Praise and pressure as Obama begins historic Myanmar visit
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Barack Obama has become the first serving U.S. president to visit Myanmar, arriving on Monday for a trip that will attempt to strike a balance between praising the government's progress in shaking off military rule and pressing it for further reforms.
His plane landed in the former capital Yangon, where he will meet President Thein Sein, a former junta member who has spearheaded reforms since taking office in March 2011, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the struggle against military rule and, like Obama, is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She is now a lawmaker.
Obama's trek to Myanmar is meant to highlight what the White House has touted as a major foreign policy achievement -- its success in pushing the country's generals to enact changes that have unfolded with surprising speed over the past year.
But some international human rights group object to the Myanmar visit, saying Obama is rewarding the country's government for a job they regard as incomplete.
Speaking in Thailand on the eve of his landmark visit to the former pariah state, Obama denied he was going there to offer his endorsement or that his trip was premature.
Instead, he insisted his intention was to acknowledge that Myanmar, also known as Burma, had opened the door to democratic change but there was still much more to do. I don't think anybody is under the illusion that Burma's arrived, that they're where they need to be, Obama told a news conference as he began a three-country Asian tour, his first trip abroad since winning a second term. On the other hand, if we waited to engage until they had achieved a perfect democracy, my suspicion is we'd be waiting an awful long time, he said.
The Myanmar visit, less than two weeks after his re-election, is the centrepiece of a trip aimed at showing Obama is serious about shifting the U.S. strategic focus eastwards as America winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The so-called Asia pivot is also meant to counter China's rising influence.