Obama Arrives in Thailand on 3-Nation Asia Tour

Posted November 18th, 2012 at 4:35 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama has arrived in Thailand on the first leg of an Asian tour that will also take him to Burma and Cambodia in his first foreign trip since winning re-election nearly two weeks ago.

While in Bangkok Sunday, Mr. Obama will meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, attend an official dinner and greet U.S. embassy staff.

The trip underscores Mr. Obama's increased focus on Asia as he tries to fulfill his pledge to strengthen the U.S. economy during his second four-year term in office. The Obama administration has said that American foreign policy and engagement will “pivot” toward Asia in the future.

When he arrives in Burma Monday, Mr. Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit the country, which has emerged from decades of tight military control. The Burmese government recently has yielded to international pressure and begun making democratic reforms, but some human-rights groups have cautioned that it is not yet a fully free country.

President Obama is scheduled to meet with both Burmese President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation's leading democracy activist, who has only been free since 2010 after nearly two decades of detention or house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 but was only able to travel to Norway to accept the award this year.

The U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch told VOA the president should have waited to travel to Burma until the country makes more progress in restoring basic freedoms. HRW says Burma should have gone beyond a partial amnesty and released everyone held as political prisoners, and also should have taken direct action to stop violence directed at ethnic and religious minorities, particularly in western Burma.

President Obama begins his Asian tour in Bangkok. HRW says the U.S. leader also should bring up human-rights concerns in longtime U.S. ally Thailand, due to concerns about free speech, military abuses against insurgents in the south and inadequate protection of refugees.

Mr. Obama also is attending a meeting of regional leaders from ASEAN in Cambodia, another destination where he is expected to raise concerns about long-standing human-rights problems. The president is expected to urge Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to hold free and fair elections and end land seizures.