Clinton talks with reformist Myanmar president
SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was to declare Myanmar open to American investment Friday, introducing the long-reclusive nation's president to top American business leaders gathered near one of Southeast Asia's ancient landmarks.
Following the Obama administration's recent loosening of sanctions against Myanmar, Clinton met President Thein Sein in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap, rewarding him for several pro-democracy reforms while prodding him to do more. The city adjoins the archaeological site hosting the famous centuries-old temples of Angkor, recalling an earlier age of regional glory.
Clinton and Thein Sein shared a warm greeting in a hotel courtyard, their national flags and tropical foliage behind them. Clinton asked about Thein Sein's family and told him "I brought a very prestigious business delegation to see you. I wanted them all to hear from you tonight about your plans for the future."
She met the reformist president last year when she became the first U.S. Secretary of State in half-a-century to visit Myanmar.
They were to go together Friday night to meet the largest-ever delegation of American businesses to Southeast Asia. Those represented include Coca Cola, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, Goldman Sachs and Google.
The high-profile gathering and meeting reflected the sharp progress the country also known as Burma has made after years in the international wilderness.
Western economic and political sanctions had been imposed on Myanmar's previous military regime for its repressive and undemocratic policies. Thein Sein, who took power last year after general elections, has instituted liberalizing reforms in an effort to ease the sanctions and attract foreign aid and investment.
Thein Sein's government has enlisted Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in its political reconciliation efforts, welcoming her party into Parliament after more than two decades of hostility that saw her spend 15 years under house arrest and other democracy advocates jailed and harassed.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration gave permission for American companies to invest in Myanmar and work with its state oil and gas enterprise, a go-ahead that marks the most significant easing of U.S. sanctions against the former pariah nation.
But Clinton and other officials have made clear they will keep pushing Myanmar to improve its human rights record.
Earlier, at a women's event, Clinton said the U.S. was watching with great interest Myanmar's rolling back of "restrictive and exploitative labor rules.
"Workers are beginning to organize, although they still face stiff penalties for joining unregistered unions. There will be a lot of challenges, but I hope that we see continuing progress," she said
Another lingering human rights concern Clinton may raise with Thein Sein is the fate of a Muslim ethnic group in western Myanmar.
The Rohingyas have been the target of discrimination, and tensions with Rakhine Buddhists last month exploded into violence that left at least 78 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.
Thein Sein this past week proposed that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees resettle the Rohingya in a third country or take responsibility for them, a suggestion rejected by the U.N. as unsuitable.
The business gathering is the final scheduled event of Clinton's weeklong tour of Asia, before she heads to Egypt and Israel.
After stops in Japan and Mongolia, she looked for new investments and human rights advances in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia - countries in China's backyard whose relations with the U.S. have warmed in recent years despite the difficult legacy of the Vietnam War.
The evolution reflects the wide fear among Southeast Asian countries of being swallowed up as China's military and economic might expands.
The Obama administration is hoping to coax Asian governments away from Beijing as it `pivots' U.S. power toward the Pacific.
The goal is to expand the American foothold in a part of the world that is increasingly becoming the center of the global economy, but where democracy and human rights lag. Containing China's burgeoning power is another objective.
Earlier Friday, Clinton announced that the United States will provide five countries in Southeast Asia with $50 million over three years to assist them with health, education and environment programs. The recipients of the aid are Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.