United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a landmark friendship pact with Southeast Asian nations Wednesday to counter China's increasing influence in the region.
The signing on the Thai island of Phuket, on the eve of Asia's biggest annual security forum, marked the US accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.
By inking the pact, Clinton is sending a strong signal of Washington's desire to deepen ties and offset China's growing power in Southeast Asia, diplomats have said.
The ten foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also signed to complete the US accession before Clinton shook hands with them, including Myanmar's Foreign Minister Nyan Win.
Earlier she said ASEAN should consider expelling Myanmar if it does not release imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whereas freeing her could pave the way for investments from the United States.
The amity treaty commits signatories to three basic principles: the peaceful settlement of disputes, non-recourse to the use of force and non-interference in domestic affairs.
Washington has been reluctant to sign the non-aggression pact for years, fearing it would leave little room for it to exert its influence on political and security issues in a region of nearly 600 million people.
But US influence over ASEAN is facing growing competition from China, which inked the same treaty with the bloc six years ago and has emerged as a key player in meetings with ASEAN.