US seeks clout on China doorstep
US: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads this week on a
historic visit to Myanmar that aims not only to pry open the closed
nation but to shake up the battle for global influence right on China’s
Clinton on Wednesday will become the top US official to visit the
nation formerly known as Burma in more than 50 years as she tests the
waters after dramatic but tentative reforms by the military-backed
Clinton is expected to meet both President Thein Sein and democracy
icon Aung San Suu Kyi. She has said she will press for greater progress
on human rights and democracy, without offering any let-up in biting US
sanctions. The United States has been careful not to raise expectations
for a breakthrough. But Clinton’s visit carries unmistakable symbolism
as it seeks to advance US priorities in one of the countries most
closely aligned with China.
Myanmar’s “strategic importance to the United States is closely
connected to concerns about rising Chinese influence,” said John
Ciorciari, an expert on Southeast Asia at the University of Michigan.
“To Beijing, Burma offers the possibility of natural resources and
warm-water ports on the Indian Ocean that could be crucial in expanding
China’s naval reach,” he said. “Successful US engagement would lessen
the likelihood of a strong Sino-Myanmar alignment in years ahead.”
Beijing has provided the main diplomatic cover for Myanmar’s leaders
but the relationship is complicated, with some in the Southeast Asian
nation resentful over China’s overwhelming economic influence and
historic border conflicts.
Myanmar recently defied China by shutting down work on an unpopular
dam that would supply power across the border. Myanmar’s leaders, known
for deep distrust of the outside world, have reached out in recent years
to India, Southeast Asia nations and, now, the United States.
For the United States, progress on Myanmar could help resolve a main
stumbling block inside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,
giving new influence to the fast-growing and mostly US-friendly
A stronger ASEAN would allow “China to grow and be secure but not use
its new economic might to force neighbors’ hands on issues related to
sovereignty,” said Ernie Bower of the Center for Strategic and
US President Barack Obama’s administration, while saying it wants a
cooperative relationship with a rising China, has recently gone on the
offensive amid suspicions over Beijing’s intentions.