By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English
Some observers believe Myanmar is looming as a new arena of confrontation between China and the United States.
Recently, the U.S. President Barack Obama announced a partial lifting of sanctions against Myanmar, which is opening the door to American businesses.
American companies have received permission to invest in the key spheres of Myanmar’s economy, including the oil and gas industry. They may also provide financial services.
However, these areas are currently spearheaded by the Chinese, which has consolidated its position there since the United States slapped severe sanctions upon Myanmar in 1988 in response to the military coup.
Barack Obama explained that the easing of restrictions was due to the beginning of liberal reforms and progressive advancement to democracy. Evidently, it is not the case that the U.S. has forgiven the "dictatorship."
First of all, the U.S. geopolitical interests in the region play a role in this decision. They are connected with the confrontation with China, with attempts to deter China’s growing influence.
On the whole, in this region the U.S. is trying to build such kind of relations with other countries - excluding China, in case of need, to garner their support, or loyalty. For the same reasons Washington is establishing relations with Vietnam and India. And in the case of Myanmar, the U.S. steps should be viewed as implementation of its own geopolitical trump cards, by no means as a reward for Myanmar's progress towards democracy.
Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Western European countries and Japan have started to unfreeze their relations with Myanmar. .Japan has even taken the lead over the West. At the end of April the President of Myanmar visited Tokyo for the first time in the last 28 years. There, President Thein Sein received a generous gift - Japan forgave his country's debt to the tune of almost $4 billion, and promised preferential loans in yen for infrastructure construction.
Japan positions itself as an influential power in South-East Asia and makes an attempt to wrestle with China for Myanmar.
Still, China's influence in Myanmar is very strong. It has always been and continues to be. But starting from last year, Myanmar is coming out of deep isolation and turning into a country where different political winds are blowing: not only Chinese, but also Japanese and Western.
Myanmar, undoubtedly, would look both to the East and to the West. And it has to choose and even take sides.
The recent visit to Myanmar by the Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu tends to be considered symbolic in a sense, to confirm China's strategic interest in developing comprehensive cooperation with Myanmar. During the visit, He assured Myanmar's top figures that they can continue to count on China's support.
This visit might well be hinting at a proverb - "a bird (of consistent Chinese assistance) in the hand is worth two in the bush", referring to these new Western friends and their conditional aid.