Speaking yesterday at an international forum on democracy in Mongolia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the nation as an “inspiration” for linking political and economic liberalization, while taking an implicit jab at neighboring China. From Reuters:
Making a broad case for democracy and good governance in Asia, Clinton cited reforms in nations including Myanmar, where the generals that ruled for nearly half a century have given way to a quasi-civilian government that has freed political prisoners and permitted the formation of political parties.
“They stand in stark contrast to those governments that continue to resist reforms – that work around the clock to restrict people’s access to ideas and information, to imprison them for expressing their views, to usurp the rights of citizens to choose their leaders, to govern without accountability, to corrupt the economic progress of the country and take the riches unto themselves,” Clinton said.
Without citing it by name, Clinton’s comments appeared aimed partly at China.
“Countries that want to be open for business but closed to free expression will find the approach comes with a cost: it kills innovation (and) discourages entrepreneurship, which are vital for sustainable growth,” she said.
“You cannot, over the long run, have economic liberalization without political liberalization.”
Clinton’s visit to Mongolia comes on the second day of an Asia tour that will see her visit Vietnam and Laos before attending the ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia, where The Financial Times reports that attendees will discuss the principal topic of tensions in the South China Sea. As the United States continues to reinforce its pivot towards Asia, Bloomberg reports that the ASEAN nations stand to reap rewards from the ongoing brinksmanship between the U.S. and China in the Asia-Pacific region:
U.S. allies Japan and South Korea are also pursuing closer ties in Southeast Asia to counter China’s influence in a region where economic growth rates are among the world’s highest. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced in May that the U.S. will deploy 60 percent of its naval power to the Pacific by 2020 as China’s growing economic and military might causes friction with its neighbors.
“Southeast Asian countries actually like a bit of creative tension between the U.S. and China because they can play one off against the other and derive benefits,” said Ian Storey, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Greater economic integration means “a major conflict is out of the question because it’s in no one’s interest and the stakes are too high,” he said.
See also comments made last week by Clinton about Syria, in which she urged China and Russia to “get off the sidelines” and stop supporting the Assad regime.