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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Editorial: The Saffron Olympics

October 6, 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007; A18

BY NOW China's Communist rulers must have realized that one unintended
consequence of hosting the 2008 Olympics is unprecedented global
scrutiny of Beijing's retrograde foreign policy. For decades, one pillar
of that policy has been the cynical political and economic exploitation
of rogue states that most of the rest of the world shuns -- notably
North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma. Under growing international
pressure, and with the looming threat of a besmirched Olympics, Chinese
policy is slowly changing. But not fast enough, as this week's events in
Burma demonstrate.

In the past three days, Burma's ruling junta has carried out a bloody
and criminal crackdown on a peaceful protest movement led by thousands
of Buddhist monks. The regime admits that 10 people have died in the
volleys of gunfire and the baton charges its soldiers have directed at
demonstrators. More likely is that the death toll is in the scores.
Hundreds of monks and democratic opposition activists have been rounded
up at night and trucked away to unknown fates; troops have occupied and
ransacked monasteries.

Sadly, the degree of international outrage over these events has been
inversely proportional to the influence those speaking out have over the
Burmese regime. The Bush administration and European Union have been
admirably outspoken, but the generals have a long record of dismissing
the West. Burma's neighbors, who made the controversial decision to
admit the regime to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations a decade
ago, expressed "revulsion" at the use of violence against the protests
but did not call for an end to military rule. India, which has struck
military and economic deals with Burma, was even milder, saying it "is
concerned at and is closely monitoring the situation."

But the weakest response of all was left to China, which did $2 billion
worth of business with Burma last year alone and is its principal
supplier of weapons. China's ambassador at the United Nations blocked a
Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown. The strongest word
Beijing has been able to cough up is "restraint." U.S. officials counted
it as an achievement that China supported the dispatch of a U.N. envoy
to Burma. Western diplomats speculate that Chinese officials are
pressuring the Burmese generals behind the scenes; they note that
earlier this month a senior Chinese official made a cryptic statement to
visiting Burmese leaders about "a democracy process that is appropriate
for the country."

This is arguably more than would have been done a decade ago by a
Chinese government that massacred its own democracy movement in 1989.
It's in keeping with Beijing's incrementally more constructive policies
toward North Korea -- which it has nudged toward giving up nuclear
weapons -- and Sudan, which it has pressured to accept international
peacekeepers in Darfur.

China's behavior is nevertheless a pathetically puny response to savage
brutality by one of the world's most corrupt and illegitimate
governments. Burma's generals might not take orders from Beijing. But
the failure of President Hu Jintao's leadership to forthrightly condemn
the repression has had the effect of giving the junta a green light.
Burma's saffron-robed monks will join Darfur's refugees in haunting the
Beijing Olympics -- which are on their way to becoming a monument to an
emerging superpower's immorality.

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