Sun, Sep 30, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: No concessions this time, Beijing

Human suffering caused by authoritarianism in Myanmar has transfixed the world this week in a way that far bloodier conflicts in, say, Sudan, have failed to achieve.

With world leaders waxing with stolid determination at the UN, threatening wordy resolutions and toothless sanctions against the Myanmar junta, the argument is once again being made that only Beijing -- the closest thing Myanmar has to an ally -- could bring enough pressure to bear on the regime to make it halt its repression.

While this option provides a convenient cop-out for states intent on shirking their responsibilities, it also comes with an old caveat, one that was heard before when Beijing's diplomatic arm twisting was focused on North Korea: In order for Beijing to do what it must, concessions will have to be made.

And that concession, of course, is Taiwan, which the nation's representative in Washington, Joseph Wu (吳釗燮), could not -- at the risk of appearing misanthropic -- refrain from pointing out last week.

But the comparison between North Korea and Myanmar has its limits, for despite the common suffering of the people under authoritarian regimes, there is a stark difference: In Myanmar's case, the world is getting images. Thanks to photographers who risk -- and lose -- their lives, the world has access to startling testimonies of the situation on the ground. Beyond that are the blurry but no less haunting Web transmissions made by Burmese themselves.

North Korean suffering may be no less severe, but sadly for them, state control over information there is airtight, which means that the population's tribulations -- from repeated famine to everything entailed in living in a police state -- can only be imagined by the rest of the world most of the time.

Human emotional reactions are far more powerful when the stimuli are concrete and visual rather than abstract and hinted at -- and what we've seen coming out of Yangon in recent days has nothing of a "hint" about it.

What this means, therefore, is that should Beijing be called upon to play a role in Myanmar similar to the one it played in North Korea, this time around it may have much less room to maneuver, for the pressure will be on to make the violence end now and will only abate once the world stops seeing monks being beaten, shot at and abused by security forces.

Less room to wriggle, ultimately, means that Bei-jing will have difficulty playing the Taiwan card. The states that lean on China to do something are themselves getting pressure from their lawmakers and constituents to make the horror go away.

Myanmar will likely be only a transient source of concern, one that will eventually be pushed aside when another catastrophe, man-made or natural, strikes.

But in the here and now, the world is connecting emotionally with Burmese people in a way that North Koreans can only dream about. A self-serving Beijing expecting to get something in return for intervention will get far less international patience than it has received for its past efforts.

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