President Barack Obama will visit Myanmar later this month, the White House announced Thursday, in a trip meant to underscore the U.S. foreign policy shift toward the Asia-Pacific. Obama is scheduled to meet with Myanmarese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the two key figures at the center of Myanmar’s dramatic re-emergence into the international community, before continuing on to Cambodia and Thailand.
Two experts told Trend Lines that the visit could be a catalyst for continued reforms in a country still early in its democratic transition.
“This is a symbolic visit to reinforce the message that reform needs to be consolidated. It is a mark of appreciation, a reward if you like, and at the same time it is a measure to press for further reforms,” said John Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. “President Obama is renowned for his personal skills, his ability to engage on a personal level with people, and there is an expectation -- a hope -- that his charisma will exude such an influence on the country that it will consolidate the changes that have taken place.”