Burma and the U.S. Pivot to Asia: Commentary from Asian Powers
Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama visited three Southeast Asian countries in his first foreign trip after being reelected. The Asian media’s attention has focused on Obama’s visit to Burma, and as we point out in this post, the Indians are highlighting Obama’s trip as a continuation of the U.S. pivot, while the Chinese are downplaying its significance. For South Koreans, Burma’s liberalization evoked comparisons with North Korea’s political development.
- An op-ed in the Times of India expressed strong support for the U.S. pivot, listing a series of concrete measures that show the “seriousness of the competition for influence” and the “enduring impact of American democracy’s soft power” in Burma.
- Even The Hindu, generally more skeptical of U.S. power, gave credit to the Obama administration for crafting a Burma policy that is both more strategic and pragmatic than that of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
- The Indian Express, in contrast, was much more supportive of Indian foreign policy, arguing that Obama’s visit “vindicates” India’s past policy of gradually promoting change by engaging rather than isolating Burma. In the larger context of this U.S. pivot to Asia, Express columnist C. Raja Mohan noted that “smaller nations of Asia are caught in a bind.” He urged the Indian government to take on more responsibility as a rising power to “mitigate great power tensions and defuse regional conflicts in Asia.”
- “Don’t read too much into Myanmar visit,” ran the headline of a Global Times editorial. Noting that the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not react negatively to Obama’s visit, the paper said this “shows China’s confidence” and that “it doesn’t have to overreact.”
- Similarly, Jin Canrong of Renmin University also said “China needn’t overreact“. China should expand cooperation with the U.S., making the two rely on each other. Meanwhile, “it should enhance mutual trust with ASEAN countries to create a favorable space for its own development.”
- As a contrast to such expressions of nonchalance, however, a Xinhua commentary said the pivot was raising “suspicion and contention among Asian countries,” and a People’s Daily op-ed criticized the Obama administration for “playing tricks“
- While the Korean media is heavily focused on upcoming presidential elections, the JoongAng Daily took note of Obama’s speech in Burma calling on Pyongyang to follow Burma’s path of peace and progress, give up its nuclear weapons program, and open up. The paper supported Obama’s remarks, calling on North Korea to “seize a golden opportunity” and noted that Obama’s attendance at the East Asia Summit and visits to Thailand and Burma illustrate Washington’s “solid will…to attach specific meaning to the grand cause of ‘shifting the axis to Asia.'”