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Clinton trip to Burma: a contest to define power in Asia

Burma's regime seeks distance from China by welcoming a Clinton visit. And the US can help bring freedom to Burma (Myanmar), but it must better understand legitimacy in this Buddhist society.

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The wielding of power in Asia isn’t always the visible kind – guns, ships, money, trade, natural resources, or even ballots. President Obama, who grew up in Indonesia, seems to understand that. Just watch how he handles Burma.

This week, that long-isolated country in Southeast Asia (whose military strongmen have renamed Myanmar) will welcome a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her trip will be the first by a high-level US official in more than half a century – and one more attempt by America to counter China’s rising influence in the region.

Burma is only the latest nation to learn that it must be wary of Beijing’s commercial and military might. Its rulers recently canceled a huge dam project funded by China while also launching reforms that hint of democracy. In 2014, Burma will take over leadership of a group of Southeast Asian nations that have long stood up to China.

Mr. Obama hopes to add Burma to a list of countries – Vietnam, India, Australia, and the Philippines – that recently sought stronger ties with the United States. Lying next to India and under the giant belly of China, Burma would be a key plank in the US strategy to reassert influence in Asia.

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