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  • Heads of state pose at the ASEAN-China Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 7, 2016.

    Heads of state pose at the ASEAN-China Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 7, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 September 2016

The dispute over the South China Sea was one of the biggest topics, as Obama signalled his intent to increase the US foreign policy focus on Asia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit wrapped up on Thursday in Vientiane, Laos,with the ongoing political tensions in the South China Sea and Barack Obama dominating the summit’s discussion.

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The summit hosted 10 ASEAN heads of state. U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Premier Li Keqiangm, as well as the leaders of Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand were all in attendance.

Amid the recent brinkmanship in the South China Sea, the chairman's statement said that ASEAN aimed to promote peace and security in the region and stressed the importance “of non-militarisation and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea.”

The statement however did not mention the July decision at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague, rejecting China's claims to economic rights in the sea. Premier Li Keqiang said during the summit that China was willing to work with other states on the issues and “dispel interference” over the issue.

Obama signalled his intent to steer U.S. foreign policy closer to the region, saying Americans can be “lazy” in wanting to understand other part of the world, something that he wanted to change.

“If we are not here interacting and learning from you, and understanding the culture of the region, then we will be left behind," he said.

Obama said that he was “determined to do everything I can to get the U.S. Congress to approve TPP before I leave office,” saying that the controversial economic free trade deal would be important for Asia, not just the United States.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made headlines earlier in the summit with a phrase directed at a journalist, which roughly translates to “son of a whore,” often used in the same manner as “crap,” which was misinterpreted as a “personal attack” on Obama.

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Despite the row, the Philippines still remains a major ally of the United States in its opposition to Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.

Duterte has come under scrutiny for his tough on crime drug policy which has killed close to 3,000 people, according to some estimates, many of which were extra-judicial killings.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he was concerned over the rising threat of terrorism undermining security in the region, saying that ASEAN needed to coordinate a response to the issue, particularly in regard to cyber-security.

“Export of terror, growing radicalization and spread of extreme violence are common security threats to our societies,” Modi said in what has been interpreted as a reference to Pakistan.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying that he and other leaders “are concerned by the actions that we see from a leader who is highly unpredictable.”

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