Clinton’s Burma Verification Mission
Image Credit: US State Department

Clinton’s Burma Verification Mission

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The Diplomat speaks with Elizabeth Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, about U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Burma.

With Secretary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma, how much is about the U.S. “pivot” to the Pacific? Does the move correspond directly to an attempt to balance off China in the region?

I think that this visit has very little to do with China and everything to do with an historic commitment on the part of the United States to encourage repressive, authoritarian states to move toward democracy and better protection of human rights. The Burmese government has taken steps toward political change, and Secretary Clinton’s visit is a means of helping the United States understand the precise nature of this change and how best it can encourage and help this process of political reform. The timing certainly accords with a firmer and more explicit U.S. commitment to economic growth and security in the Asia Pacific, but the visit wouldn’t have occurred without very clear signals of change from both the Burmese government and leading opposition figures, such as Aung San Suu Kyi.

How do you believe Chinese government officials look at the U.S. visit to Burma? Do they feel it’s directed towards them?

Opinion in China over Secretary Clinton’s visit to Burma is divided. Some clearly realize that it isn’t about China, but rather about attempting to ascertain the depth and breadth of the Burmese leadership’s commitment to political and economic change, as well as an opportunity to assess whether the time is drawing near for the U.S. to lift its economic sanctions.

Others, of course, view the visit as part of a broader effort on the part of the United States to encircle China and isolate it from its neighbors. Some of these conspiracy -focused analysts also see the United States behind Burmese President Thein Sein’s decision to stay the construction of the Chinese-supported Myitsone Dam. That view, of course, ignores the significant opposition to the dam within the population of Burma.

Finally, there’s also concern expressed in some Chinese media that China’s effort to secure trade routes to the Indian Ocean and fuel routes to the Middle East and Africa may be jeopardized by growing ties between Burma and the United States. Of course, if China’s engagement with Burma is genuinely the “win-win” proposition that it proclaims it is, there shouldn’t be any real cause for concern. 

What do you feel the United States must show from the trip in order for it be a success? Does the U.S. have a specific agenda? What would Burma need to gain from the visit in order to judge such a visit a success?

In terms of a tangible outcome from the Secretary’s visit, I think that both sides are very much hoping for the same thing, namely a positive appraisal by Secretary Clinton of the reform steps that Burma has taken to date, and a pledge on both sides to work toward further opening, both within Burma and between Washington and Rangoon.

Secretary Clinton needs to return to the United States with the ability to convince the U.S. Congress that further change is coming on the political front if there’s going to be any significant shift in the bilateral relationship. Some progress on understanding the relationship between North Korea and Burma/Myanmar would also be very useful. 

Comments
25
Huang
December 3, 2011 at 08:08

Its a changing and evolving World. The forces of change in recent history will be remembered as the ” New Starts of the 21st Century”. These changes will neccessary be entirely bad nor all together good; yet they are and will be responsible for shaping the entire goe-political and economic structure and environment from now on.
The 2008 global economic down turn followed by the turmoils in the Arab World . The South China Sea disputes is an on/off switch. ASEAN and China ties have been proven solid and strenghtening in the midst of US gestures/postures,maritime territorial disputes,and recent moves made by the Burmese government.
Recent developnments and changes should be viewed by China and ASEAN as un-avoidable since the forces influencing these changes were neither checked nor prevented before they materialized.
Vietnam,the Phillipines,and lately Burma all have their own respective agendas behind the current situation. Steps these governments make will decide the the realities in the coming years and the costs/benifits be reveiled.
China’s consistent policies and attitudes in the face of these changes will play the pivotal role in maintaining the cohesion of China-ASEAN shared developnmental aspirations.
The US’s recent efforts regardless of how they are described or intended,will not significantly change the already strong ties and deeply rooted understandings among ASEAN members and China. In other word,difficulties(disputes)will be solved and renew efforts will be forged purely base on practical considerations and shared understandings on exactly what is good for ASEAN and China i.e. ASIA.
Apparently, anticipations,anxieties,false-sense-of-hopes,and even strange-wishes are floating around stemming from the European debt crisis to the rapid falls of several Arab governments and the un-certainties of the future health of the global economic environment in the next few years.
AS Sun Tzu understood,”opportunities multiply as they are seized.” This is the time where opportunities and new or creative ideas are most needed/useful in tackling problems and arrive at a higher stage of developnemnts. Optimisms can be a good friend during hard times;while understanding the importance of realistic attitudes help avoid making errors influenced by emotions and tempers associated with the bad times.
Finally, good times and bad times are a way of life; remembering this realistic fact is a first step at overcoming difficulties/hardships. Everyone has his or her own want-to-do list or wish-to-be-able-to-do fantasy. Sun Tzu was no exception when he proclaimed,”Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?”
Forget the side-shows; The main tasks are too important to be neglected.

Chris
December 3, 2011 at 07:08

I’m sure there are many well meaning people in the Chinese Foreign Ministry who see this as a win-win situation. However, for the PLAN-tasked with ensuring energy SLOCs-this is probably a very troubling event. Here’s the plain truth-in order to even have a chance of keeping Chinese energy SLOC’s open and secure-the PLA must eventually have either control of or make neutral the entire landmass from Vietnam to Singapore up through Burma. The Indonesian island of Java is in the group as well. This turn of events sends Burma out of Beijing’s orbit-it will probably only bring trouble and violence to Burma in the end.

nirvana
December 2, 2011 at 23:33

His discourse is at the borderline of Aryanism and the “superior race”.

Yang zi
December 2, 2011 at 23:31

@nirvana, I give you permission to use the word “cool war”. I coined this phrase 2 years ago and it is perfect to describe the situation.

Btw, my theory was cool war is a win-win for both China and US.

I also give perminssion to anyone who want to use this phrase.

nirvana
December 2, 2011 at 23:02

(Pavlov reflex or laziness?)

I have noticed that a number of bloggers instinctively put labels on anybody with an opposite opinion, and whenever they run out of arguments. Ok, they are trained to behave like this.

But, displaying the laziness of not using Google, then, stubbornly arguing “Most readers, myself included find it quaint to come across name as Economy. Most of us would take a double take. Is she for real or just a virtual personality? Afterall, anything is possible in virtual land” is pathetic!

Here are some Google results:

“Elisabeth Economy”:

http://www.cfr.org/experts/japan-china-taiwan/elizabeth-c-economy/b21

“John Economy”

http://www.whitepages.com/name/John-Economy

“Peter Economy”

http://www.petereconomy.com/Welcome.html

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