The UN Security Council has voted to put Burma on its formal agenda, a move that will allow council members to examine the situation in the country.
The US says Burma's problems are destabilising the region
The US said the motion, supported by 10 members, was a "major step forward" in putting Burma under scrutiny.
But China, which led opposition to the motion, called it "preposterous".
Rights groups have long accused Burma of repression and have urged the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest.
The US, which sponsored the motion, said Burma's refugee crisis, illicit narcotics trade, HIV-Aids problem and human rights situation were "destabilising" factors in the region.
FOR: US, UK, France, Argentina, Denmark, Greece, Japan, Ghana, Peru, Slovakia
AGAINST: China, Russia, Qatar, Congo
"The United States and other members of the Security Council are concerned about the deteriorating situation in Myanmar [the official name for Burma]," said US ambassador John Bolton in a letter to his Greek counterpart, Adamantios Vassilakis, who is the current council president.
The council has now requested a formal briefing from UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who visited Burma earlier in the year and was able to meet Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The US was supported by nine other countries including the UK, France and Japan for the vote, which required only a majority of nine of the 15 council members as it is a procedural matter.
But China, which led Russia, Qatar and Congo in opposing the motion, said it amounted to unwarranted interference.
Referring to the problems in Burma identified by the US, China's UN envoy Wang Guangya said: "This means that all countries, any country, that faces similar issues should all be inscribed on the agenda of this council.
"This is preposterous."
He said Burma had made strides in solving its problems.
China is a major trading partner of Burma, and also its closest ally.
Putting Burma on the council's formal agenda means any council member is now free to raise it as an item for discussion, and regular reports on the situation in the country can be requested from the UN secretariat.
Items which are not on the agenda may not be discussed - a procedural rule that protects members from being forced to discuss issues they would rather not draw attention to.