In politics, as in life, there are some things so critically important that they can only be communicated face-to-face. Fostering economic growth, upholding human rights, and peacefully resolving international disputes are three that instantly come to mind -- in part, because they were topics of discussion at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, hosted last week by President Obama.
The summit took place in Rancho Mirage, California over the course of two days. It marked the first and only time an American President met with all ten ASEAN leaders on U.S. soil.
In attendance were leaders from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Together, they represent America's fourth-largest trading partner and approximately $250 billion in goods and services.
The President has worked to strengthen ties with ASEAN leaders since he first took office, through numerous in-person meetings and events. Over time, this form of communication has become his tool of choice for diplomatic relations and resolving foreign policy issues.
"I've made now seven visits to the ASEAN region -- more than any previous American President," President Obama said on Tuesday afternoon. "At our last meeting in Kuala Lumpur, we forged a new Strategic Partnership. And our sustained engagement is delivering concrete results that benefit all of us -- momentum that we can build on here at this summit."
According to reports, the event was a "key step in Obama's effort to 'rebalance' foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific, shoring up U.S. economic and security ties in the region…and asserting American leadership." While trade relations with China dominated much of the conversation, the summit featured an important session on the economy, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as a session on security issues.
The summit also included one-on-one sessions between the president and various ASEAN leaders to discuss concerns about human rights and democracy. In the past, these topics have generated noticeable disagreement between the U.S. and authoritarian nations. Indeed, one of the benefits of bringing ASEAN leaders together has been to talk through fundamentally different viewpoints, with the benefit of seeing each other's body language and reacting in real-time.
These leaders come from a mix of advanced, middle income and developing economies, and they've brought to the table different priorities, beliefs, expectations and cultural norms. By meeting face-to-face, they have been able to explore areas of common ground and mutual interest -- in this case, helping to grow trade between the U.S. and ASEAN by 55 percent since 2009.
As individuals who have dedicated our careers to bringing people together, we applaud their efforts to sit across the table, look each other in the eye and tackle the world's greatest challenges. After all, these are the issues that will impact our children -- and their children -- for many years to come. These are the issues that are critical to our future and are worth meeting about.
Mike Dominguez, senior vice president and chief sales officer for MGM Resorts International, and Richard Harper, executive vice president of HelmsBriscoe, are co-chairs of Meetings Mean Business, an industry-wide coalition that showcases the real impact face-to-face meetings have on businesses, economies, and communities.