Story of the Day, Obama’s Connection to Myanmar Edition

The New York Times reports:

When President Obama lands in Yangon on Monday, he will be the first sitting American president to visit the country now known as Myanmar. But he will not be the first Obama to visit.

The president’s Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, spent part of World War II in what was then called Burma as a cook for a British Army captain. Although details are sometimes debated, the elder Mr. Obama’s Asian experience proved formative just as his grandson’s time growing up in Indonesia did decades later.

“His roots go through Burma,” said Timothy Parsons, an African history professor at Washington University in St. Louis who wrote a book on the colonial East African military. “It is kind of an odd intersection of his life. It’s like the three corners of the triangle come together — America, East Africa and Southeast Asia.”


Story of the Day, U.S.-Asean Relations Edition

Following my post yesterday about President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia visit this weekend, I wanted share another story on U.S. engagement with the region.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “has ordered the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review military ethics training in the wake of a series of investigations that involve high-ranking military officers’ conduct…”


Speaking at a news conference in Bangkok earlier Thursday after renewing the U.S.’s military relationship with treaty ally Thailand, Mr. Panetta said he isn’t aware of any additional government or military officials who received emails from Ms. Kelley.

The scandal has emerged as a major embarrassment for the U.S. military establishment, overshadowing not only Mr. Panetta’s trip to Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, but also Mr. Obama’s scheduled visits to Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, where he plans to attend a major regional summit. The U.S. “pivot” back to the Pacific is a hallmark of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, and analysts expect Washington to step up its bid re-engage with East Asia over the next four years.

Among other things, the visits to the region of top U.S. leaders are expected to focus on finding a common approach with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations on resolving competing territorial claims with China in the South China Sea. The U.S. also hopes to improve military-to-military cooperation in the region, including with the armed forces of Myanmar, until recently viewed with deep suspicion by Washington for its North Korea-backed weapons program.

“Given the rising military power of China and ongoing tensions in the South China Sea, there was a consensus—within Washington, anyway—that America has to increase its military presence in Southeast Asia,” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “Expect a lot more ship visits, training exercises with the armed forces of Southeast Asia and capacity building support, especially with the Philippines, which is the weakest link in the Asean chain.”


President Obama to Visit Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia

I wanted to point out a few stories ahead of President Obama’s upcoming Southeast Asia trip.

Obama will be Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Cambodia from Saturday November 17 through Tuesday November 20.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok provides details on Obama’s itinerary:

In Thailand, he will meet with Prime Minister Yingluck to mark 180 years of diplomatic relations and reaffirm the strength of our alliance. In Burma, the President will meet with President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition. In Cambodia, the President will attend the East Asia Summit and meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The Bangkok Post says:

Despite the 12-hour time difference between Washington DC and Bangkok, US President Barack Obama will not even set foot in his hotel until after the day’s business here is finished.

The US president will arrive on Sunday afternoon at Don Mueang airport and travel directly to the Grand Palace where US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be waiting for him, a city police source said.

They will travel on to Siriraj Hospital where they will have an audience with His Majesty the King, the source added.

Mr Obama would then travel to Government House to have dinner with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, said the source, adding that after the dinner, he would have a meeting with about 600 US embassy staff at Chulalongkorn University’s sports complex.

At the end of the day, Mr Obama would check in at the Four Seasons Hotel on Ratchaprasong Road.

Obama will speak at Yangon University on Monday, according to the The New York Times.

The scars of military rule run deep at Yangon University — decrepit buildings, broken sidewalks and mold everywhere. But with plans for President Obama to visit on Monday, hundreds of workers have converged in an urgent effort to spruce up the campus. Mr. Obama’s trip to Myanmar will be the first by an American president, and the authorities are creating something of a Potemkin campus to greet him.

Meanwhile, and an op-ed in today’s Times by Bill Richardson and Mickey Bergman surveys political reforms in Myanmar:

After meeting with an array of leaders in Myanmar, we believe that Thein Sein is committed to transitioning to democracy. But the jury is still out on whether the reform effort will succeed. This is not a revolution like we’ve seen in Middle East countries during the last two years. This is a calculated and contained process — a reform movement from within. On the one hand, it has to be slow and deliberate to allow for governing capacity to be built, as well as to prevent those who prefer the status quo from blocking change, and to keep oligarchs from seizing control and plundering Myanmar’s abundant natural resources. On the other hand, it does need to move quickly so that the population will feel the benefits of reform. Success will rely heavily on full engagement and investment from abroad.

And Lewis M. Simons writes in an op-ed about Obama’s “Asian-style diplomacy”:

As President Obama heads to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos this week and next, intent on reversing China’s drive to tighten its grasp on Southeast Asia, he is exercising an uncannily Asian-style diplomacy.

By moving calmly into China’s backyard, without threats or in-your-face muscularity, he is proving himself adept at playing by Asian rules. How subtle of him. And smart.

On the subject of Cambodia and Hun Sen, Mark McDonald writes in the IHT:

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will visit Southeast Asia this week, promoting American commercial interests in Singapore, reinforcing the U.S. military alliance with Thailand and putting the presidential imprimatur on democratic reforms in Myanmar.

But their stop in Cambodia for a regional summit meeting next week will be diplomatically stickier: Photo opportunities with Hun Sen, the authoritarian prime minister of Cambodia, will be hard to avoid.


Thein Sein in Thailand

Bloomberg says:

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said her government was committed to seeing “concrete progress” in the development of the $8.6 billion Dawei port and industrial zone in neighboring Myanmar.

Thailand and Myanmar agreed to hold ministerial-level meetings starting next month to push forward with the project, Yingluck told reporters in a joint briefing with Myanmar President Thein Sein today in Bangkok.

Developer Italian-Thai Development Pcl (ITD) has found it difficult to secure funds for the project at Dawei, which sits about 350 kilometers (219 miles) west of Bangkok. The company is courting Japan to secure $12.5 billion in loan agreements this year to build the port, roads, power plants and a railway, Chairman Premchai Karnasuta said on Dec. 26.


Thein Sein arrived yesterday for a three-day trip and visited Laem Chabang port, near Thailand’s biggest industrial zone that companies such as Ford Motor Co. (F) (F) and Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) use as a production base. Thailand and Myanmar plan to link Laem Chabang with Dawei, and may open three more permanent checkpoints on their shared border, Yingluck said.

There’s also a story today from The Bangkok Post. And the AP had a piece yesterday.


Self Promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Myanmar Gems and U.S. Sanctions

The story is here, and begins:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that the U.S. will start easing some of its most rigorous economic restrictions on Myanmar following the country’s April 1 by-elections, which came amid continuing political reforms in the country. Does this mean Americans will soon be able to start legally buying Myanmar’s world-renowned gems, which are currently blocked by law in the U.S.?


Political Ephemera from the Myanmar By-Election

2012 04 04 myanmar elex political emphemera

For politics nerds only…

Anasuya is back in Bangkok after covering the recent Myanmar elections.

Imagine my joy, as someone who loves political ephemera, when she showed me the items pictured above.

I may scan in a few of the documents later and share them here, but wanted I post this snapshot for now.


Self Promotion: New WSJ Southeast Asia Real Time Story on Myanmar and the Region’s Labor Market

The story is here, and begins:

As Myanmar tallies the last votes from Sunday’s critical parliamentary by-elections, many business leaders are pondering the implications of the country’s recent run of political reforms. For many Southeast Asia-based companies, the big issue is whether migrant workers from the country also known as Burma decide to return home, resulting in a tighter labor market – especially in Thailand.

Give it a read and please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter, if you’re so inclined.


Myanmar elections: Today’s Front Pages

2012 04 02 aung san suu kyi MP

Just briefly, I wanted to pass along a snapshot of a few of today’s front pages following yesterday’s landmark elections in Myanmar.

As you can see in the image above, The Bangkok Post ran a photo of some of Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters. The IHT has an image of Suu Kyi herself. And The Wall Street Journal has a front page story about the election. (The photo is of damage caused by the recent bombings in Southern Thailand.)


Myanmar’s Landmark Elections: Following the News

Just briefly: there are stories about Myanmar’s parliamentary by-elections today from Bloomberg, The WSJ, Reuters, The New York Times, and many more.

The latest news, as the AP reports, is that Aung San Suu Kyi’s Party says she has won a parliamentary seat.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Voice of Burma has a liveblog featuring text and video updates.

And for real-time reports with local color, I suggest the following journalists, who are Tweeting from Myanmar:

Thai politics Thailand

Notes from Sen. McCain’s remarks yesterday here in Bangkok

U.S. Senator John McCain was in Thailand yesterday ahead of a visit to assess the situation in Myanmar.

He addressed the media yesterday evening, and I filed a story for ABC News Radio. But I also wanted to share some notes from his remarks that I posted on Twitter (@newley) a few hours ago.

In addition, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney spoke about the case of the American citizen recently arrested on lèse-majesté charges.

Here goes:

1. Notes from U.S. @SenJohnMcCain‘s remarks to journalists here in Bangkok yesterday… (1/12)

2. @SenJohnMcCain will visit govt officials & then meet with Aung San Suu Kyi. Goal of trip is to assess the situation there. (2/12)

3. @SenJohnMcCain says there has been progress in recent years but he is realistic about the junta’s willingness to change. (3/12)

4. @SenJohnMcCain: “We should greet what’s happened so far in Myanmar with a healthy dose of skepticism.” (4/12)

5. ASSK has said she’ll tour the country in June. How trip goes will be strong indicator of whether govt is interested in reform. (5/12)

6. @SenJohnMcCain: China has significant influence in Myanmar. But China, too, should reform. Govt there shouldn’t block Web. (6/12)

7. @SenJohnMcCain: “In China you can’t Twitter.” He had meeting w/ high ranking Chinese official in Wash., DC a few weeks back… (7/12)

8. @SenJohnMcCain: “I said if you really want to convince us that you’re progressing then let your people Twitter. Let ’em tweet.” (8/12)

9. U.S. Ambassador @KristieKenney on arrest of U.S. citizen on lèse-majesté charges… (9/12)

10. @KristieKenney: We “take the arrest of this American citizen very seriously…” (10/12)

11. @KristieKenney: “We do also very strongly believe as Americans in freedom of expression…” (11/12)

12. @KristieKenney: “We are visiting with this American…and we are discussing the case with Thai authorities.” (12/12)