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US has eye on China while wooing Myanmar
Global Times | March 14, 2012 19:58
By Ding Gang
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The US is trying to improve its ties with Myanmar. What does this mean for the relationship between China and Myanmar? An article published in China Youth Daily recently said some US experts believe that the Cold War era is long gone, and international relations are not as simple as foe-or-friend style.

The article also cited an expert as saying that the closer relations between the US and Myanmar do not necessarily mean China and Myanmar will become estranged. However, he was simply giving himself away when making such claims.

The US policy shift toward Myanmar is sure to have taken China-Myanmar relations into consideration. In the relationship between China, Myanmar and the US, a win-win situation is not always guaranteed. Sometimes the embrace of China and Myanmar means the US and Myanmar will be estranged and vice versa.

The US has made strategic considerations about China a priority when dealing with Myanmar. Washington wants to set an example in the Asia-Pacific region. This is one important step in the US "return to Asia."

Washington hopes that the changes it is pushing in Myanmar will lead the whole ASEAN morally and politically. The aims of the changes surely include restricting China. It's the same as conducting joint military drills with Thailand and the Philippines and promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The US is adopting different approaches to the same purpose.

Washington wants to establish a framework of political, military and economic rules around China and even the whole Asia-Pacific region, and China must be restricted within the framework. Myanmar is one part of establishing the rules of a new game, and China will feel restrained at times.

The Polish-American political scientist and former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once stated that in Asia, a US cooperatively engaged in multilateral structures, cautiously supportive of India's development, solidly tied to Japan and South Korea, and patiently expanding both bilateral as well as global cooperation with China is the best source of the balancing leverage needed for sustaining stability in the globally rising new East.

In fact, competition among these countries cannot reach a balance easily. Once a political objective is established, the question that remains is how to tie these countries together?

Besides national strength, where in the foreseeable future, the big stick of the US will still be the most powerful in this region, the role of ideas is also worth noting. Ideas can be targeted against a particular country.

Myanmar halted the construction of the China-backed Myitsone Dam, and the White House was the first to show its support. WikiLeaks revealed earlier that the US embassy funded some of the NGOs in Myanmar that were opposed to the dam project.

Some US NGOs are still in contact with and support the NGOs organized by Myanmese exiles, and are pointing their fingers at one of China's most important strategic projects overseas, the oil and gas pipeline between Myanmar's southwest coast and China's Yunnan Province. Can we call these win-win situations?

How Myanmar reforms will be carried out directly influence China's interests. Washington will set China at its first priority when considering strategies in Myanmar. As Myanmar considers how to meet the US requirements for lifting sanctions, it should also take into consideration its relations with China.

Indeed, Myanmar and the US embracing doesn't necessarily shut China out. But when Washington is thinking of how to weaken China's influence, we can't count on a win-win or multi-win situation.

Of course, we shouldn't see every US move as a plot, but we should understand the US strategies toward Myanmar as best we can. The high-sounding tones of some experts shouldn't be followed blindly.

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily. He is now stationed in Bangkok.

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