Obama Heads To Myanmar: Implications

Barack Obama has decided to visit Myanmar (along with Thailand and Cambodia) in late November, on his first foreign trip since being re-elected on November 6. Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar, and this will be quite a prestige boost for President Thein Sein, who is slowly moving his country out of isolation (See our special report, ‘Myanmar Awakens: Unearthing Asia’s Hidden Gem’). However, critics feel that Obama is visiting Myanmar too soon, and that the government in Naypyidaw needs to do more to liberalise the political scene and reduce ethnic violence.

So why is Obama going now? The answer is mainly about geopolitics. The Obama administration is rebalancing its foreign policy towards Asia after a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and reaching out to Naypyidaw is about developing a new ally – or at least reasonably friendly country – in South East Asia. For its part, Thailand is already a long-standing ally of the US. Meanwhile, Obama’s visit to Cambodia is also a first for a US president, and he will attend the East Asia Summit there.

Obama’s ongoing engagement of the Myanmar regime is worth watching. If successful, then the process could be used as a model to reach out to other isolated states, such as North Korea (the then-US president Bill Clinton almost decided to visit Pyongyang in late 2000, just before he left office, despite considering bombing North Korea in the spring of 1994). Perhaps Obama could even go to Iran before his term ends in 2017, if Washington and Tehran reach a ‘grand bargain’ to end the nuclear dispute or if reformers come to power in the Islamic Republic.

This Week’s Trivia Question

Last week, we asked, which two capital cities of neighbouring countries have the greatest distance between them? (Note: by neighbouring countries, we mean sharing land borders, and we exclude overseas territories. By distance, we mean on the world’s surface and not through the earth’s core.) Similarly, which two capital cities of neighbouring countries are the closest together? (Note: we exclude the Vatican and Rome from this list.)

The answer to the first part is Moscow (Russia) and Pyongyang (North Korea), 6,400km apart. The answer to the second part is Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Brazzaville (Republic of Congo), which are on opposite banks of the Congo river.

This week’s trivia question concerns the new James Bond film, Skyfall. In the film, Bond visits a casino in Macau. In which previous Bond film did he also visit Macau?