The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star:
Some on Capitol Hill have criticized Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar, formerly Burma. Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said she worried that the move sent the wrong signal to the “military thugs” in Myanmar’s leadership.
But Clinton was careful to say that any aid or diplomatic recognition would depend on Myanmar’s continued progress on human rights. The country has taken significant steps, including last year’s release of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
Clinton met with Suu Kyi, who endorsed the visit.
Clinton’s trip should be seen against a surprising series of diplomatic moves to counter the bullying tendencies China has displayed in recent months.
The rule of thumb in Asia is that Asian nations don’t trust America but they trust each other less — and they’re more worried about a belligerent China than about Washington.
The series of moves was highlighted by last month’s announcement that the U.S. would base 2,500 Marines in Australia, a step China criticized as displaying a “Cold War mentality.”
Meanwhile, Japan has been cooperating more closely with the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea. Washington has improved military ties with the Philippines and Indonesia. Australia has decided to sell uranium to India.
And several countries in the region are working to create a trade group that would exclude China.
This is classic balance-of-power diplomacy, and it shows that Washington is aware of the long-term challenge posed by Beijing. Myanmar’s liberalization is a sign the country’s leadership is also interested in moving away from China’s orbit, something the administration is quite right to encourage.