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Obama to visit Myanmar - the first by a US President

Published on Nov 10, 2012 1:07 AM
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WASHINGTON - Newly re-elected United States President Barack Obama will head to Myanmar later this month, in what will be a historic first visit by a US President and a big boost to reformers in the Asean member state as they push for more political and economic change.

Myanmar is the second stop of the President's four-day tour to South-east Asia which will also take him to Thailand and Cambodia. The trip from Nov 17 to 20 is his first overseas since decisively winning a second term in office in an election on Tuesday.

The trip had been planned in advance, and analysts said Mr Obama would still have gone even if the election was not in his favour.

But with his victory, the tour takes on symbolic importance as it allows the administration to highlight a key first-term foreign policy achievement in Myanmar, as well as to send a signal to regional partners that the United States' strategic rebalancing towards Asia will continue in Mr Obama's second term.

In Myanmar, he will meet President Thein Sein and political prisoner-turned-parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi.

Both visited the US in September, but Mr Obama, on a tight schedule because of his re-election campaign, met only Ms Suu Kyi.

He will also meet civil society groups to encourage Myanmar's ongoing democratic transition, the White House said on Thursday.

In Thailand, a US treaty ally, he will meet Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok to mark 180 years of US-Thailand diplomatic relations and "reaffirm the strength of our alliance", the statement added.

The President's final stop will be Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to attend the East Asia Summit and meet Asean leaders. He will be the first US President to visit the South-east Asian country.

During his interactions in the region, he will discuss a broad range of issues including economic prosperity and job creation through increased trade and partnerships, energy and security cooperation, and human rights, the White House statement said.

Mr Obama's visit to Myanmar marks the high point in Washington's efforts to normalise relations with the country it once isolated diplomatically and economically over human rights abuses by its military rulers.

Over the past two years, however, a new civilian government has ushered in sweeping reforms including freeing political prisoners.

The initiatives prompted the Obama administration to re-engage it politically with high-level visits, including a ground- breaking one last year by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and to appoint a full ambassador, as well as to lift many of its crippling economic sanctions on the impoverished nation.

Mrs Clinton, who will be accompanying Mr Obama on his forthcoming trip, will be in Singapore for talks with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam next Friday.

Disclosing this, a US State Department spokesman yesterday said she would be travelling to Australia before arriving in Singapore.

tracyq@sph.com.sg