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Obama sending Clinton to repressive Myanmar
Beijing has poured billions of dollars of investment into Myanmar to operate mines, extract timber and build oil and gas pipelines. China has also been a staunch supporter of the country’s politically isolated government and is Myanmar’s second-biggest trading partner after Thailand.
Administration officials stressed that the new engagement with Myanmar was not about China. They said the Obama administration consulted with China about the move and said they expected China to be supportive. They argued that China wants to see a stable Burma on its borders, so that it doesn’t risk problems with refugees or other results of political instability.
Human rights groups welcomed Obama’s announcement as an opportunity to compel further reforms.
“We’ve been arguing a long time that political engagement and political pressure are not mutually exclusive,” Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia researcher, told The Associated Press, adding that Clinton “should not miss the opportunity in this historic visit to pressure the government and speak very clearly that the human rights violations taking place there need to stop.”
Elaine Pearson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Burmese government must realize that a visit by Clinton “puts them on notice, not lets them off the hook for their continually atrocious human rights record.”
Obama was to see Burma’s president during the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, that brought him to Bali. The two have met before, at an ASEAN meeting in Singapore, when Thein Sein was prime minister.
Obama attended a meeting Friday afternoon with the heads of ASEAN, whose 10 members include host Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. The group will expand for the East Asia Summit, a forum that also counts China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the U.S. as members.
The president held one-on-one meetings on the sidelines of the summit with leaders from Indonesia, India, Malaysia and the Philippines. Administration officials said Obama discussed the issue of Myanmar in his meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
Earlier, in a move promoting American trade, Obama presided over a deal that will send Boeing planes to an Indonesian company and create jobs back home, underscoring the value of the lucrative Asia-Pacific market to a president needing some good economic news.
Obama stood watch as executives of Boeing and Lion Air, a private carrier in Indonesia, signed a deal that amounts to Boeing’s largest commercial plane order. Lion Air ordered 230 airplanes, and the White House said it would support tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.
Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win in Yangon and Alisa Tang in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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