The Debate

Obama Burma and Cambodia Bound

Obama will become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Burma and Cambodia later this month.

Newly reelected U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia between November 17-20, the White House said in a news release today.

This will be the first time that a sitting U.S. President has visited either Burma or Cambodia.

The trip, which appears to be Obama’s first one abroad since being reelected to office on Tuesday, is emblematic of Washington’s ongoing efforts to more fully integrate itself into the ASEAN-centric multilateral frameworks in East Asia. During its first term in office, for example, the Obama administration decided to send a full time ambassador to ASEAN headquarters.

An integral part of strengthening ties with ASEAN has been improving ties with Burma, which has initiated a host of political and economic reforms under President Thein Sein. In recognition of Burma’s new reforms, the U.S. has removed many of the previous sanctions it had imposed on the military junta that runs the country. More sanctions relief will be forthcoming, the U.S. government has repeatedly said, as reforms in Burma continue.

In an effort to strengthen U.S.-Burmese ties at the highest levels of government, last December Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first secretary of state to visit Burma since John Foster Dulles did in the 1950’s. In May of this year, the administration also nominated Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years.

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While in Burma, President Obama plans to meet with President Thein Sein and Democracy activist and Parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi. Obama previously hosted Suu Kyi at the White House during her trip to the United States in September of this year. He has only previously met face-to-face with President Thein Sein as part of multilateral forums like the U.S.-ASEAN summit. Secretary of State Clinton did hold a bilateral meeting with Thein Sein in New York City during the UN General Assembly in September.

The White House said that Obama will "speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition," while in the country next week.

In Cambodia, Obama will participate in the East Asia Forum after having skipped the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in Russia in September because it overlapped with the Democratic National Convention in which Obama was officially nominated as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate for the 2012 election.

While in Thailand he will hold a meeting with Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Zachary Keck is Assistant Editor of The Diplomat. You can follow him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.