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.
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.
- An Indian Express editorial states, India has “won the argument for bringing change and openness in Myanmar with a guiding presence rather than punishing sanctions.”
- After all, India has a range of concrete interests in Myanmar, including energy, trade and transport routes, border security and development of relations with ASEAN. India’s recent offer of $500 million in credit to Myanmar is an example of possible economic leverage, as the Times of Indiapointed out.
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.
- Some are wary of aligning too closely with the US on this issue. C. Raja Mohan, expressing what is known as a “Great Power Realist” school of thought, says India will have to “raise its game” with an “independent, credible and sustainable strategic engagement with Myanmar and its people.“
- 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.”
- The exception are Leftist opinions, such as this editorial in The Hindu, which are deeply suspicious of America’s pivot toward Asia and stress that China is an important neighbor that cannot be slighted.
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.”
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.”
- The People’s Daily cites Wikileaks cables revealing US financial support to civil society groups in Myanmar that have been protesting the Myitsone project.
- “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.