As President Obama heads to Myanmar, Cambodia, and Thailand on
Saturday, China is keeping a wary eye on the latest US move in the
sometimes bruising tussle between the two giants for influence in
Beijing is nervous that Mr. Obamas pivot to Asia, a drive to
strengthen old US friendships and forge new ones, is a strategy
designed to hem China in.
Myanmar (also called Burma) is Exhibit No. 1 in the case for such
fears. A nascent civilian government has recently stepped out of
neighboring Chinas orbit and leaned toward the West with liberal
political and economic reforms there.
But Myanmar, an impoverished and ramshackle country, despite its
wealth of natural resources, could offer an opportunity for China
and the US to work together, suggest analysts in both countries.
(see map here).
The US is trying to compete with China to make friends with Asian
countries, but this does not have to be a zero-sum game, argues Liu
Feitao, an expert on US policy in Asia at the Chinese Institute for
International Studies, a think tank linked to the Foreign Ministry
Burma could be one area where we can get beyond the idea of
strategic competition, agrees Michael Green, head of the Asia desk
at the National Security Council during the Bush administration. US-
China relations with third countries could be healthy.
The Chinese government has not yet reached a final judgment on
the US policy of rebalancing its security emphasis toward the Asia-
Pacific region, Chinese scholars say, nor has it developed a
strategy to deal with it.
They tell us that rebalancing is not aimed at containing or
encircling China and we would like to believe it, says Dr. Liu.
But officials have expressed serious reservations. The United
States must convince China that there is no gap between its policy
statements on China and its true intentions, Deputy Foreign Minister
Cui Tiankai wrote in an article earlier this year.
Beijing is especially worried by the way in which neighboring
countries involved in maritime territorial disputes with their giant
neighbor, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, have turned to
Washington for support as China has turned up the heat on them.
(Read more about the complex web of interests involved in the
territorial disputes here)
US influence in the region is rising, while Chinas is decreasing,
says Du Jifeng, a Southeast Asia expert at the Chinese Academy of
Social Sciences, a government-run think tank. We should not further
stimulate conflicts with our neighbors.
There is tremendous demand and expectation of US leadership in
the region, US National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon said in a
speech in Washington on Thursday. The demand signals, I think, at
this point today, are unprecedented.
From Beijing, such comments sound as if Washington is seeking to
drive a wedge between China and its neighbors. Policymakers here
have not forgotten Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintons remark
in Cambodia two years ago, when she said: You dont want to get too
dependent on one country, responding to a question about Phnom Penhs
relations with China.
Strategists here say they are also concerned with the prominent
military aspects of the pivot: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
announced earlier this year that 60 percent of US naval vessels are
to be deployed in the Pacific by 2020; the US Navy and Air Force
recently unveiled a new air-sea battle concept clearly designed to
counter growing Chinese naval power; the Pentagons Strategic
Guidance document, issued last January, put China and Iran at the
center of US security concerns, and 2,500 Marines are due to be
stationed in Australia by 2016. …