Shifting focus to Asia, Obama to visit Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia

McClatchy, By Anita Kumar

WASHINGTON — Two weeks after winning re-election to a second term, President Barack Obama will embark on a four-day, three-nation trip to Southeast Asia as he continues to try to leave his imprint on a region increasingly influenced by China.

Obama will meet with leaders in Thailand, attend the East Asia Summit in Cambodia and become the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar, where he will praise the nation’s shift from military rule to fledgling democracy.

The president, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, took office four years ago with a pledge to concentrate on Asia, which he said his predecessor neglected. Although the war in Afghanistan and unrest in the Middle East continue to dominate U.S. foreign policy, Obama signaled earlier this year that he will shift some focus to a region with major challenges and opportunities for the United States. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also will be in the area this week.

Obama’s recent shift is, in part, a response to China’s growing economic and military influence. His trip comes just before China begins its first leadership change in a decade.

“The context for the trip is the pivot to Asia,” said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In some ways, the three countries that he will visit . . . they’re sort of the three troubled children of the pivot. Each has a complicated relationship with the U.S. and with China.”

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