South Korean President Lee Myung-bak arrived in Indonesia on Thursday for a series of annual regional summits aimed at strengthening economic and other cooperation with Southeast Asian nations.
The visit to the Indonesian resort island of Bali is part of Lee's two-nation Southeast Asian trip that will also take him to the Philippines on Sunday for a state visit including summit talks with President Benigno Aquino III.
In Bali, Lee will attend a trio of annual meetings: a summit with the 10 member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); a meeting between ASEAN and South Korea, China and Japan; and a meeting of the East Asia Summit (EAS) forum.
The ASEAN-led EAS forum comprises 18 members, including the newest members Russia and the U.S., as well as the 10 ASEAN members, Australia, India and New Zealand. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to attend the meeting for the first time.
Obama's attendance is a focus of attention due to the possibility of him meeting with Lee to talk about the free trade agreement between the two countries. The trade pact, which was approved by the U.S. Congress last month, has been deadlocked in South Korean parliament.
"ASEAN is a very important region for our nation ... It is one of our key economic partners," a senior presidential official said on condition of anonymity. "These summits are expected to serve as an important opportunity for strengthening relations with ASEAN."
ASEAN is South Korea's second-largest trade partner after China, and the second-largest investment destination after the European Union. The region is also an important source of energy and other resources for South Korea and sits on key maritime routes that the country uses to bring foreign resources home.
"ASEAN's economy has been developing rapidly and is expected to take on greater importance as a trade partner," the official said. "Ensuring safety in maritime transportation routes and freedom of navigation are essential elements for our economic prosperity and these issues have considerable importance in cooperation with ASEAN."
Key topics for this week's summits are expected to include financial cooperation aimed at fending off the impact of the eurozone debt crisis as well as cooperation in energy and food security.
In addition, Lee and other leaders are also expected to talk about envisioned regional free trade agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which has gained momentum recently with Japan's decision to join in the negotiations, and the East Asia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (EACEP).
On the sidelines of the summits, Lee plans to hold bilateral talks with host Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that are expected to focus on boosting economic cooperation, especially in the defense industry, such as joint fighter jet development.
In addition, Lee is also scheduled to hold a trilateral summit with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. It is one of the two regular summits that the three Northeast Asian nations hold every year. The other is held in one of the three nations.
On Sunday, Lee will head to the Philippines for a three-day state visit for talks with President Benigno Aquino III about moving bilateral relations forward, boosting trade and investment and other cooperation.
During the visit, the two countries plan to sign a series of agreements on cooperation projects, such as the establishment of multi-industry clusters and a coal-fired power plant in the Philippines and provision of economic development cooperation funds and aid to the Southeast Asian nation.
The trip also includes a visit to a war memorial, a meeting with South Korean residents there and a business forum.