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Burma Stop Expected to Highlight Obama Asia Tour


In his first overseas trip since winning re-election, President Barack Obama is scheduled to leave Washington on Saturday, November 17, for Southeast Asia. The trip will include the first visit by a sitting U.S. president to Burma and Cambodia.

Obama will focus on important economic, security and democracy interests in Southeast Asia.

In Bangkok, he will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to underscore bilateral relations and military-to-military ties between the United States and Thailand.

On Monday, Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma, which has been ruled for decades by a military government.

Reforms

Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi met with Obama at the White House in September. They are scheduled to meet again at her home in Rangoon.

The United States has eased sanctions against Burma and is encouraging the country's fragile democratization process.

Aung San Suu Kyi told VOA that more reforms depend on support from the military.

“Until the Army comes out clearly and consistently in support for the democratic process, we cannot say it is irreversible," she said.

The Obama administration says it is realistic about progress in Burma.

“There is this gap, as is always the case in circumstances of the early phases of reform, where there is more hope than reality to sustain it,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

ASEAN

Obama’s final stop on his regional tour is Cambodia, which is hosting the East Asia Summit.

Former CIA China analyst Chris Johnson says tensions over the South China Sea, made worse by pressure earlier this year from Beijing, will dominate the meeting.

“China did not appear to recognize the negative consequence that would have certainly within ASEAN [i.e., the Association of Southeast Asian Nations], but also more broadly,” said Johnson.

Analysts say Obama carries added political clout on this trip because of his recent reelection.

Michael Green of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies says that presents an opportunity to further define America's increasing focus on Asia.

“And what do you really think we should be doing about states like Cambodia or Burma on the democratic front? There is a lot more color to be painted in on the [U.S. strategic and economic] pivot [toward Asia] on this trip that has not been there,” said Green.

President Obama likely will receive questions from regional leaders about the so-called fiscal cliff facing the United States and who he will choose to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been deeply involved in U.S.-Asia diplomacy during his first term.
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