What Obama will accomplish with a visit to Myanmar
With the Myanmar visit, President Obama will showcase one of his foreign-policy accomplishments and will underscore a US commitment to supporting Asia’s political and economic development.
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“I really think we have to defer to Aung San Suu Kyi on whether or not it’s the right time for this visit,” Mr. Lohman says, adding that a list of American leaders of all political stripes have already visited the country to show their support. “If [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell can go to Burma, I guess Obama can, too.”Skip to next paragraph
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In Myanmar, Obama will sit down with the country’s reformist president, Thein Sein, and will also call on Ms. Suu Kyi, who lived for years under house arrest but is now a member of the country’s newly elected parliament. Both Obama and Suu Kyi are Nobel laureates.
Obama will be joined in his visit by Secretary Clinton.
But the president’s reasons for visiting Myanmar transcend the country’s borders. One of the hallmarks of Obama’s first-term foreign policy was his “pivot” to Asia. By visiting Myanmar, Obama will be underscoring how the American pivot should not be seen simply in defense and security terms, but as part of a US commitment to supporting and participating in Asia’s political and economic development.
The president’s “overall message is one of engagement and steadfast American involvement in the region,” Lohman says.
The visit will also send a loud message to China: that America intends to promote democracy and economic partnership in the region, even as it encourages peaceful and negotiated settlement of the potentially explosive territorial conflicts China has with several of its neighbors.
After Myanmar, Obama will attend the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Cambodia. There, Obama’s message should be clear, regional experts say: that America is a partner with staying power, especially while partners in the region deal with the ramifications of an increasingly powerful China.
“In Phnom Penh [at the ASEAN summit], Obama has to focus on the maritime issues involving the South China Sea, and his message has to focus on resolving these claims without resort to coercion,” Lohman says.
That may irritate China, which likes to try to convince Washington that, while it’s welcome in the region, “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he adds.
With that in mind, Lohman says, China will take Obama’s trip to Myanmar in stride – as long as the United States doesn’t try to turn it into something aimed at China and its rising regional role.
“The Chinese don’t want to push the US out entirely. They value the stability that a certain US presence helps maintain,” he says. “But they do aim ultimately to create a new order in the region – one with a diminished role for the US.”
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