Obama praises Burmese reform, wants more
Barack Obama became the first US president to visit Burma yesterday, using a six-hour trip to balance praise for the government's progress in shaking off military rule with pressure to complete the democratic reform.
Obama, greeted by enthusiastic crowds in the former capital, Yangon, met President Thein Sein, a former junta member who has spearheaded reforms since taking office in March 2011, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"I shared with President Thein Sein our belief that the process of reform that he is taking is one that will move this country forward," Obama told reporters, with Sein at his side.
"I recognise that this is just the first step on what will be a long journey but we think that a process of democratic reform and economic reform here in Myanmar [Burma] ... can lead to incredible development opportunities here," Obama said, using the country name preferred by the government and former junta.
Sein, speaking in Burmese, said the two sides would move forward "based on mutual trust, respect and understanding".
"We also reached agreement for the development of democracy in Myanmar and for promotion of human rights to be aligned with international standards," he added.
Obama's Southeast Asian trip was aimed at showing how serious he is about shifting the strategic focus eastwards as the US winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The so-called "Asia pivot" is also meant to counter China's rising influence.
The trip to Burma highlighted 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 in the past year.
Tens of thousands of well-wishers, including children waving US and Burmese flags, lined Obama's route from the airport, cheering him as he went by.
Obama met fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who led the struggle against military rule and is now an MP, at the lakeside home where she spent years under house arrest.
Suu Kyi thanked Obama for supporting the political reform.
But, speaking so softly that she was barely audible at times, she cautioned that the most difficult time was "when we think that success is in sight".
Obama recalled Suu Kyi's years of captivity and said she was "an icon of democracy who has inspired people not just in this country but around the world".
"Today marks the next step in a new chapter between the US and Burma," he said, using the country name she prefers.
The two embraced and he kissed her on the cheek.