NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders gather in Myanmar this week for wide-ranging talks that will include everything from the intractable territorial dispute in the South China Sea to the deadly Ebola virus. While more than a 1,300 journalists descended on the sprawling, purpose-built capital, Naypyitaw, they are granted only superficial access, herded around at a safe distance from officials.
The meetings began Wednesday between presidents and prime ministers from Southeast Asia and will be expanded Thursday to include leaders from the China, India, South Korea and Thailand among others. There are no planned news briefings — though that could change — and any interviews with officials need to be pre-approved with the Myanmar government and conducted in specified rooms.
Widely considered a talk shop — and for Washington a chance to show greater engagement in the region — no breakthroughs are expected. But here are some of the hot topics:
THE SOUTH CHINA SEA:
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which is of tremendous strategic importance to everyone, including Washington, will be one of the most talked about issues, but no breakthroughs are expected.
A third of the world's shipping transits through the contested sea, which is also rich with fish and is believed to have large oil and gas reserves under the seabed.
China — which claims most of the area — has stepped up naval patrols in recent months and temporarily positioned an oil rig in territory also claimed by Vietnam, sparking deadly anti-Chinese riots. Others claiming parts of the sea are the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.
Although Asia has not had any confirmed Ebola cases, the region which has more than 60 percent of the world's population has become acutely aware of its vulnerability to the deadly virus.
More than 5,000 people have died, most of them in the West African nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. China and India are the top two destinations in Asia for travelers from the hardest-hit nations.
Asia has stepped up surveillance at airports and some countries are considering quarantine measures, but experts worry that the preparations may be insufficient and say the region should be doing more to join the global fight.
Myanmar started moving from a half-century of military rule to democracy three years ago. But the sweeping reforms that marked President Thein Sein's early days in office have stalled and in some cases slid backward. Activists are again being jailed. The media is under pressure. And the military is blocking opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's path to the presidency.
Though not expected to be part of the official dialogue, mistreatment of the country's 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims in the predominantly Buddhist nation has captured headlines worldwide. Denied citizenship by national law, they are effectively stateless and face systematic discrimination and persecution.
More than 100,000 Rohingya have fled the country by boat in the last two years. Another 140,000 are living under apartheid-like conditions in displacement camps.
ISLAMIC STATE GROUP:
The U.S. is looking to Indonesia, Malaysia and other predominantly moderate Muslim nations in the region to help prevent recruitment of extremists for the Islamic State group, following revelations that Australians are among the group's fighters. That includes working to rebut radical ideologies and to crack down on terrorist financing.
Governments in Southeast Asia - which accounts for an estimated 15 percent of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims - worry that extremists in the region will be inspired by the Islamic State group's call to jihad. Some have started actively monitoring social media and online chatrooms used by radicals to recruit followers or post inflammatory comments.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit on Wednesday and the East Asia Summit on Thursday bring together more than 18 leaders. They include Obama, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This will be the first ASEAN summit for newly elected Indonesian President Joko Widodo.