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Obama pivoting in Asia

19 November 2012

US President Barack Obama is pursuing his pivot strategy on a three day tour of Asian countries, which comes less than two weeks after his re-election victory. He is clearly reorienting US attention more towards Asia-Pacific relations. First stop Thailand is a traditional American ally, and the Hawaii-born president who spent part of his youth in Indonesia has dubbed himself the first Pacific President of the US. Washington is counting on the Thais to help invigorate its Pivot Asia push where competition is stiff from China. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra reaffirmed her country’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership. The TPP begun in 2005 by the Americans now has 11 members, all intent on multilateral development. However, they have drawn wide-ranging criticism for a lack of transparency in their free-trade agreement negotiations. Political science professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak in Bangkok said: “From the private sector interest, I think the U.S. feel that they’ve been behind the curve, behind the Europeans and ASEAN and China and so on. So this is catch-up time for the US, and especially for US businesses. I think the president’s visit will be utilised by the private sector of the Americans to try to pursue their economic and commercial interest.” The attractions are evident looking at the World Bank’s projection of 7.6% growth in some of the countries in the region in 2013. New markets beckon, such as Myanmar, second stop for Obama. Since a relaxing of international sanctions, US companies are eager to explore Myanmar’s trade potential, with its 48 million people, low labour costs and abundant natural resources – situated between China and India. Washington also hopes to encourage Myanmar’s government to distance itself from pariah state North Korea.