BANGKOK Nov 18 President Barack Obama kicked
off a three-country Asia tour with a visit to Thailand on
Sunday, using his first post-election trek overseas to try to
show he is serious about shifting the U.S. strategic focus
Obama's itinerary will include a landmark visit to
once-isolated Myanmar and an East Asia summit in Cambodia as he
seeks to recalibrate U.S. economic and security commitments to
counter China's influence at a time when America is
disentangling itself from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But his attention will be divided during his travels as he
faces a simmering crisis in the Gaza Strip pitting Israel
against Hamas militants and also contends with a looming fiscal
crisis at home.
Flying into Bangkok, Obama was due to tour the iconic Wat
Pho Royal Monastery and have a royal audience with King Bhumibol
Adulyadej at the hospital where he has been recovering from an
illness since September 2009. He will also hold talks and a
joint news conference with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The U.S. administration regards Thailand as a key ally for
advancing an "Asia pivot" that Obama announced last year with an
eye to an increasingly assertive China. Obama, who was born in
Hawaii and spent part of his youth in Indonesia, has called
himself America's first "Pacific president."
His choice of Southeast Asia for his first foreign trip
since winning re-election on Nov. 6 is meant to show he intends
to make good on his pledge to boost ties with one of the world's
fastest-growing regions, a strategy his aides see as crucial to
his presidential legacy. It is his second extensive trek through
Asia in little more than a year.
In the centerpiece of his three-day tour, Obama on Monday
will make the first U.S. presidential visit to Myanmar, also
known as Burma, marking a new milestone in Washington's
rapprochement with the former pariah state where a fragile
transition is under way after decades of military rule.
Some international human rights groups object to the visit,
saying Obama is rewarding the country's quasi-civilian
government before democratic reforms are complete.
Obama aides said the Myanmar trip is meant to lock in
progress so far and that he will speak forcefully on the need to
do more on human rights, especially to curb sectarian violence.
He will meet President Thein Sein and famed opposition
leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who - like Obama - is a Nobel Peace