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What China sees in Clinton's visit to Burma (Myanmar)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says her visit to Burma (Myanmar) Wednesday is to gauge political reforms there. But China is concerned it could be part of a strategic plan to fence in Beijing.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks from her airplane upon her arrival in Naypyidaw, Burma (Myanmar).

Saul Loeb/Reuters

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Beijing

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Burma (Myanmar) on Wednesday after President Obama said he saw “flickers of progress” toward democracy in the isolated and impoverished nation.

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Many Chinese observers, however, see something else in the visit: another step in a strategic plan by Washington to fence Beijing in, as the United States increasingly turns its diplomatic attention to Asia.

US officials insist Ms. Clinton is in Burma to further political reforms by the new nominally civilian government. “It’s about … trying to seize an opportunity,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner earlier this week. “This visit to Burma is not about our relationship with China.”

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The Chinese government says it welcomes this approach. “We believe that Myanmar and relevant Western countries should enhance contacts … on the basis of mutual respect,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday. “We hope these actions will be conducive to the stability and development of Myanmar.”

Masked concerns

Such statements, however, mask undoubted concerns. “As Washington shifts its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region, there is more than meets the eye to Clinton’s visit to Burma,” argued an article in Wednesday’s “Liberation Daily,” a paper published by the Chinese military that was circulated by the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Clinton’s visit, the first to Burma by a US secretary of State since John Foster Dulles went to Rangoon in 1955, comes on the heels of Mr. Obama’s nine-day swing through the Asia-Pacific region. He used that journey to announce a US “pivot” away from winding-down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and toward east Asia.

“The US is here to stay,” he said bluntly.

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