By Irwin Loy
U.S. President Barack Obama is using his first trip abroad since winning re-election to push for renewed U.S. interests on trade and economic development in Asia.
But some critics are urging the president to press Asian countries on human-rights abuses.
In Phnom Penh, where Obama arrived late Monday to meet with leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, demonstrators staged a rally urging the U.S. president to press the government to end land grabs, which rights groups say have affected tens of thousands of Cambodians during the past decade.
Human rights activists voiced similar concerns regarding Obama’s earlier stop in Rangoon. While Burma has undergone dramatic reforms in the past year, its government still faces serious criticism of its dealings with ethnic-minority groups and its handling of ongoing tensions in Rakhine state.
“I urge Obama to tell the Cambodian government to release all the land victims and all the activists,” said activist Duong Kea, adding that the government has been criticized for jailing political opponents and continuing land evictions.
Prior to President Obama’s trip, National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon described the diplomatic objective a part of what the White House calls a “rebalancing” of strategic interests in the region.
“We aspire to see a region where the rise of new powers occurs peacefully, with the freedom to access the sea, air, space and cyberspace, empowers vibrant commerce,” said Donilon. “Where multi-national forums help promote shared values, and where citizens increasingly have the ability to influence their governments, and universal human rights are upheld. That is the future we seek in partnership with our allies and friends.”
Obama will attend ASEAN meetings through Tuesday and is expected to hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines, including a discussion with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
President Obama has become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma and Cambodia.