Stanley's blog

China’s Myanmar dilemma

I also commend to you the International Crisis Group’s report of 14 September 2009, the key conclusions of which are summarized below:

• Beijing has pushed its neighbour to undertake political reforms, but not in the way the West would like.
• China was the first to congratulate Aung San Suu Kyi on her election in 1990.
• China continues to push the seven-step roadmap as a positive sign of initial transition, while backing the UN Secretary-General.
• However, it is reluctant to push too hard for fear of jeopardizing its military, economic and energy interests.
• China has a strong foothold and comparative advantage over its competitors, but its policies pose political, social and economic risks, including aggravating tensions and contributing to conflict among different actors in Myanmar.
• Chinese companies are being held responsible for widespread ecological destruction, as well as forced relocation and human rights abuses carried out by the Burmese military.
• As resentment against Chinese economic exploitation and support for an unpopular regime grows within Myanmar, China’s interests and possibly its nationals in Myanmar will suffer.
• Beijing must, therefore, re-evaluate its strategy and coordinate with Yunnan and local governments to follow through with consistent positions and policies, thereby reining in the activities of local actors. (There have been differences in approach between Beijing and the provincial government in Yunnan’s capital Kunning, which implements policies towards the ethnic ceasefire groups.)
• Internationally, Myanmar has posed an increasing challenge to China’s global diplomacy and image. Beijing is seen – at best – as letting the present situation in Myanmar happen.
• The pursuit of its current policy will only lead to more international embarrassment and criticism, further burdening Chinese diplomacy as it tries to portray China’s emergence as a great power in a positive light.
• China should do more to encourage Myanmar to commit to a truly inclusive dialogue with the opposition and ethnic groups.
• China should also act both directly and with ASEAN member countries to continue to support the UN as well as to persuade the military to open up.
• Myanmar has elections in 2010 which, despite major shortcomings, are likely to create opportunities for generational and institutional changes.

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