President Obama’s first foreign travel since his re-election is consistent with his new “pivot to Asia” policy.
The most important stop on his trip, which starts today and ends Tuesday, will be Cambodia. The nation is hosting the annual East Asia Summit, where the President will meet with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In Cambodia, Mr. Obama will have to walk a fine line between being a good guest at the summit and appearing to show support for the government headed by former Khmer Rouge leader and now Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for 27 years.
Cambodia poses an unsavory situation for advocates of democracy and human rights. But Mr. Obama likely will spend his most important moments of the summit in talks with the leaders of China and Russia.
The President’s visit to Myanmar comes at a crucial point in its evolution. The former Burma has been the most politically closed, economically isolated country in the region.
Mr. Obama will meet with President Thein Sein, who is leading the country’s cautious emergence from repressive rule toward democracy, and with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the government opposition. Mr. Obama is likely to praise the progress that Myanmar has made, but express hope that even more can be done.
Thailand, the President’s final stop, is a traditional American ally. Mr. Obama will mark an astonishing 180 years of U.S. diplomatic relations with Thailand, which started under President Andrew Jackson. Led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand has faced a variety of financial and political crises, so far without sinking the boat. Good relations with the United States remain important to the country’s prospects.
The Asian trip will give Mr. Obama a bit of a break before he returns to Washington to scale the fiscal cliff. But there will be plenty of work for him to do while he is on the road.