Burma: A Test for China...

Burma: A Test for China

Even the US is stepping up support for the current protests in Burma (Myanmar), with a call for added sanctions in the hope of buckling the already-pressured Junta. But like in Sudan, notes Isabel Hilton in The Guardian's Comment is Free, the country that really matters is China:

China has sustained the Burmese military with generous support; Chinese aid has built transport infrastructure and dams; Chinese investment gives Beijing a stake in key sectors of Burma's economy; Chinese immigration has produced large Chinese populations in Burma's cities; and Chinese support has rendered US sanctions against the regime ineffectual. Why, then, is China now being cited as a restraining influence?

China's default diplomatic position is that it does not "interfere" in the domestic politics of other countries - one might add, especially where supplies of energy and natural resources or strategic issues are involved. Beijing is averse to lectures on human rights and democracy at home, so naturally disinclined to deliver them abroad.

But China is now faced with the fact that the high diplomatic profile that goes with greater global power exposes it to new pressures to uphold international standards, and that if the country is to continue to sell her ascent to global superpower status as unthreatening, close partnerships with unsavoury regimes can produce undesirable blowback. China's previous intransigence on Darfur melted when campaigners married the Beijing Olympic games to China's support for the Sudanese regime to produce the slogan "Genocide Olympics". China suddenly found it convenient to send an envoy to Sudan and to play a more constructive role in multilateral efforts to resolve the crisis. A similar pressure is building over Burma.

And inevitably, fears of another Tiananmen square crop uo too. But this author is correct to note that 18 years on from 6/4, the PRC's position is very different. It is now supposed to be a responsible stakeholder in the international community, and cannot be seen to be supporting the Myanmar regime at this moment.

On the other hand, should Beijing encourage a transition to democracy and the return of Aung San Suu Kyi, what kind of message would they be sending to their own people? There's no doubt that, state censorship aside, the Chinese have more access to outside media than ever and many of them must be watching this closely:

For Beijing, the sight of tens of thousands of citizens in peaceful street protests led by Buddhist monks is little short of a nightmare, since China has its own potentially explosive combinations of religious and civil dissent: Buddhist monks in Tibet, Muslims in Xinjiang, even Falun Gong practitioners at home - all lay claim to the moral authority to challenge a corrupt and self-seeking autocracy. The sight of mass civic demonstrations in pursuit of political reform recalls both 1989's Tiananmen Square and 1979's Democracy Wall.

A bloodbath in Burma, given China's close identification with the dictatorship, would resonate like a Tiananmen Square massacre by proxy, just as Beijing is polishing the silver for next year's Olympics. For China negotiation is infinitely preferable to bloodshed and the instability that could result.

Finally, it's worth considering the implications for India too. Like Pakistan, Burma is a state pivotal to both regional powers' political and economic interests. India must be concerned about potential movements of refugees should things get violent, and along with China it has energy interests vested in the current Myanmar regime.

In fact, The Times of India points out, at times New Delhi's line sounds eerily reminiscent of Beijing's:

India's interests in Myanmar are rooted in energy, security, keeping insurgents in check and countering China's overpowering influence on India's doorstep.

Myanmar is also important to an India seeking to extend its power into southeast Asia, politically and militarily, standing as it does at the mouth of the Malacca Straits. These interests have kept India and China engaged with the unpopular military regime in Yangon. As recently as 10 days ago, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee was subjected to public questioning by British and American diplomats in Bangkok on India's Myanmar policy. Mukherjee stuck to India's line that it did not interfere in internal developments in any country.

Days later at the APEC summit in Australia, member countries decided Myanmar could only be tackled through India and China. Neither country responded.

So much for democracy's domino effect. But what happens over the next few days will indirectly prove where China and India really do stand in the modern world.

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια: