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How China views Obama's trip to Myanmar

China is watching Obama's trip to neighboring Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia this weekend with a wary eye. But Myanmar could offer an opportunity for China and the US to work together, say analysts. 

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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)

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“US influence in the region is rising, while China’s 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.”

Wedge issue?

“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 Clinton’s remark in Cambodia two years ago, when she said: “You don’t want to get too dependent on one country,” responding to a question about Phnom Penh’s 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 Pentagon’s 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.

Obama’s four-day trip to Asia will offer a chance for him to stress new dimensions of his policy. The journey “marks the beginning of the next phase of our rebalancing effort,” Mr. Donilon says.

“Our rebalancing is defined by far more than our defense posture,” he adds. “It will continue to be defined by deeper economic and political engagement.”


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