(LinkAsia: November 23, 2012) Yul Kwon: President Obama has just concluded a whirlwind visit to Southeast Asia. His trip included stops in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. It was billed as a campaign to win over so-called "swing states" - countries that both the US and China are trying to bring into their respective spheres of influence. Perhaps the most important part of the trip was the six hours that Obama spent in Myanmar. Until recently, the country was seen as a client of China, mostly because China was one of the few nations that did business with the former Burmese military regime. But now, after a year of reform, western countries are crowding in with investments and aid. Here's how Japanese public broadcaster NHK covered Obama's visit.
NHK World NEWSLINE Airdate: November 19, 2012
Reporter: Obama met with President Thein Sein. He referred to the nation for the first time in public as Myanmar, the name made official by the military. The US government usually calls it Burma.
Barack Obama: I shared with President Thein Sein, our belief, the process of reform he has taken is one that will move this country forward.
Reporter: Local people lined the streets waving US flags to welcome the American president. Obama then met with long-time democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, at her home.
Barack Obama: I'm proud to be the first American president to visit this spectacular country. We've seen some very encouraging progress.
Aung San Suu Kyi: We are working to a genuine success for our people and for the friendship of our two countries.
Reporter: Some human rights activists called the visit premature. But Obama said they should take the opportunity to encourage what he called "the better impulses in the country."
(LinkAsia: June 15, 2012) Kara Tsuboi: To encourage new business ventures in the country, Myanmar is building up its infrastructure and paving the way for foreign investments, literally. It's planning a deep-sea port that would be Southeast Asia's largest industrial complex, and an eight-lane super-highway that would stretch from the west coast all the way to Vietnam. But there are some roadbumps. NHK tells us ethnic violence and budget constraints are threatening to derail those plans.
NHK World NEWSLINE Airdate: June 11, 2012
Reporter: Dawei is a port town on the Indian Ocean in southeastern Myanmar. Development is underway to transform the city into the country's first special economic zone. Dawei is set to become the western starting point for a major road running across the Indochina Peninsula. Expectations are high for the distribution route that will directly connect the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. The Myanmar government plans to improve roads and port facilities and build a power station and iron mills in the area. Its ultimate goal is to make Dawei the largest industrial area in Southeast Asia.
U Tin Maung Swe, Chairman, Dawei Special Economic Zone: This land is valuable because it is in between the Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Reporter: But development is not proceeding as smoothly as the government wishes. Two years ago, the previous military regime granted development rights to a general contractor in neighboring Thailand. But the current government is having trouble securing the budget, which is set to exceed 50 billion dollars. Another issue is ethnic tensions involving minority groups. Last year, an armed group of the Karen people exchanged fire with government troops in an area of Dawei and the development. Karen groups have been fighting with government forces for decades. The current national union reached a cease-fire agreement with the government this January. But their distrust of the government is so deeply rooted that they say they would not approve the development of Dawei unless it helps improve their livelihoods.
Saw Thu Yeh, KNU District Leader: We will support the development only if benefits will be distributed to all ethnic minority groups. But if the development is likely to ruin our lives and deprive us of freedom, we cannot support it.
Reporter: Myanmar is drawing a lot of attention as Asia's last frontier. The key to its economic development lies in whether it can overcome challenges, such as ethnic tensions, and transform itself into a true democracy.
Kara Tsuboi: There's more bad news for the Dawei project. A Burmese exile newspaper reports that a Burmese investor with close ties to the government is apparently taking his money out of the project.