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Trade, human rights, China form backdrop at ASEAN summit




President Barack Obama greets Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), a subject of protests, upon arrival at Sunnylands estate for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Feb. 15, 2016 in Rancho Mirage, California.
President Barack Obama greets Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L), a subject of protests, upon arrival at Sunnylands estate for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Feb. 15, 2016 in Rancho Mirage, California.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

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President Obama and leaders from 10 Southeast Asian nations capped a two-day summit today in Rancho Mirage, focusing on the hot-button issues of trade, security and the rising influence of China.

The group, called the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, represents more than 600 million people in Asia and countries diverse in religion, geography and industry.

It's the first such summit of its kind held here in the U.S. – and it was met on its first day with about 1,000 protesters.

"Primarily, folks with ties to some of these nations in Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam," said Rosalie Murphy, reporter at the Desert Sun, from the summit's venue, an estate known as Sunnylands. Many raised human rights concerns in the home countries and questions about a pending regional trade deal that Obama has been pushing, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

That pact could have a big impact on Southern California, said John Ciorciari, professor at the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

"California is the state with the largest amount of trade with the ASEAN region," he said. The state has exported about $15 billion of goods and services to the region, which counts for about 90,000 jobs, said Ciorciari.