Archive for December, 2011

Yearender: Obama administration’s Asia pivot strategy sows more seeds of suspicion than cooperation [Xinhua]

Posted in 9/11, Afghanistan, Australia, China, China-US relations, Economic crisis & decline, Encirclement of China, Hillary Clinton, Indonesia, Iraq, Obama, Philippines, Singapore, South China Sea, US "War on Terror", US imperialism, USA, USA 21st Century Cold War on December 31, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

by Zhi Linfei, Ran Wei

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) — The Obama administration ruffled a few feathers in the Asia-Pacific region in November with its high-profile trumpeting of the Pivot to Asia strategy, widely regarded as an attempt to consolidate the U.S. predominance in the region in face of a rising China.

The U.S. shift of strategic focus is characterized by a more confrontational stance with China. Despite the U.S. public denial of containing China, there has been widespread suspicion that Washington has a hidden agenda behind the strategy, i.e., to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The United States is now signaling an intention to move back toward the pre-9/11 strategic focus on a rising China. That focus places a premium on explicitly balancing against and constraining Chinese power and influence across the region,” wrote Michael Swaine, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a recent article.

STRATEGIC SHIFT COMES WITH TOUGH RHETORIC, PROVOCATIVE MOVES

The Obama administration launched the strategic shift of pivoting to Asia with great fanfare in November when it was hosting the annual gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

In a speech at the East-West Center in Hawaii ahead of the APEC summit, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared “The 21st century will be America’s Pacific century,” vowing that her country will stay in the region as a resident diplomatic, military and economic power.

At the APEC summit, U.S. President Obama actively promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a U.S.-championed free trade agreement and a potential transpacific security architecture.

The TPP, which pointedly excludes China, is widely seen as a thinly-disguised counterweight to free trade blocs in the region involving China and other Asian countries.

In rare tough rhetoric, Obama also pointed a finger at China for not playing by the rules in trade and economic relations, pledging to “continue to speak out and bring action” on issues such as currency and intellectual property rights.

Meanwhile, the United states has intensified its intervention in the territorial dispute over South China Sea between China and several southeastern Asian countries, under the excuse of protecting freedom of navigation.

Immediately following the APEC meeting, Obama traveled for the first time to Indonesia to attend the East Asia summit, where he encouraged the participating countries to seek a multilateral solution to the South China Sea issue despite opposition from China, which advocates settling it through bilateral negotiations.

During his stay in Canberra, Obama signed a deal to station U.S. Marines in northwest Australia, with an eye on the potential contingency in South China Sea.

While celebrating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Philippine mutual defense treaty, Hillary Clinton reaffirmed in Manila the U.S. commitment to the security of the Philippines, in a move regarded as the U.S. show of support to Manila in its dispute with China.

Furthermore, the U.S. government said it is considering plans to deploy advanced coastal combat ships in Singapore and perhaps the Philippines in the coming years to expand the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

OBAMA AIMS FOR DOMESTIC, INTERNATIONAL GAINS

U.S. experts believe that the U.S. strategic shift to Asia is driven not only by President Obama’s need to win the reelection in 2012, but also by the growing perception of an America in decline due to China’s fast rise.

Apparently, Obama counts on increased trade with the Asia-Pacific, the most dynamic economic region at the time of a global downturn, to create more jobs back at home to bring down the high unemployment rate that threatens to cost his own job.

This shift reflects “a recognition of the increasingly vital importance of that region for future American wealth, security and global influence,” Swaine wrote in the article posted on Dec. 7 on the website of the magazine The National Interest.

Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the economic factor of Obama’s Pivot to Asia policy” is the justification because of the current need to restart the American economy and to deal with the stress on the defense budget.”

Domestically, Obama also aims to refute the criticism from his Republican challengers who decry him for being too soft toward China, a convenient target for U.S. candidates in nearly every election year in the past decades.

“Obama has taken a pretty positive agenda with China in 2009, and he was seen as weak … Given the upcoming election, the Republican candidates are fighting against China. Obama did not want to put himself at a position of defending China against his opponents,” Paal told Xinhua in an interview.

Meanwhile, the U.S. strategic shift was also motivated by fears about China’s challenges to the U.S. status as the dominant power in the world, although China has made it clear that it has neither the strength nor intention to vie with the United States for dominance.

The decade-long anti-terrorism campaign, which diverted the U.S. attention and resources to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has fueled the perception of the U.S. decline as the sole superpower, especially when it is suffering from a prolonged economic downturn and a worsening debt crisis.

U.S. MOVES HAVE POTENTIALLY DESTABILIZING EFFECTS

Obviously, the U.S. Asia pivot strategy doesn’t bode well for the China-U.S. relations, already soured in 2011 by a series of U.S. provocative moves, including its announcement of a massive arms sale package to China’s Taiwan in September.

“We are going to have a distressful [sic] year” in 2012, Paal said.

U.S. experts are critical of the Obama administration’s new posture in the Asia-Pacific region, especially its position on the South China Sea dispute, saying it has potentially destabilizing implications by emboldening certain countries to confront China.

Swaine expressed worries that the Obama administration’s execution of this shift and China’s reaction “are combining to deepen mutual suspicion and potentially destabilize the entire area.”

The words and deeds by the officials of the Obama administration are creating the impression in some Asian capitals that Washington is now supporting their disputes with Beijing over maritime territories, Swaine said.

Paal also criticized Hillary Clinton for her “inappropriate rhetoric” during her visit to Manila, where she referred South China Sea as “West Philippine Sea,” a phrase used solely by the Filipinos.

It “appeared in China’s eyes to be taking the Philippines’ position in a dispute where Clinton previously said the U.S. would not take sides,” he said.

Analysts believe that as its economic and trade ties with China are becoming increasingly closer, the United States will only backfire if it still embraces the cold-war mentality and adopts policies to contain China.

The U.S. move to station troops in Australia also stirred up concerns in some capitals in the Asia-Pacific region, with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa warning on Nov. 18 that such arrangements would lead to misunderstanding and provoke a “vicious circle of tension and mistrust.”

Noting the widespread doubts within the international community about whether the United States can sustain its leadership and predominance in the Asia-Pacific, Swaine said “Washington must rethink its basic assumptions about its role in the region.”

The United States should “reexamine how best to address and when to accommodate China’s most critical security concerns, especially along its maritime borders,” Swaine wrote in his article.

Article link: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2011-12/23/c_131323762.htm

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Sino-US student boom brings risks of falling standards [Global Times]

Posted in China, China-US relations, Education, USA on December 31, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

by Patrick Mattimore

Dec. 1, 2011

Chinese students are increasingly hopping on the US university bandwagon, likely because educational opportunities at the most prestigious Chinese universities are so limited.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) reported that during the 2009-10 academic year, 39,947 Chinese undergraduates were studying in the US, a 52 percent increase from the year before.

The number of Chinese undergraduates going to the US in 2010-11 rose another 43 percent, to 57,000 students, about seven times as many as seven years ago.

Besides, there are more Chinese college students studying in the US than from any other country for the 2010-11 academic year.

But the Sino-US university boom has created a symbiosis that may harm both parties.

Many Chinese students who are enrolled at US colleges turn to paid recruiters to help them through the admissions process, according to a study by researchers at Iowa State University, published in the Journal of College Admission.

In May, Bloomberg News reported that some unscrupulous recruiters may be trying to take advantage of Chinese families’ infatuation with US universities.

According to Bloomberg, recruiting agents “often misrepresent or conceal their US affiliations.

[…]They receive payments not only from the families, but also from an increasing number of colleges, as well as small operators seeking to profit stateside from the influx of Chinese students.”

Sometimes, students end up at satellite campuses of flagship universities or are forced to take many non-credit English classes in order to qualify to enroll in degree programs.

Recruiting international students has already become a prevalent practice with US state colleges.

For example, the US education periodical, Inside Higher Ed, reported recently that the State University of New York (SUNY) system had instituted an aggressive policy using paid agents to recruit international students.

The goal of SUNY’s plan is to increase its total foreign student enrollment by more than 13,000 over five years. International students pay more than 2.5 times the tuition that New York residents pay, $13,380 as opposed to $4,970.

But a recent study from Zinch China, a consulting company that advises US colleges and universities about China, revealed that more than a third of the student respondents don’t speak English well enough to function in a US classroom.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) reported this week that the Zinch study confirms what many US colleges have reported: There has been a recent influx of students from China with limited English proficiency.

The CHE reported last month that college officials also say they are seeing widespread fabrication on applications from Chinese applicants, such as personal essays obviously written by agents and English-proficiency scores that don’t match students’ speaking abilities.

Based on interviews with 250 Beijing high-school students bound for the US, their parents, and a dozen agents and admissions consultants, Zinch China concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submit false recommendations, 70 percent have other people write their personal essays, 50 percent have forged high-school transcripts, and 10 percent list academic awards and other achievements they did not receive.

Once in the classroom, Chinese students with limited English labor to keep up with discussions and some professors say they have had to alter how they teach.

This is not a healthy trend. If the universities emphasize money-making at the expense of scholarship, it will ultimately hurt not only the recruited Chinese students, but also the US education system itself.

The author is an adjunct instructor at the Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program and a US public high-school teacher. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Article link: http://www.globaltimes.cn/NEWS/tabid/99/ID/686663/Sino-US-student-boom-brings-risks-of-falling-standards.aspx

“US ‘should play constructive role in region'” – Editorial on US ‘return to Asia’ [People’s Daily]

Posted in China, China-US relations, Diplomat, South China Sea, Taiwan, US imperialism, USA, WTO on December 31, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

by Zhao Shengnan

BEIJING – China does not intend, nor is it able, to squeeze the US out of the Asia-Pacific region, which is big enough for both to coexist and cooperate, a senior diplomat said during a review of the diplomatic year.

China hopes the US can play a constructive role and respect China’ s core interests in the Asia-Pacific region, assistant Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said during the 2011 Review and Outlook diplomatic seminar held by the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing on Sunday.

When responding to the strategic shift by the US in the Asia-Pacific, Le said that the US actually never left the region and China is confident that any problem can be solved through cooperation instead of confrontation.

The strategic reengagement since 2010 by the US in the Asia-Pacific region has been widely interpreted as trying to counterbalance China’s rising clout in the region. Many Chinese experts consider this US policy shift to pose the biggest challenge for China’s future development.

“Because of our peaceful development and openness, China is able to ‘dance with the wolves’ like its economy has done during the past 10 years as a WTO member,” he said.

Diplomacy is not a zero-sum game in today’s increasingly integrated world, he said. China, unswervingly committed to peaceful development, never engages in aggression or expansion, and never seeks hegemony, he said.

“The world will be much safer with more cooperation, instead of weapons.”

There are two different perceptions about China’s diplomacy in 2011. The West is critical about what it claims is China’s tough foreign policy, while some domestic critics said that we are too soft in our diplomacy, Le said.

“The world has been through so much turmoil this year that I doubt that even a fortune-teller could have predicted it. So the hard-won achievements of China’s diplomacy cannot simply be defined as ‘soft’ or ‘tough’,” he said,

“We cannot say resolving problems through negotiation is a compromise which is ‘softer’ than military force. Being tough or not is never the diplomatic objective or standard to judge diplomatic accomplishments,” said Le, adding that both “toughness” and “softness” are just paths to create a favorable environment for domestic stability and economic development.

“Wisdom is more important than the fist,” he added.

More and more Chinese would like to express their opinion about diplomacy through the Net, especially on issues such as the $5.85 billion arm sales by the US to Taiwan and the South China Sea disputes. As for public requests for “showing our fist” or “teaching foreigners a lesson”, experts said China’s development and mutual dialogue are the best ways to solve problems.

As for US arm sales to Taiwan, China has to prepare for the long-term until China and the US become equal in national strength, said Yuan Peng, director of the American Studies Center at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

“Besides reiterating our firm stance against it, what China needs to think about now is not immediate confrontation but how to optimize domestic economic structures and what are its inviolable interests to defend,” he said.

The rules also apply to the issue of the South China Sea, where confrontation is not inevitable, an analyst said.

With economic and technological advantages, China can set aside the disputes and develop it jointly with countries in the area, said Yang Yi, a rear-admiral and former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the People’s Liberation Army National Defense University.

“Stressing domestic development, China can be confident about the final settlement of these disputes one day as its strength rapidly increases,” he said.

Wu Jiao and Zheng Yangpeng contributed to this story.

Article link: http://english.people.com.cn/90883/7680407.html

Venezuela Supports Energy Program for Poor U.S. Families [Prensa Latina]

Posted in Venezuela on December 30, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

Washington, Dec 14 (Prensa Latina) The United States has launched for the seventh consecutive year an energy cooperation program with support from Venezuela, which helps low-income families to have fuel for home heating.

The seventh anniversary of the initiative was marked in Camden, New Jersey, in a ceremony attended by Alejandro Granado, the president of CITGO Petroleum Corporation, a branch of Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II.

The program will help more than 400,000 people this year in 25 states, including members of over 60 Native American communities, families living in tenant-owned cooperatives, residents of over 250 homeless shelters and thousands of single-family households.

“Over the years, the program has become the most important energy assistance program by an oil company. For CITGO, it aligns with the humanitarian and solidarity principles endorsed by the government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela through its national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela , S.A. (PDVSA),” said Granado.

Since 2005, CITGO has invested more than 400 million dollars in energy assistance for those in need in the United States.

Last year alone, more than 60 million dollars in heating oil were donated to low-income families and individuals.

With higher costs for heating oil and reduced government funding for energy assistance programs, the need this year is bigger than ever.

Article link: http://www.plenglish.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=459514&Itemid=1

“The Watershed” – NATO strike on Pakistan does historic damage to US hegemonic aims [Strategic Culture Foundation]

Posted in Afghan quagmire, Afghanistan, Beijing, Encirclement of China, NATO invasion, Nukes, Pakistan, Russia, US drone strikes, US imperialism, USA on December 29, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

Andre Volodin / http://www.strategic-culture.org

Dec. 5, 2011

A NATO air strike on a Pakistani border coordination center on 26th November, which annihilated 24 Pakistani soldiers, has caused extensive coverage in the media and critical feedback from all over the globe. In a phone talk with his Pakistani counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that violating other countries` sovereignty, including as part of counter-terrorism operations, is inadmissible. In his article special to our Strategic Culture Foundation web site, Indian foreign policy analyst M.K Bhadrakumarnoted that ”the U.S. blundered into a Pakistani trap”.

Certainly, experts are at liberty to assume that the U.S. army had its plans upset (and this is not for the first time, isn`t it?), and that some notable individuals within the American elite, esteemed Congressmen included, wanted to teach an ”obdurate” and “ungrateful” ally an unforgettable lesson (I wonder if they are equipped intellectually to take such crucial and far-reaching geopolitical decisions). Political pundits may also talk about the rift between ‘professionals’ and ‘amateurs’ in the U.S. foreign policy establishment (and did not the “noiseless” resignation of the “bipartisan” secretary of defence Robert Gates point to the unavoidable split inside the ruling circles in America?) It is hard to imagine now that the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan scheduled for 5th December will be productive without Pakistan`s attendance, and that a US-elaborated draft project designed to revive the ancient “silk road” through Central Asia, which was recently rejected during a conference in Istanbul, will be reconsidered with enthusiasm. Nevertheless, it is up to US and its strategic allies to ponder over these issues. And I’d like to focus on different matters. The ongoing crisis in the US-Pakistan relations gives us a chance to look at the situation in the ”Great Central Asia” (a definition given by the American strategic thinkers to the territories of South and Central Asia, as well as Afghanistan and Iran) from a broader perspective.

Firstly, it has been quite long since the US-Pakistani relations entered a critical phase. Put differently, this crisis is rooted in Washington’s long-term objective to regain its control of Pakistani foreign policy (since this country is a pivotal state of the ‘Great Central Asia’ region) and Pakistan`s growing resistance to the U.S. political pressure. The national development imperatives require that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan today is to focus more on the diversification of its foreign policy (including its economic ties with the outer world) and concentrate mainly on domestic issues. The Vision 2030 strategy was adopted in Pakistan in 2007, which outlines the following social and economic goals of strategic importance: 1) the annual economic growth to reach 7-8% 2) the per-capita income to rise from the current $925 to $4,000 3) the literacy rate to be elevated to 100 percent and to ensure free access to primary and secondary education for all citizens 4) to develop the middle class society 5) to eliminate poverty and to provide equal distribution of economic growth between all social classes.

Evidently, such large-scale objectives require from Pakistan to minimize its participation in all kinds of military activities under foreign auspices.

Secondly, U.S. – NATO air strikes have sent anti-American sentiment high among the Pakistanis, not among Islamists alone. The latest military action was counterproductive from the view of the US’s long-term interests in Pakistan, and was vehemently opposed by the youth. As Pakistani analysts ironically say, air strikes are ‘substitutes’ for assistance to Pakistan’s development goals amid its rapid population growth. With its 230-250-million population envisaged by 2030, Pakistan is going to be ranked the world`s fifth most populous country. Under the speedy demographic growth, radical Islamist views are becoming exceedingly attractive among Pakistani young people who have nowhere to use their skills and talents. This way or another, Chinese policy may be viewed as antithesis to that of the United States, with Beijing developing diversified cooperation with Pakistan, including its most troublesome regions. Both Beijing and Islamabad share the understanding that the U.S. ‘Great Central Asia’ strategy, in its most up-to-date manifestation of the “new silk road’’ concept, is targeted at prevention of China and Russia from strengthening their presence in the area. This bilateral accord might be instrumental to the encouragement of economic collaboration between countries of the region.

Thirdly, the regional economic institutions, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), are taking on a brand new strategic meaning nowadays. By rejecting in Istanbul the US-backed draft project aimed to revive the ancient “silk road” through Central Asia, Pakistan (and it was backed by Russia, China and Iran) clearly made its choice to boost economic ties between the region`s states. The leaders of these states seem to understand that reforms and development are the most effective way to fight terror. The reforms should be aimed to enhance economic growth, reduce unemployment and provide relatively equal and politically safe distribution of the national income. Having closed its borders to NATO and US military supply routes to Afghanistan, Pakistan demonstrated to America that active social and political cooperation with the neighbors would be the best option for settling the Afghan issue.

Fourthly, the preceding decade in the history of Pakistan has proved the necessity to diversify the country`s foreign policy. I have a feeling that in the past 2-3 years the national military and civil elites have agreed that there is no viable alternative to rapid modernization of the Pakistani society, which requires the following:

– to gradually replace the concept of ‘ideological state’ adopted with the independence of Pakistan in 1947 with a model of ‘developmental state’, with focus made on economic and social modernization

– to have a clear understanding that territorial disintegration of the only Muslim nuclear state will have a catastrophic impact on the entire world. So, development is the only way to ensure the country`s unity and territorial integrity, which stipulates the involvement of retarded rural areas into the process of national economic modernization. On this stage of evolution in Pakistani society, military alliance with the US appears absolutely useless.

Finally, the current Pakistani-US crisis is about the existence of a lot of differences affecting geopolitical cooperation between the two countries, and not only between them. Islamabadhas been demonstrating convincingly that America is not strong enough to reduce Pakistan to a state with “limited sovereignty” status. In a nutshell, we can see with our own eyes how the world is approaching a polycentric model of existence. That is why I tend to view the November 26 NATO bombing as a kind of a watershed between different stages of the global political development.

Article link: http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2011/12/05/the-watershed.html

Editorial: “KORUS FTA violates judicial authority” [The Hankyoreh / 한겨레]

Posted in south Korea on December 29, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

December 5, 2011

Who holds legal interpretation authority for the South Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement? The clear answer is the judiciary. T reaties with countries overseas are afforded equal treatment to domestic laws. Yet, it appears likely that the South Korean judiciary’s authority for legal interpretation will be violated once the KORUS FTA takes effect. There is a strong chance that our courts will be obliged to accept interpretations of the agreement made by a joint committee of the two countries’ trade representatives.

This is evident in a document sent recently to the office of main opposition Democratic Party (DP) Lawmaker Park Joo-sun by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT). In response to Park’s question as to whether the joint committee’s interpretations of the agreement would be binding for South Korean courts, the ministry reportedly answered that in view of their insufficient expertise on the circumstances of the signing and other pacts, courts would be expected to respect a considerable portion of the legal bases or determinations informing the committee’s decisions and interpretations. The idea was somewhat delicately expressed, but it strongly suggests that courts will be obliged to accept the interpretations of the committee formed after the KORUS FTA takes effect.

If this happens, the executive would essentially be wielding the judiciary’s own powers of legal interpretation. For the executive to assume interpretative authority for the agreement, after already passing it without proper scrutiny or controls from the legislative branch, flies in the face of separation of powers as specified in the Constitution. It is unacceptable for trade officials to assume the judiciary’s authority for legal interpretation at a time when judicial sovereignty is coming under threat due to the agreement’s investor-state dispute (ISD) provisions.

In particular, the ministry’s use of the term “insufficient expertise” to describe the courts is not only inappropriate but incredibly arrogant. Even if the courts are not aware of the detailed circumstances behind the signing of the agreement, it is wrong to present this as being linked to a lack of expertise for legal interpretation. The courts do possess some degree of expertise on interpreting international treaties and should not be forced to go along with the interpretations of the joint committee.

A proposal by Senior Judge Kim Ha-neul to form a KORUS FTA task force within the judiciary has reportedly met with a strong response, with a petition to this effect to be submitted shortly to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. We hope the Chief Justice listens to the concerns of our judges and establishes the task force as soon as possible . If it is established, there will need to be an in-depth examination of the various problem areas mentioned to date, including the infringement of judicial sovereignty and the issue of authority for interpreting the agreement, and steps will need to be taken to address them.

Article link: http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_editorial/508543.html

Clinton in Burma: Another US move against China [World Socialist Website]

Posted in Africa, Cambodia, China, Encirclement of China, Hillary Clinton, IMF - International Monetary Fund, Laos, Libya, Myanmar, Obama, Pentagon, Thailand, US imperialism, USA, Vietnam, World War II on December 29, 2011 by Zuo Shou / 左手

“…[Hyped ‘democracy activist’ Aung San] Suu Kyi has endorsed the [hypocritical] US strategy [in Myanmar] in its entirety…” Why am I not surprised? Another in a series of imperialist-sanctified political tools like Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Dalai Lama, Liu Xiaobo etc. – Zuo Shou

By Peter Symonds
3 December 2011

The three-day visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Burma (Myanmar) this week featured prominent meetings with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a great deal of hypocritical hype about American support for “democratic rights.” The real aim of Clinton’s visit, however, was to further the Obama administration’s concerted campaign to undermine the influence of China throughout Asia.

The trip—the first by a US Secretary of State for more than 50 years—was announced just two weeks ago at the East Asian Summit, where Obama intensified pressure on China over disputes in the South China Sea. Obama was determined to seize on signs that the Burmese junta was seeking an accommodation with the US to loosen the regime’s close economic and strategic ties with Beijing.

In pointed comments before arriving in Burma, Clinton told an aid conference that developing countries should be “smart shoppers” and be wary of taking assistance from donors — like China — that were [allegedly] more interested “in extracting your resources, than in building your capacity.” The message was obviously addressed to Burma, among others, which is heavily dependent on Chinese economic aid and investment.

Clinton explained that she had come to “test the true intentions” of the junta and would make no significant concessions by Washington. She met with Burmese President Thein Sein on Thursday in the country’s artificial [sic] new capital of Naypyidaw, warning that recent political steps, while welcome, were “just a beginning.” Over the past year, the regime has released Suu Kyi from house arrest, handed nominal power to a civilian president and permitted Suu Kyi and her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) to run in upcoming by-elections.

The Burmese government is anxious to reach a rapprochement with Washington that would ease its heavy dependence on Beijing, end Western sanctions and allow the transformation of the country into a new cheap labour platform. Thein Sein described Clinton’s visit as “a historic milestone” that he hoped would open a “new chapter in relations.”

In comments reported in Time, presidential political adviser Nay Zin Latt pointed to some of the junta’s motivations. “Before, whether we liked it or not, we had to take what China had to offer. When sanctions are lifted, it will be better for everyone in Myanmar,” he said.

An Asia Times article entitled “China embrace too strong for Naypyidaw” traces the regime’s shifting orientation back to a power struggle that took place in 2004 when then-Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, regarded as “China’s man,” was removed on corruption charges. It pointed to Chinese anger in 2009 over the Burmese army’s treatment of Chinese nationals inside northern Burma and to a recent decision to shelve a major Chinese-funded dam project.

Despite these tensions, the Burmese regime wants to keep Beijing on side. On Monday, prior to Clinton’s arrival, the country’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing, went to Beijing to reassure top Chinese political and military leaders of the junta’s continuing collaboration. Beijing has invested considerable resources in fostering an economic and strategic relationship that provides China with raw materials and direct access to the Indian Ocean.

China has begun energy pipelines through Burma to southern China as part of Beijing’s efforts to limit its reliance on the Malacca Strait to import oil from the Middle East and Africa. The strategy is aimed at countering Pentagon plans to control key “choke points” such as the Malacca Strait and thus have the ability to impose a naval blockade on China.

Speaking on Chinese Central Television, academic Gao Zugui highlighted Beijing’s fears, saying: “The US wants to strengthen relations with lower Mekong countries like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. We can see this intention is strong, and it is very clearly targetting China.”

Burmese presidential adviser Nay Zin Latt also pointed to events in the Middle East as another motivation for improving relations with the US. “We do not want an Arab Spring here,” he said. The regime is concerned not only about the prospects of wide scale anti-government protests, which it has ruthlessly suppressed in the past, but also about the way in which the US exploited social unrest in Libya to intervene militarily to install a pro-American client regime.

Clinton arrived in Burma with a list of demands, including greater political freedom for the bourgeois opposition led by Suu Kyi; an ending of the protracted conflicts with the country’s ethnic minorities; and inspections of the country’s limited nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In return, Clinton offered very little. “We are prepared to go further if the reforms maintain momentum. But history teaches us to be cautious,” she said, adding that “we are not ready to discuss” lifting sanctions. Nor is the US proposing to establish full diplomatic relations with Burma. Clinton indicated only that the US would no longer block financing from international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and will support the expansion of UN development grants for health care and small businesses.

Significantly, Clinton invited Burma to join the Lower Mekong Initiative as a means of further loosening its ties to Beijing. The grouping, which includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, was created by Washington in 2009 as a means of exerting a greater regional influence. The choice of name was quite deliberate—the “lower” Mekong region by definition excluded the “upper” Mekong inside China. The US is hoping to exploit grievances over China, including the impact of Chinese dam projects on the Mekong River.

Clinton also suggested that the US and Burma collaborate in recovering the remains of about 600 soldiers who died in the country during World War II. The proposal is similar to the joint US activities in Vietnam to locate missing American soldiers. It provides a convenient pretext for establishing direct contact between the Burmese and American military.

Clinton met twice with opposition leader Suu Kyi on Thursday and Friday in Rangoon. The Obama administration is collaborating closely with the Burmese opposition as it seeks to fashion a regime more closely aligned with American interests. Obama rang Suu Kyi from Bali two weeks ago just prior to announcing Clinton’s visit.

Suu Kyi has endorsed the US strategy in its entirety, again demonstrating that the Burmese opposition is not motivated by concerns about the democratic rights of ordinary working people. Rather Suu Kyi represents sections of the Burmese ruling elite who have been marginalised by decades of military rule and are pushing for close ties with Western powers and an opening up of the country to foreign investment.

Having boycotted the junta’s sham elections last year, Suu Kyi has now indicated that she and the NLD will stand in by-elections despite their anti-democratic character. In a video conference with the Council on Foreign Relations, Suu Kyi declared that she trusted President Thein Sein, a former general and longstanding junta apparatchik.

Suu Kyi is hoping to leverage US support to reach an arrangement with the junta that will allow the NLD to have a greater political say and give more economic opportunities to the business layers that support the opposition. Like the junta itself, Suu Kyi has expressed concern that there should be no “Arab Spring” in Burma — that is, no mass protests by the working class and rural masses.

A Wall Street Journal article entitled “Firms see Myanmar as next frontier” pointed to the benefits anticipated by major corporations from any economic opening up of the country. Business delegations are already beginning to flow into Burma keen to exploit its potential markets and rich natural resources, including gas and oil. The article noted Burma’s advantages as a cheap labour platform with “low manufacturing wages”, an intellectual class that speaks English and a legal system rooted in British common law.

While economic considerations are clearly a motivation, the primary aim of the Obama administration is to undercut China’s relations with Burma as it seeks to develop anti-China alliances throughout the region.

Article link: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/dec2011/burm-d03.shtml