Barack Obama will be meeting leaders of South-East Asian nations in California this week. Strengthening economic ties between the two regions will certainly be a hot topic for both parties. According to some, the ASEAN region has the potential to become the world's fourth-largest economy. Companies in the United States already have a total investment of $226 billion in the area, while South-East Asia is now the fourth-largest importer of American goods, responsible for an estimated half a million jobs in the US.

A Pew Research poll released last year shows that public opinion of America is strong in ASEAN countries.

Not all of the 10 South-East Asian countries were surveyed, but among those that were – Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia – the United States scored well. That sentiment is growing, according to the data. Young people aged 18-29 were much more likely to give a favourable opinion of the United States than those aged 50 or older. Young Malaysians, for example, are quite positive about the US (60%) while older generations are less inclined (49%).

Citizens also felt strongly about the effectiveness of their country's participation in the ASEAN community. Over half those who participated in a Straits Times poll said the developments within ASEAN would lead to a better life. They also expected business to improve. Two-thirds of those surveyed said that work and travel would be on the rise in the next three years.

In Vietnam, sentiment was particularly optimistic. A local survey conducted by VietnamWorks showed that 92% of Vietnamese professionals saw the establishment of the ASEAN economic community as an opportunity to develop their careers. Half of those surveyed said that they would have more opportunities to work and learn from foreign experts.

The US is not the only economy looking to capitalize on that optimism. Over in the European Union, nearly three-quarters of businesses said they were planning to expand their ASEAN operations, according to a report published by the EU-ASEAN Business Council last year.