Obama promotes Thai leadership
US President Barack Obama and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra mark 180 years of friendship between the nations during a stopover on the president's regional tour.PT0M0S 620 349
PHNOM PENH: The US President, Barack Obama, has started a three-country tour of Asia, hailing the US alliance with Thailand as key to its commitment to deepen economic and security ties to the region.
Mr Obama landed in Bangkok on Sunday for a 16-hour visit that will bolster support for Thailand's Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and show opposition groups the US is standing with her government.
Bitter political rivalries remain in Thailand after a 2006 military coup and years of political unrest, which sometimes led to street violence that at times strained the nation's ties with Washington.
US President Barack Obama tours the reclining Buddha. Photo: Reuters
After being greeted by 40 saluting military guards flanking a red carpet, Mr Obama held talks with Ms Yingluck, whose government has been given a behind-the-scenes role to help reduce tensions between China and four member states of the Association of South-East Asian Nations over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Ben Rhodes, Mr Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One that ''it is very important for us to send a signal to the region that allies are going to continue to be the foundation of our approach to establish a more prominent presence in Asia''.
Mr Obama called on Thailand's 86-year-old King Bhumibol Aduladej, the world's longest-serving monarch, at the Bangkok hospital where he has been receiving treatment since 2009.
At the iconic Wat Pho Royal Monastery, Mr Obama was overheard telling a monk in bright orange robes that ''we're working on this budget. We're going to need a lot of prayer for that,'' a reference to a fiscal showdown in Washington over tax increases and spending cuts.
Mr Obama will on Monday make a historic visit to Burma where he will endorse dramatic reforms under way as the country emerges from 50 years of repressive military rule.
However US officials travelling with the President say he will express ''deep concern'' over violence against Muslim Rohingya in western Rakhine state that has forced 25,000 people from torched homes.
Human Rights Watch has accused Burma's security forces of supporting some of the brutality, which the military-dominated government has denied.
US officials say the message Mr Obama will deliver with a university speech in Rangoon is that ''no matter how remarkable the changes under way in Burma may be, ultimate success will depend on the engagement and empowerment of the people of Burma.''
On Tuesday Mr Obama will be in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, attending the East Asian Summit, a forum of growing importance for Australia because the 18 leaders taking part are free to raise security, economic and political issues.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will arrive in Phnom Penh late on Monday and is expected to be among leaders to meet Mr Obama on Tuesday morning.
She will push for a new regional trade deal that will comprise 16 nations and an Australian-led initiative to fight malaria.