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How Southeast Asia's Media Viewed Obama’s Visit

Meng Meng |
November 20, 2012 | 1:17 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Two days before President Barack Obama’s first visit to Thailand, the Bangkok Post, one of the most influential English newspapers in the region, conducted a poll about his trip. The poll found out that 45 percent Bongkok residents were “honored by the US President’s visit scheduled for Nov. 18-19”, while over a quarter of respondents said the visit would further strengthen the ties between Thailand and the U.S. The newspaper used the headline “Thais excited by Obama’s visit.”

The president made his first stop at Bangkok on Monday, meeting with the King, visiting a temple and holding a conference with Thai president Yingluck.

In Thailand, a country with stable politics and democracy, boosting the economy and regional security are what the people and media have been talking about. The Bangkok Post viewed Obama’s first stop at the nation as recognition of Thailand as an important player in international arena. The newspaper also devoted articles to talk about the U.S shifting focus. With the Iraq war over, the U.S is strengthening its military force in the Pacific area, reinforcing its role in the region. But another online news website asiacorrespondent.com argued that the White House is using this opportunity to counter China, a rising power.

The website quoted Panitan Wattanayagorn, a military affairs expert, saying “the return to U-Tapao (the international airport of Thailand) would be very symbolic for the US, sending a message to China that it is returning to mainland South-East Asia.”

“So do you want to engage in the return or stand idle and be seen as a Chinese satellite?” Wattanayagorn raised this question at the end of an article discussing why President Obama waited so long to visit Thailand.

Compared with Thai media, Myanmar’s people are still figuring out who the president is. Myanmar.com, a government-run news website ran a bio of Obama on its homepage, which briefly listed his political career. The once pariah nation plagued by military unrest has few ATMs and minimal infrastructures. Most foreign cell phone plans cannot work and Coca-Cola is still a luxury for average-income family. The nation, under tight control of the army, is brimming with excitement for democracy and reform. Along with Thai media, a few English newspapers in Myanmar discussed how Obama’s visit would push forward both political and economical reforms.

The Burma Daily placed a Reuters story on its homepage where Obama was quoted as saying, "I don't think anybody is under the illusion that Burma's arrived, that they're where they need to be. 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."

The Bangkok Times reported that Myanmar exiles criticized Obama for acknowledging the countries premature reform that the president Thein Sein had not consolidated.

Myanmar is not only country that has human right appeals. On Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Post endorsed an open letter, in which Theary C. Seng asked Obama to put human rights issues as a priority in his visit.

“The Cambodian people, like the rest of the world, look to you for political leadership – but more important, moral leadership which, in this age of information and communications technology and globalisation, does translate into political capital,” said Seng. 

Reach Staff Reporter Meng Meng here.




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