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Obama in Southeast Asia to Solidify Military, Economic Empire

Common Dreams staff

President Barack Obama toasts with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen at the East Asia Summit Dinner during the East Asia Summit at the Diamond Island Convention Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday. (Photo: AP / Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama on Sunday kicked off a tour of three Southeast Asia countries meant to further an "Asia pivot" military and economic strategy that will solidify the US empire in that part of the world.

At a meeting in Cambodia on Friday, US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta confirmed the US commitment to "increas(ing) the size and number of exercises that we participate in the Pacific with our Southeast Asian partners, and we are devoting new funding to this goal."

Salon reports that Obama also solidified the economic aspects of the Asia pivot — the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership that critics argue would "extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement."

The economic policy has been "shrouded in secrecy ...(and) would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples' abilities to innovate," according to the Electronic Frontier Federation.

Obama's junket also met with criticism from human rights groups who focused on the hypocrisy of his offer of "the hand of friendship" in Cambodia and Thailand, where human rights abuses continue—and amid US support of Israel in its ongoing assault on Gaza.

The U.S. administration regards Thailand as a key ally for advancing an Asia pivot that Obama announced last year with an eye to an increasingly assertive China, NBC reports.

On Monday, Obama met in Myanmar—formerly Burma—with President Thein Sein and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Human rights groups criticized Obama for visiting the country where ethnic fighting continues, but Obama said Sunday that political prisoners have been released and that Suu Kyi, who was imprisoned for nearly 15 years until 2010, now serves in the government.

But Tom Andrews, a former member of Congress from the first Congressional District of Maine and President and CEO of United to End Genocide, said Obama's visit "recognize(d) progress that one of the most brutal regimes on the planet has made toward democracy."

Andrews continues:

Systematic hate speech and entreaties for the local population to isolate and attack the Rohingya Muslim minority is pervasive in western Burma. The Burmese military stand aside or actively participate in attacks against innocent men, women and children. More than one hundred people have already lost their lives, tens of thousands have lost their homes, and over one hundred thousand have been displaced.


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What is the U.S. government doing about it? Sunday, President Obama became the first President to visit Burma. He is there to recognize and congratulate the military dominated government for making modest reforms toward democracy. As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya continue to live in fear, President Obama is congratulating a government that wants to ethnically cleanse every one of them from Burma.

Coinciding with the president's visit, the government of Myanmar announced further human rights steps to review prisoner cases and de-escalate conflicts in ethnic regions of the country.

But Obama urged even more, calling for a government where, as he put it, "those in power must accept constraints."

Read more: next in Thailand, Obama said his visit to Burma was not an endorsement of that government.A senior administration official told McClatchy that the US has pledged $170 million over two years in aid to Myanmar in return for Myanmar's agreement to end its military relationship with North Korea.

On Monday, Obama flew to Cambodia, another visit harshly criticized by human rights groups, who have said President Hun Sen is "a violent authoritarian and have voiced apprehension that Mr. Obama’s visit will be perceived within Cambodia as validation of the prime minister’s regime."

The Globe and Mail continues:

But administration officials say Mr. Obama, when he meets with Mr. Hun Sen on Monday, will raise concerns about the government’s human rights record.

Still, many Cambodians credit Mr. Hun Sen with helping the country emerge from the horrors of the 1970s Khmer Rouge reign, when systematic genocide left 1.7 million dead. Vietnam invaded and ousted that regime in 1979. By 1985, Mr. Hun Sen had become prime minister.

Still, many Cambodians credit Hun Sen with helping the country emerge from the horrors of the 1970s Khmer Rouge reign, when systematic genocide by the communist regime left 1.7 million dead. Vietnam invaded and ousted that regime in 1979. By 1985, Hun Sen had become prime minister.

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