The president’s three-country tour to Asia has kicked off and Obama chose to begin it with first paying a visit to Thailand, on Sunday. The Southeast Asia tour is part of Washington’s efforts to develop stronger and deeper ties with emerging economies in the region including Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.
This is the first visit Obama’s is making to any country since winning a second term to the White House, however, it comes at the heels of the tensions between Israel and Gaza, hence his attention might remain divided.
Landing in Bangkok, Sunday afternoon, the President was greeted by 40 military guards standing on either sides of the red carpet. As Obama came out of his private plane, he waved all those present there to welcome him. His tight schedule included a private meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, a little sightseeing, meeting with King Bhumibol Adulyadej and a joint press conference followed by a dinner.
While the visit to Thailand is a gesture of friendship between the two countries, tensions still remain largely due to the 2006 military takeover that threw out Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
“It was very important for us to send a signal to the region that allies are going to continue to be the foundation of our approach” to establishing a more prominent presence in Asia, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president aboard Air Force One.
Washington also hopes that the visit will allow US to open new markets in Thailand and strengthen business relationship between both nations. United States is the third largest trading partner of Thailand after China and Japan, and Obama seeks to gain as much share as China has in the country.
The visit also shows how Obama is trying to reinforce his pledge to boost his ties with the world’s fastest growing regions, something his aides believe, is an essential element of his presidential legacy. On Monday, Obama is scheduled to pay a visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, a country that is still fighting to make a successful transition from its decade long military rule to democracy.
“If Burma can continue to succeed in a democratic transition, then that can potentially send a powerful message regionally and around the world…that if countries do take the right decisions, we have to be there with incentives,” Rhodes said.