President Obama attends economic conference in Cambodia

U.S. President Barack Obama stands with Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and leaders of Southeast Asia during a photo session at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on November 20, 2012.

Today, President Obama is on his way back to the United States after several days in Southeast Asia. His most recent stop in the tour was in Cambodia, where he attended an economic conference. But why was the trip significant?

Scott Tong, former China bureau chief at Marketplace, spent years covering Asia. He says that the immediate goals for the U.S. and the President in the region are to "snuff out some territorial tensions that are happening in Southeast Asia."

In the South China Sea, several countries are competing over ocean territory which could contain a lot of hydrocarbons -- otherwise known as energy.

But there's another major financial story in the region: Income levels have been rising. 

"It's not just China," Tong adds. "It is Myanmar (Burma) now -- its door just opened, and American companies want at the commodities in there. They want to sell Coca-Cola and American brands, and eventually cars to places like Myanmar."

And, American companies are no longer limiting their real estate options to China. "A lot of companies that had factories in China," Tong notes, "they may build the next factory in Vietnam or Thailand -- which is what a lot of the camera brands are doing now."

More factories and customers means -- you guessed it -- a greater need for President Obama to form political relationships with such countries.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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