The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Obama Makes History in Burma

President Obama is preparing to make history this month by becoming the first US president to visit Burma while in office. As part of a multi-country tour of Southeast Asia, Obama will stop in Burma to meet with both Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The BBC has more:

Mr Obama’s Burma stop is part of a trip built around the summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Cambodia, which leaders from China, Japan and Russia will also attend.

In a statement, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Mr Obama intended to “speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition”. . .

The “support and encouragement by the US president and American people will strengthen the commitment of President Thein Sein’s reform process to move forward without backtracking”, spokesman Maj Zaw Htay said.

This is indeed a historic occasion, but much of the Western media will be inclined to view this as a feel-good human rights story about the transformation of an autocratic pariah state.

All across Asia, meanwhile, people will see the story as a bold move in the Game of Thrones, with America courting Burma into a US-led maritime entente in the Pacific. They’ll note that other members of the emerging entente include countries like Vietnam where the establishment of western style human rights aren’t a high priority item for the Communist government. They’ll note that in addition to the President’s visit, investors and officials from all over Asia are pouring into Burma with new proposals and new offers of help. They’ll note that all this activity is also telegraphing a message to North Korea: other options exist.

They will note all these things, and they’ll be right. The United States is not standing still in Asia; a historic series of diplomatic steps are taking place.

Published on November 11, 2012 10:00 am