Asia Tour: Obama pays first visit to Thailand

President Barack Obama on Sunday launched a three-day Southeast Asia tour, hailing alliances with countries such as Thailand as cornerstones of the administration’s deeper commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr. Obama landed in Bangkok on Sunday afternoon, greeted by 40 saluting military guards who flanked both sides of a red carpet.

The visit to Thailand, less than 18 hours long, is a gesture of friendship to a long-standing partner and major non-NATO ally.

Still, the two countries have faced strains, most recently after the 2006 military coup that deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and Mr. Obama’s visit offers an opportunity to restate and broaden the relationship. “It was very important for us to send a signal to the region that allies are going to continue to be the foundation of our approach”

Mr. Obama is also seeking to open new markets for U.S. businesses; the United States is Thailand’s third biggest trading partner, behind China and Japan. Becoming a counterweight to China in the region is a keystone of Mr. Obama’s so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr. Obama’s trip comes on the heels of meetings in Thailand between Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta and his Thai counterparts on security and military cooperation on issues ranging from fighting weapons proliferation to disaster relief to countering piracy.