“This trip risks being an ill-timed presidential pat on the back for a regime that has looked the other way as violence rages, destroying villages and communities just in the last few weeks,” said Suzanne Nossel, the U.S.-based director of Amnesty International.
Obama’s other stops in the region also underscore the potential pitfalls of going all-in in Asia.
Thailand’s 2006 coup, which led to the ouster of the prime minister, strained relations with the U.S. and raised questions in Washington about the stability of its longtime regional ally. Cambodia, where Obama’s visit also marks the first by a U.S. president, has a dismal human rights record.
White House officials have emphasized that Obama is only visiting Cambodia because it is hosting the East Asia Summit, an annual meeting the U.S. attends. Aides say the president will voice his human rights concerns during his meeting with Hun Sen, Cambodia’s long-serving prime minister.
Still, human rights groups fear Obama’s visit will be seen within Cambodia as an affirmation of the prime minister and a sign to opposition groups that the U.S. stands with the oppressive government, not with them.