China and India React to Secretary Clinton’s Visit to Burma/Myanmar

US policy toward Myanmar is shifting from one of isolation to engagement, as underscored by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s three day visit to Myanmar in early December. In this post, we highlight how this change is viewed in India and China, two major Asian powers with potentially competing interests in Myanmar. 

INDIA

Of the diverse range of Indian commentaries on this topic, a generally shared opinion is that this liberalization of relations with Myanmar shows that India’s policy of engagement since the mid-1990s has been the right approach all along.

On the geopolitical implications of US engagement with Myanmar, many see this as an opportunity for India to counterbalance China through strengthened relations with Myanmar. See, for example,commentary by Shyam Saran, the former Indian ambassador to Myanmar.

  • The “Liberal Globalist” perspective is more optimistic about cooperating with the US. Sreeram Chaulia, Vice Dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs, argues that an “India-US team” with common geopolitical interests “can tilt Myanmar decisively away from authoritarianism and Chinese stranglehold.”

A critical question is whether India’s relations with Myanmar should take into account the country’s progress in political liberalization.

  • Support for the democracy agenda was expressed in an Indian Express editorial and Hindustan Times editorial.
  • In contrast, C. Raja Mohan believes that “India has no reason to tail the Western debate on democratic change in Myanmar,” and further suggests that by making engagement conditional on democracy and human rights issues, “Washington finds itself certainly constrained.”

CHINA

The state and party owned press characterize Clinton’s visit as yet another example that the US is trying to contain China.

Considerable commentary was devoted to the Myanmar government’s recent decision to suspend the Chinese-supported Myitsone hydroelectric dam project.

  • Citing widespread public concern over the dam’s environmental effects and consequences for local communities, President Thein Sein halted work on the dam in late September. According to the Global Times, this suspension “brought massive losses” to China Power Investment Corp, the corporation responsible for construction of the dam. China “welcomes the opening-up of Myanmar, but firmly opposes it stepping on China’s interests.”
  • “Myanmar is the pivot of China’s grand strategy to achieve its economic growth goal,” says Li Xiguang, director of the International Center for Communication at Tsinghua University. For this reason, he argues that US moves to encircle China make even more urgent the opening of trade and transport routes between southwestern China and Myanmar.
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About risingpowers
Sigur Center for Asian Studies Elliott School of International Affairs The George Washington University

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