with US businessmen and the Filipino community.

“The summit aims to explore how ASEAN and the US after elevating their relations to strategic partnership level can work more effectively together; and especially now with the establishment of the ASEAN community,” Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Hellen dela Vega said in a Palace news conference.

“On economic issues, it’s looking at the United States on how it can support ASEAN integration, economic integration. And for political and security issues, we are looking at maritime security, transnational challenges, and issues like countering violent extremism,” she added.

Dela Vega said it was “natural” to expect that maritime security will be an “important issue” during the ASEAN-US summit in the wake of some “destabilizing” conditions in the disputed South China Sea.

It is also possible the leaders would highlight the importance of freedom of navigation and rules-based approach to deal with regional disputes.