BEIJING, China — As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dined in Burma on Friday with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, many in official China were stewing over America’s recently renewed push for clout in Asia.
In the past few weeks, President Obama has upped the pressure for greater American power in Asia, showing an edgier posture toward China and its growing power in the region.
The more aggressive stance began with Obama, speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in mid-November, calling on China to behave like a “grown up” in its trade relations with the rest of the world. Shortly after, the president announced that the US would deploy a new American troop presence to Australia, a counterweight to China’s regional influence.
This week, a Chinese military official warned that the Australia deployment and other American military ties in Asia indicate a “Cold War mentality.”
“Military alliances are a product of history. We believe any strengthening and expansion of military alliances is an expression of a Cold War mentality," Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said in a press conference.
“This is not in keeping with the spirit of peace, development and cooperation, and does not help to enhance mutual trust and cooperation between countries in the region, and could ultimately harm the common interests of all concerned,” Geng said.
And now there’s Clinton in Burma, marking the first visit to that politically isolated country by an American secretary of state in nearly 50 years. Clinton’s trip marks new ground in increasing openness and it also signals that Burma, known by its military regime as Myanmar, is searching for allies beyond China.
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As her tour neared its end, Clinton announced that the US would support increasing aid for Burma and consider placing an ambassador there for the first time since the regime’s 1988 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
With each new push on Asia from the United States, China has reacted with some indignation, either through officials or government-run media. Clinton’s Burma visit, coming so recently after that country cancelled a massive Chinese hydropower project, continues to ruffle feathers in Beijing.
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In an editorial on Friday about “Clinton’s misguided preaching on aid,” the conservative Global Times newspaper questioned Clinton’s mission and intent when she warned Burma against accepting investment from countries interested only in taking its resources.
“These words do not show the confident US we are used to seeing,” the paper wrote in a tone just shy of mocking.
“China's foreign aid has its flaws, but its goals are at least much simpler than those of the US,” it continued. “US aid often takes the form of arms, and comes with many harsh political warnings. Rarely can its aid bring direct benefit to the welfare of foreign countries.”
Yet not everyone is up in arms over the Obama administration’s increasing push on Asia. Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University, said he sees the growing tension between the US and China as a natural evolution as China rises. He said that as China has grown more powerful economically, its expectations have risen politically on issues like Tibet, territorial waters and regional influence.
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“Why do the US and China have a problem? Because China believes the balance of power has changed,” said Shen. “In my view, this is nothing new and there’s nothing to improve. It’s not a worsening relationship.”
On Burma, in particular, China should not see growing American influence as a threat to its own role. The true ideals of the Communist Party of China wouldn’t mesh with keeping a lock on that country as its only ally, but rather support reforms for a more open and equal society.
“There should be no such thing, that China should be angry. As a communist country, we should be very pleased they have more friends,” said Shen. “If we’re true communists, we should only be happy about what is happening in Myanmar now.”