BANGKOK — In Bangkok, President Barack Obama and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have reaffirmed close relations between the United States and Thailand.
After a visit to a royal monastery and symbol of Thailand's Buddhist religion and culture, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to a hospital in Bangkok for an audience with ailing Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej.
At 85, the king is a powerful unifying influence for the Thai people through decades of political upheaval, including military coups and a political crisis in 2010.
After bilateral talks, Obama and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra used a news conference to reflect on nearly 180 years of diplomatic relations, and reaffirm deep political, economic and security links.
As in the United States, the president said, democracy is something that needs continuing work.
"What you are seeing here in Thailand is a democratically-elected prime minister, who is committed to democracy, committed to rule of law, committed to freedom of speech and the press and assembly," said Obama. "But obviously what is true in Thailand, as is true in America, is that all citizens have to remain vigilant and there is always improvement to be made."
The Thai prime minister said her government is committed to national reconciliation and stable democracy.
"The destination of us [Thailand] is the stability of democracy, because we believe it will be the fundamental of economic growth in the future," she said. "So, the destination to go with that vision is national reconciliation."
Obama said it is "no accident" that Asia and oldest U.S. Asian ally Thailand were his first overseas stops since being re-elected. He said the Asia-Pacific region will shape U.S. security and prosperity and is critical to creating jobs and opportunity for Americans.
President Obama departs early Monday for Burma, the first U.S. president to visit a country starting down a long and difficult road of political and economic reforms.
Previewing his message to Burma, Obama said he will congratulate the Burmese people for progress, but underscore there is a long way to go for reforms to take hold.
"What they will hear from me is that we congratulate them on having opened the door to a country that respects human rights, and respects political freedom, and is saying that it is committed towards a more democratic government," said Obama. "But you will also hear that the country has a long way to go."
Obama said the United States is "calibrating its policies and responses" and will respond if it sees "backsliding and slipping" in the reform process.
In Burma, Obama will meet with Burma's President Thein Sein, who has been carefully managing the reform process.
Aung San Suu Kyi
The president will visit the home of democracy figure and member of parliament Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest at the hands of a military government. The two met at the White House this past September.
Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi are also Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The president received the honor in 2009 for what the Nobel committee called his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.
Aung San Suu Kyi received hers in 1991 for her non-violent for democracy and human rights in her country.