US Challenged Myanmar and Arm Upgrade Australia: China – condemn

US Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Myanmar on Wednesday, China and the ASEAN neighbors were watching closely.

The trip to the usually closed-off nation, the first by a U.S. secretary of state in more than half a century, boosted suspicions in China that the United States is pursuing a strategy of encirclement to blunt China's rise.

An editorial in the English-language edition of the Global Times, a Chinese state-controlled tabloid with nationalist leanings, said Clinton's appearance in Myanmar "raised speculations that the U.S. is trying to win the former British colony over from China, since it appears that China's neighboring countries have become increasingly pro-U.S."

That worry is sharper in conservative circles than it is among other Chinese observers. But the questions about the purpose of Clinton's visit are being asked by a wide range of China foreign-policy observers.

"We are quite uncertain what kind of role the U.S. is going to play in Myanmar," said Zhu Feng, an international relations expert at Peking University. "Myanmar will be a test for American policy toward China."

Will the Americans push for reform in Myanmar, a development that China probably wouldn't oppose if such advances were controlled and measured? Or is the U.S. looking to use the nation on China's southern border as a counterweight to Beijing? Perhaps a bit of both?

The concerns underline the complexity of relations between the United States and China. On one hand are economic ties that include more than $457 billion in trade last year and China's holding of more than $1.1 trillion in American Treasury debt.

On the other hand, China's growing might has made the United States and much of the West nervous about Beijing's own long-range plans.

When President Barack Obama said Nov. 18 that Clinton would visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, he emphasized "flickers of progress" by President Thein Sein and American desires to "empower a positive transition." He said he'd received support for U.S. engagement from Myanmar's most famous democracy activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

A senior Obama administration official said later that day, speaking anonymously as a condition of the briefing, that "it's about Burma, not about China."

But the backdrop of Obama's announcement suggested that China and its clout in the region were very much on the minds of those in his administration.

Obama announced Clinton's trip while he was attending a summit in Bali, Indonesia, where American officials pushed for an open discussion of China's ongoing territorial disputes with neighbors in the South China Sea. It was a conversation, with Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in the room, that China had very much wanted to avoid.

A day earlier, Obama had told the Australian Parliament that the United States had made a "deliberate and strategic decision, as a Pacific nation" to take "a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future." While in Australia, he unveiled plans to post a rotating group of 2,500 U.S. Marines in the country.

For many watchers of U.S. policy, Clinton's presence in Myanmar - which is subject to U.S. economic sanctions and is ruled by a military-led government notorious for its human rights abuses - is one more piece of what they see as a recognizable mosaic.

It's "part of the grand policy adjustment by the U.S. to reconsolidate its presence in the Asian Pacific, and its main driving force is concern about China," said Wang Yong, a professor of foreign relations and the director of the Center for International Political Economy at Peking University.

There's little question that Washington has gained diplomatically from ongoing disputes between China and other nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines, about competing claims to the South China Sea. With each flare-up, the United States has grown in importance as a hedge against Chinese dominance.

The same holds true for a disagreement that threatened to boil over last year between China and Japan about ownership of a string of islands in the East China Sea known in China as the Diaoyu and in Japan as the Senkaku.

China military denounces U.S.-Australia defense upgrade

China's military denounced the United States and Australia on Wednesday for upgrading military ties, warning that such moves could erode trust and fan Cold War-era antagonism.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng made the warning about a plan unveiled in mid-November by U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to form a de facto base in north Australia for up to 2,500 U.S. Marines.

Geng's comments came on the same day Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was reported as backing the formation of a security pact with India and the United States, another step that could fuel China's worries of being fenced in by wary neighbours.

"Military alliances are a product of history, but we believe any strengthening and expansion of military alliances is an expression of the Cold War mentality," Geng said in answer to a question about the U.S.-Australian announcement, according to a transcript on the ministry's website (www.mod.gov.cn.).

"This is not in keeping with the tide of the era 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," he said.

"We hope that the parties concerned will do more that is beneficial to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, and not the contrary."

But the Chinese spokesman indicated that Beijing was not shunning Washington. Chinese and U.S. defense officials, led by Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, will hold talks in Beijing next Wednesday, Geng told the briefing.

Earlier this month, Obama told Asia-Pacific leaders that the United States was "here to stay," announced the plans to set up the de facto military base in north Australia and chided China for trying to prevent discussion of its South China Sea territorial disputes at regional forums.

The Chinese Ministry of Defense is the public mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), but foreign reporters are not allowed to attend its briefings.

COOPERATION OR CONFRONTATION?

Although falling short of full-throated condemnation of the U.S.-Australian move, Geng's words were tougher than earlier reaction from China's Foreign Ministry, which said Washington and Canberra should focus on cooperating with Beijing.

Geng said the idea raised by U.S. and Australian officials of advancing "integrated air and sea combat" amounted to "trumpeting confrontation and sacrificing others' security for the sake of one's own security."

Chinese President Hu Jintao has made clear that he wants to avoid repeating the rifts that soured ties with Washington in the first half of 2011. Hu retires from power late next year, when the U.S. is focused on its presidential race, making China's leaders especially reluctant to risk distracting rows.

Beijing is also still licking its wounds from last year, when loud maritime disputes with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and other neighbors fanned suspicions about China's intentions.

Chinese military officers have, however, sometimes taken a tougher stance on security worries than civilian officials.

Earlier this week, PLA Major General Luo Yuan, well-known for his hawkish views, warned that Obama's regional push showed that the United States wanted to encircle China.

The comments from Australian Foreign Minister Rudd could also magnify such fears among Chinese observers.

A new trilateral pact bringing in India into a U.S.-Australian security tent was worth exploring because "from little things big things grow," Kevin Rudd said in an interview with the Australian Financial Review newspaper.

"The response from the Indian government has really been quite positive," said Rudd.

The idea of an Australian, Indian and U.S. trilateral security dialogue, in part to counter China's rising might, has been pushed by a trio of think-tanks in all three countries, but has yet to be adopted by any government.

At a briefing in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not comment directly on Rudd's statement.

"China hopes that countries in the region will do more to promote regional peace, stability and development," Hong said in answer to a question about the proposal.

India's Foreign Ministry did not comment on Rudd's statement. But Indian analysts said Delhi was likely to be cool on the idea, partly out of reluctance to risk riling China.

"The Indian political establishment has always been wary of the idea of a military alliance," said Uday Bhaskar, the head of the National Maritime Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank.

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