Obama defends historic trip to Burma

 

Bangkok

President Obama on Sunday defended his trip to Myanmar, also known as Burma, insisting the visit Monday is "not an endorsement" of the long-repressive nation's leadership but rather an acknowledgment of its progress toward reform.

"I don't think anybody is under any illusion that Burma has arrived; that they're where they need to be," Obama said during a joint news conference with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to kick off his three-country Asia trip.

"I'm not somebody who thinks the United States should stand on the sidelines and not get its hands dirty when there's an opportunity for us to encourage the better impulses inside a country," Obama said.

Human rights activists have denounced Obama's decision to become the first U.S. president to visit the Southeast Asian nation, which is attempting to emerge from decades of authoritarian military rule. Critics of the trip said the White House should not reward Myanmar prematurely, citing escalating ethnic violence against the nation's Muslim minority that has killed hundreds and displaced as many as 100,000.

The Obama administration has bet heavily on Myanmar's continued commitment to reform, appointing Ambassador Derek Mitchell to the country in June and sending Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for a visit there last December.

Clinton, who was in Bangkok with Obama, will fly with him aboard Air Force One into the historic capital of Rangoon on Monday. Clinton has said she will leave her post as soon as a successor is found, and this is their final foreign trip together, White House officials said.

"If we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is that we'd be waiting an awful long time," Obama said of Myanmar. "One of the goals of this trip is to highlight progress that has been made, but also voice that much greater progress needs to be made in the future."

Obama opened his first post-election foreign trip by paying a visit to Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyedaj, 84, a revered figure who is severely ill and hospitalized, and touring the Wat Pho Royal Monastery before joining Yingluck in a formal welcome dinner at the Government House. The president lavished praise on his host country, saying Thailand's 180-year relationship with the United States makes it "our oldest ally" in Asia.

The Obama administration is using the Asia trip, which includes a final stop in Cambodia for the East Asia Summit, as another step in its "pivot to Asia" aimed at counterbalancing China's growing influence in the region.

During the news conference, Obama responded to a question about whether Beijing offered Thailand a less messy path toward prosperity than politically gridlocked Washington, by saying that "democracy is a little messier than alternative systems of government, but that's because democracy allows everybody to have a voice."

He added that "the notion somehow that you can take shortcuts and avoid democracy, and that that somehow is going to be the mechanism whereby you deliver economic growth, I think is absolutely false."

Though the trip takes Obama out of Washington just as negotiations over the looming "fiscal cliff" heat up, he hoped some good fortune in Thailand would rub off on his domestic prospects.

"We're working on this budget, we're going to need a lot of prayer for that," Obama joked to the head Buddhist monk who was guiding him and Clinton on a private tour of the Royal Monastery.

"I always believe in prayer," Obama said during his news conference, after a reporter mentioned the joke during a question. "If a Buddhist monk is wishing me well, I'm going to take whatever good vibes he can give me to try to deal with some challenges back home. I'm confident that we can get our fiscal situation dealt with."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?