Sat, Sep 29, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China is accountable for Myanmar

China is Myanmar's UN Security Council protector and patron. This stark fact is the first thing to consider before entering into a long-winded debate about how much pressure China should apply to Myanmar diplomatically, or in any other way.

Given that Myanmar's military government has done very well for itself in the face of present sanctions, any sensible retaliation against it by the international community will require new tactics. But sending in a UN envoy to smooth over atrocities and lend the junta dignity by advocating half-cocked solutions is not one of them: The UN will be toyed with in the same way that Myanmar has toyed with the world over the fate of activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

The severity of the international response to Myanmar's latest assault on unarmed civilians and basic human dignity will need to be felt more by Myanmar's unofficial partners -- China, India and Singapore, in particular -- than the regime itself, at least for the moment.

Tighter sanctions are unavoidable and necessary, even if in the medium term they appear ineffective. However, their impact would be greatly increased if Myanmar's advocates were also carefully targeted. States and companies that continue to sustain this military government with non-humanitarian aid, weapons, economic opportunities or international influence must have real pressure placed on them. Otherwise, it's all hot air.

The US and the EU in particular must seize this opportunity to punish countries and companies outside their borders that profit from the misery of the Burmese people. In this regard, it is encouraging that some in Europe are seeing through the nonsense that China spouts about non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries -- and naming the Beijing Olympics as a possible point of retaliation over China's ignoble history in Burmese affairs.

One fundamental reason why China will not transform the style of Myanmar's government is that Beijing uses the same methods to control its own population. China has deployed troops against its own unarmed civilians before, and will do so again if corresponding circumstances present themselves.

It is also important to note that a genuinely democratic Myanmar would jeopardize Chinese interests in Southeast Asia.

Yet, if Taiwan's envoy to the US is to be believed, the latest violence may see the US cozying up to Beijing -- again -- in the belief that the Chinese are in the best position to bring this vicious little junta to heel, as with the North Koreans.

We can only hope that the US State Department will have the wisdom not to allow engagement with China on this matter to turn into a gambling chip for cross-strait maneuvering. In so doing the US would reward China -- again -- for its support for repressive governments.

As with China's enthusiasm for autocracy at home and abroad, the truth about Myanmar is stark and unforgiving.

It will not compromise unless it is forced to do so. It understands only the brutality that sustains the garish privileges of the ruling clique at the expense of the welfare -- and lives -- of ordinary people.

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