China: The Moment of Truth

China: The Moment of Truth

It's not just the moment of truth for Burma. It's a moment of truth for China, and that by implication affects all of us.

The question is: is China now a responsible stakeholder in the international community, or simply a nation concerned only with self-interest at the expense of human rights - both within its own territory and elsewhere?

It is no longer acceptable to trot out that tired old phrase: "We do not interfere in other countries' internal affairs". With the Olympics approaching, if Beijing really wants to be seen as an equal partner then it cannot let its coming-out party be overshadowed by its negligence of well-established international norms.

A former Burmese student leader just appeared on the BBC, insisting that the UN has "failed" his people and that it is no longer time for sanctions. He is right. Sanctions are slow and ultimately will only hurt the Burmese people, not the military elite. So, in a sense, it's a moment of truth for the UN and its ineffectual new chief, Ban Ki-Moon too.

But only China, with its massive investment in Burma's economy via the logging trade and various energy deals can make a real difference. India, I'm afraid to say, is impotent on the matter and is disappointingly reflecting the Chinese sovereignty line.

The CCP is in a difficult position. If it condemns the impending crackdown and acts on Burma, whether in the UNSC or bilaterally, then it opens itself up to a round of internal re-examination of the events of Tiananmen square - which themselves occurred just after a brutally repressed democracy movement in Burma in 1988. Though news of events of Burma is restricted in China, via the Internet, unlike in 1989 people will get to know about them.

In the next 48 hours, there are only two things that can happen. Either the junta relaxes control, frees Aung San Suu Kyi and enters negotiations with the UN. Or the guns begin to fire while the UN, as always, stands by. The world is watching. It's up to China.

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