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    Greater China
     Oct 3, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Why China has it wrong on Myanmar
By Bernt Berger

While Myanmar's military government cracks down on peaceful protesters, China, as one of the regime's main benefactors, is being held in some quarters as tangentially co-responsible for the violence.

Although China's ability directly to influence the regime is limited, Beijing does maintain considerable diplomatic sway in Yangon, and whether it supports new mooted international initiatives

against Myanmar's regime will likely determine their failure or success in affecting change.

China's stance on Myanmar is based on several misjudgments about the internal situation under the military regime and about Beijing's own international role. In his recent speech to the United Nations Security Council, Chinese Ambassador to the UN Wang Guangya admitted to problems in Myanmar. Yet he also expressed Beijing's belief that these problems did not constitute a threat to international peace and security and that in the current situation new Western-led sanctions against the regime were not useful.

That follows China's move in January to block a US-led initiative to put Myanmar's rights record on the UN Security Council's agenda. Last week, the United States and the European Union drafted a joint statement urging China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to use their influence in support of Myanmar's people to press for dialogue between the regime and the political opposition led by detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. So far, however, that call has gone unanswered.

Myanmar poses a growing challenge to China's international image, which Beijing is bidding to establish as a responsible global power. After its recent engagement in Sudan over Darfur backfired, Beijing finds itself once again associated with an abusive government that has manufactured a humanitarian crisis.

Although China is not the only country engaged in Myanmar and should not carry sole responsibility for the emerging crisis, it is a member of the UN Security Council and thereby indirectly accountable for any actions that are, or are not, taken. In view of a regime that unscrupulously mistreats its citizens and spurns with impunity all standards of civility, Beijing clearly lacks a sense of urgency.

Even before protesters took to the streets in September, there were rumors on the Yangon street that a popular uprising was in the cards. At the same time, China was gradually changing its approach toward Myanmar. For instance, in May a statement was posted on the Chinese Embassy's website criticizing the extraordinary expense of the establishment of Myanmar's new capital at Naypyidaw. China also initiated a behind-the-scenes meeting between Myanmar and US government representatives to discuss new directions in their severely strained relations.

Faced with the current crisis, however, China has reverted to its traditional stance of non-interference in another country's internal affairs. In doing so, Beijing is not only arguably damaging its international image, but also squandering a unique opportunity to take an active and moral role in influencing Myanmar's leadership. Globally, it could enhance its image considerably by acting as a responsible stakeholder. It could also distinguish itself from regional rival India, which so far has similarly preferred to deal with Myanmar's crisis by looking the other way.

The agreement to send UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Myanmar to meet with both military leaders and the pro-democracy opposition represents only a starting point toward internationally influencing the junta to change tack.

China's policymakers understand that the effectiveness of US-led sanctions has been undermined by Beijing's willingness to economically engage the regime. Indeed, Myanmar's military leadership has exhibited significant staying power in the face of economic sanctions, which in the main have hit the already poor and overburdened population and left the ruling junta unscathed. In the current situation, change can only come from within the military and China could use its channels, contacts and influence to convince the regime that now is the time to change.

Redefining interference
China has instead stood firm on its stated policy of non-interference in another country's internal affairs and has emphasized the need for restraint on both sides of the confrontation to ensure stability. However, China has in reality been interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs for at least half a century. During much of the Cold War, Beijing overtly supported the Communist Party of Burma, which fought against government-led forces. Burmese military leader General Ne Win reached a rapprochement with China in 1980, and Beijing has since been a strategic ally to different military governments.

China has invested heavily in Myanmar's infrastructure, business and natural resources and has tacitly supported the waves of 

Continued 1 2 

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