January 23, 2012

Whitehouse Visits Burma, Southeast Asia with Bipartisan Group

Washington, DC – Following President Obama’s recent announcement of a new national defense strategy that puts strategic emphasis on interests in the Asia-Pacific region, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has just concluded a trip to the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma led by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ).  The delegation also included Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT). 

The trip, which was intended to reaffirm America’s commitment to economic and strategic relationships in the region, also emphasized the importance of human rights and featured a meeting with Burmese democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  Suu Kyi made headlines recently by filing to run for Parliament after being held under house arrest for many years as a result of her pro-democracy activities and her party’s landslide victory in Burma’s parliamentary elections of 1990.  Senators also met with Burmese President Thein Sein, who released hundreds of political prisoners just days before the Senators’ arrival. The Senators discussed further democratic advances with President Thein Sein. The group met with U.S. troops and several foreign dignitaries on stops throughout the trip, including President Benigno Aquino III in the Philippines, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Vietnam, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Thailand.

“It’s always an honor to meet with our troops serving abroad and to build relationships with foreign leaders,” said Whitehouse.  “As America’s defense priorities shift toward a strategy that acknowledges the growing influence of Asia-Pacific nations, these relationships are more important than ever to promote trade and identify potential threats.  And by reaching out to encourage democracy and human rights in countries like Burma, we help ensure that America will continue to serve as a beacon of freedom throughout the world.”

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma and met with Suu Kyi as well.  Clinton was the most senior U.S. official to visit Burma in the last 50 years, which have been marked by military rule, a centrally-planned economy, poverty, and repression that have led many Burmese to seek refuge outside the country.

In Vietnam, Whitehouse was briefed on a joint U.S./Vietnamese project to clean up the remnants of Agent Orange, which has affected the health of populations in many parts of the country. Secretary Clinton on her earlier visit to Vietnam cited work to cleanup dioxin (a key component of Agent Orange) as a sign of improving relations. The group also visited Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, where Senator McCain was held as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.

Whitehouse, whose father was a U.S. Foreign Service officer and U.S. Ambassador, spent several years living in Southeast Asia during the 1970’s. 


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