President Barack Obama left for Southeast Asia last night to showcase a foreign policy achievement and reinforce the United States' role as a counterweight to China.

Freed from campaigning constraints, Obama is quickly re-establishing his foreign policy credentials by being the first US president to visit Myanmar, also known as Burma, which was internationally shunned for decades and is now hailed for its steps toward democratisation.

His four-day trip will also take him to Thailand and to the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Obama is eager to secure the US' place as a major player in a region that has long operated under China's influence.


"Continuing to fill in our pivot to Asia will be a critical part of this President's second term and ultimately his foreign policy legacy," said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

During his brief stop in Myanmar tomorrow, Obama will meet opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein, and deliver an address in which he will call for more political reforms in the country. At the East Asia Summit, also attended by China, Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Australia and New Zealand, Obama will hold separate one-on-one meetings with outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.