IN THE AIR SOMEWHERE OVER THE PACIFIC — President Obama is on his way to Asia as he circumnavigates the globe for his first post-election foreign trip, a four-day whirlwind tour that is scheduled to include first-ever stops in Myanmar and Cambodia and underscore what he calls the “re-balancing” of U.S. foreign policy to focus on the economically booming Pacific.
The president kicks off his trip with a visit to one of America’s oldest allies, Thailand, before heading to Myanmar and finally Cambodia, where he is scheduled to attend a summit with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a group that oversees an increasingly important economic market.
Obama will become the first sitting president to visit rising Cambodia, once embroiled in America’s Vietnam War, and Myanmar, which is emerging from five decades of military rule.
The undisputed highlight of the trip is Obama’s stop in Myanmar, where the president will meet with reformist President Thein Sein and fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, two of the driving forces begin the diplomatic movement in the long-isolated country.
As Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, seeks to open its economic and political relations, the visit gives the president an opportunity to “lock in” the modest democratic reforms that the government has made and showcase one of the foreign policy accomplishments of his first term.
The Obama administration has opened relations with Myanmar and eased some sanctions as the country has emerged from authoritative rule.
The trip is part of the president’s broader agenda to continue efforts he began in his first term to expand the U.S. presence in Asia and counter the rising regional power of China. The trip comes just days after China made once-in-a-decade leadership changes.
Critics, however, say the tour is poorly timed.
The trip, which comes less than two weeks after the election, pulls the president away from pressing deficit negotiations in Washington as lawmakers seek to prevent the economy from going over the looming “fiscal cliff” of a combination of spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in on Jan. 1.