President Barack Obama has become the first sitting US president to visit Myanmar (Burma), landing in Yangon on Monday on the second stop of his three-country Asia tour.
In a trip aimed at encouraging a more democratic system in Myanmar, Obama met with both reformist President Thein Sein, a former junta member, and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
He also visited Shwedagon Pagoda, the spiritual center of Buddhism in the country,according to Agence France-Presse.
The entire trip — during which Obama was accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — lasted six hours, Reuters reported.
He was next headed to Cambodia and a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen ahead of the East Asia Summit.
As America winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and China’s influence grows, Obama has deemed the Asia-Pacific as crucial to US prosperity and security.
According to CBS, Obama — who had reportedly stressed that the Myanmar visit was not an “endorsement” of the regime but “acknowledgement” of its reform process — promised more aid for the country if it kept up democratic reforms.
“Our goal is to sustain the momentum,” he reportedly said in a televised speech at the University of Yangon, adding that he was “extending the hand of friendship” to the country.
“Instead of being repressed, the right of people to assemble together must now be fully respected. Instead of being stifled, the veil of media censorship must continue to be lifted. As you take these steps, you can draw on your progress.”
“That is how you must reach for the future you deserve, a future where a single prisoner of conscience is one too many and the law is stronger than any leader, where no child is made to be a soldier and no woman is exploited, where national security is strengthened by a military that serves under civilians and a constitution guarantees that only those who are elected by the people may govern.”
After meeting with Thein Sein, a former general who has overseen the release of political prisoners and easing of media restrictions, Obama said the reforms “in Myanmar” could unleash “the incredible potential of this beautiful country.”
The New York Times noted that Thein Sein also made a gesture, before Air Force One even landed, announcing that the government would allow human rights organizations to access prisons and take “decisive action” to stop violence against the country’s minority Muslim population.
More than 180 people have been killed more than 110,000 displaced in violence between Buddhists and mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims, who have faced decades of discrimination.
CBS wrote that Obama’s use of the country’s modern name was significant, given the US still officially refers to the country as Burma.
Obama also held talks with Suu Kyi, like him a Nobel Peace Prize winner, at the lakeside mansion where she was held under house arrest by the country’s former military rulers.
In a joint press conference with Obama, she said:
“We are confident that this support will continue through the difficult years that lie ahead. The most difficult time in any transition is when you think that success is in sight. We have to be very careful that we’re not lured by a mirage of success.”
The president was greeted by tens of thousands of people, who lined the road from the airport, according to the Times.
This story was originally published by Global Post.