Wednesday, November 30, 2011

China Challenges Clinton for Myanmar’s Attention

Hillary Clinton waves alongside Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Myo Myint (L) upon her arrival at Naypyidaw November 30, 2011.
With U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scheduled to visit Myanmar today, China has spent the week pitching the benefits of friendship to its politically isolated yet strategically important neighbor.

On Monday, Vice President Xi Jinping proposed China and Myanmar bolster military cooperation during a meeting with the commander of Myanmar’s Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing. Mr. Xi, who is expected to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao, faces the challenge of shoring up relations with China’s neighbors, including Myanmar, which have grown increasingly suspicious of Beijing’s growing influence across the region.

“China will work with Myanmar to further bolster the comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation,” Mr. Xi said during the meeting, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

It wasn’t clear whether this week’s meetings were scheduled in advance of the Obama administration’s announcement this month of Mrs. Clinton’s visit. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei didn’t address Mrs. Clinton’s visit during a daily press briefing on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Mr. Hong reiterated Beijing’s calls for stability in Myanmar.

“The Chinese side welcomes Myanmar to strengthen contact and improve relations with relevant Western countries on the basis on mutual respect,” Mr. Hong said on Tuesday. “China hopes Myanmar’s domestic and foreign policies are conducive to promoting Myanmar’s stability and development.”

Naypyitaw is undergoing a series of political reforms, which are providing early signs of a thaw between Myanmar and the West. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has faced tough sanctions from the U.S. and Europe since the late 1990s for its human rights record. Continued political reform could allow for some of those sanctions to be lifted.

In a separate meeting Tuesday between Myanmar’s military commander and vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Xu Caihou, Mr. Xu said China respects Myanmar’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to Xinhua.

China is pushing to establish joint security patrols along the Mekong River together with Thailand, Laos and Myanmar after 13 Chinese sailors were murdered on the Thai section of the river in October. The armed patrols, which China hopes will begin by mid-December, would provide Beijing a new strategic inroad into Southeast Asia at a time when distrust for China among smaller countries in the region is growing.

– Brian Spegele
Credit: Here
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