Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mixed Reactions to Obama in Southeast Asia

The Irrawaddy News

Throughout Southeast Asia, observers are busy trying to guess what Barack Obama’s remarkable ascent to the US presidency will mean for the region’s relations with the world’s most powerful nation.

In Indonesia, where Obama spent four years as a boy, the mood is celebratory. Children from his former school will mark his swearing-in by singing in downtown Jakarta, while former classmates of the president-elect plan to gather to watch his inaugural address.

Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, married Lol Soetoro in Indonesia, where she and her son lived from 1967-72.

The Jakarta Post reported that Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who was born and raised in Jakarta but now lives in Hawaii, would be attending the inauguration, as would other members of Obama’s Indonesian family.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono congratulated Obama when he won the election in November, and expressed his hope that the new president’s leadership would help steer the world through the current global economic crisis.

However, other countries in the region are less certain about Obama’s likely impact on the struggling economy, which is the main focus of relations between the US and Southeast Asia.

An editorial in the Bangkok Post, Thailand’s leading English-language daily, was downbeat about the prospects for change, citing critics who warned that “the deepening economic woes and domestic dynamics within [Thailand and the US] will keep the two allies apart and maintain the status quo on pending free trade negotiations.”

Indeed, many fear that the Obama administration will merely follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, who showed little interest in supporting the region’s aspirations. For nearly two decades, the US has been unhappy with the notion of the region coming together, particularly when it relied on the anti-West rhetoric of leaders like Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to cement unity among the disparate members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, will also be watching to see if Obama will pay closer attention to them than Bush did in all his eight years in the White House,” Hardev Kaur, an editor for Malaysia’s leading newspaper, the New Straits Times.

One of the more difficult issues facing US relations with the region will be Burma. Although it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will be able to make a breakthrough on Burma, the US ambassador to the UN-designate, Susan Rice, said last week that she favored “multilateral sanctions” with the support of regional powers as a measure to put pressure on the Burmese junta to release political prisoners and restore democracy in the country.

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too