President Barack Obama will travel to Burma (also known as Myanmar) as part of a trip on Nov. 17–20 that will include stops in Cambodia and Thailand. In Burma he will meet President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This is the first trip to Burma by a U.S. president.
The American Nobel Peace Prize meeting the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize is quite natural and this historic visit will no doubt embolden President Thein Sein’s reform agenda, while boosting the image of a government that came to power through rigged elections in 2010.
We can only hope that the world will be a much better and safer place by the time of Obama’s trip. Shortly after his re-election, the Chinese regime is unveiling a new batch of leaders, with Xi Jinping as the new chairman of the government and general secretary of the Communist Party.
We can hope that the world’s most important bilateral relationship is on the upswing. The upcoming East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, will serve as a litmus test regarding how the United States and China can work together for the prosperity and stability of Asia, particularly on sensitive security issues.
The world knows that the United States remains a key actor in the contemporary era. It has the biggest economy in the world, possesses more military capabilities than the next leading 10 countries combined, and is the pre-eminent player in the production of popular culture. The United States is not only different from other nations but also provides an exemplary political model for the rest of the world.
As for foreign policy, Obama has pledged to maintain the strongest military in the world but believes that after a decade of war, the United States must nation-build at home and lead by force of example rather than the example of force.
For the Obama team, history does not need to be shaped, because it already offers a clear and positive verdict for U.S. values and interests. In an interconnected world, it is the ideas of democracy, not dictatorship and political fundamentalism, which have mass support.
But whether Asia policy gets the same degree of attention from the United States as it did during Obama’s first term will depend partly on who succeeds Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She has made at least a dozen trips to the region, including Burma, and championed the view that U.S. interests lie in more ties with that booming continent.
Clinton’s visit to Burma in December last year was also an interesting turning point in US–Burma relations. Washington decided to relax restrictive measures and even powerful U.S. congressmen, who have long been vehemently pro-sanctions in line with Suu Kyi, visited Burma and decided it was time to welcome the former pariah nation back into the fold.
Obama has attempted a balancing act in relations with Beijing, seeking deeper ties and encouraging it to play by international norms to ward off the possibility of confrontation.
His second term is likely to see more attention on economic ties with Asia. The United States will be looking to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an 11-nation regional trade pact brought forward during a time of bitter partisanship in Washington. This treaty could be an issue where Obama finds common cause with Republicans.
President Barrack Obama’s visit to Southeast Asia has been largely welcomed by the region’s political and business establishments. Burma has been deemed the success story of Obama’s foreign policy strategy. During his 2012 State of the Union Obama praised ongoing democratic reforms by noting, “A new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope.”