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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?"

Opinion: Time to change policy on Burma

October 9, 2007

http://www.thestandard.com.hk/

James Rose

Monday, October 08, 2007

I am not as up on Chinese color association as I perhaps should be, 
but I bet the color of oxblood red is causing plenty of headaches in 
Beijing at the moment.

That is the tone favored by Burma's brave and mobilized Buddhist 
monks, many of whom are now in detention, or worse, as the Burmese 
military cracks down on peaceful demonstrations for democracy.

There is a lot here for those with a stake in China's economy to be 
worried about.

For one, the world is onto China. You cannot act as a hated military 
regime's major arms supplier, nor one of its major business partners, 
nor demonstrate a manifest rapacity over a country's natural 
resources, nor block resolutions seeking to rein in the dictatorial 
generals - all of which China has done in relation to Burma - without 
attracting the attention of the world.

Second, Tibet is onto Burma. The cultural and spiritual ether has 
been crackling in the last week across the Asian landscape as 
Buddhists in Tibet learn more of their fellow followers in Burma.

No one would suggest there are strong direct links between the two 
groups of oppressed peoples. But you only need to know that the Dalai 
Lama has waded into the Burma issue, on the side of the 
demonstrators, to know the spiritual synapses are humming across Asia.

Pro-Tibet independence media such as the New Delhi-based Phayul 
website are well aware of the connections and are talking them up for 
all they are worth. In a recent comment piece in Phayul, for 
instance, exiled Tibetan author Ketsun Lobsang Dondup spoke of the 
lessons to be drawn from the Burma uprising for Tibetans dealing with 
a nondemocratic regime.

Dondup touches on four points of relevance to Tibetans, where he 
argues there are links to be made with Burma's current revolt.

And so there is evidence that anti- China Tibetans are looking at 
Burma and possibly steeling themselves for a similar tilt at regime 
change, or at least, reform. It's a fair bet to wager there will be a 
well-organized uprising of some sort in Tibet within the next six 
months, inspired by the events in Burma over the last few weeks.

Dondup may have added a fifth point. That is, sooner or later, 
regimes end, when the pressures from within and the pressures from 
outside become unbearable. Burma has at least been weakened by the 
last few weeks and while regime change may not result directly, its 
imminence has only been confirmed.

So, ultimately, China, in being so closely identified with Burma's 
militarists and by muscling in on Burma's economy, is hardly laying 
garlands for future success in Burma. And it is now blindingly clear 
that a successful relationship with Burma must countenance the end of 
the dreaded State Law and Order Restoration Council.

As in relation to its African interests, Chinese realpolitik foreign 
policy and aggressive and parochial business culture is putting the 
country's future in a corner. What to do?

To some extent China is adopting a much more measured stance than 
might have been expected even, say, 18 months ago. As with North 
Korea and with Sudan, China is talking ever so slightly tougher to 
recalcitrant regimes.

In relation to Burma, there have been reports that China has been 
giving sanctuary to Burmese dissidents who have fled for their lives 
from their home.

But, while all this behind-the-scenes action can be positive, it does 
not serve the wider purpose of ensuring other dictators with ideas do 
not get the notion they can work with the big boys as long as they 
can seize some buildings, keep dissidents in check, and call 
themselves a sovereign government. More narrowly, China will not get 
the benefit of whatever it might be doing behind the scenes with 
those who really count, the wider public.

Should Burma become a democracy soon, few will give much of the kudos 
to China's hush-hush diplomacy and push-push business approach.

Those who have refused to back the military, namely the United States 
and the European Union, will likely be the benefactors. China will be 
in the cold again and back to square one on accessing Burma's resources.

It may well be time for Chinese businesses to adopt a stance more in 
keeping with the newly independent stature we are told they are being 
given in the new China.

Chinese investors in Burma could work more openly with all factions 
of the community, telling the military government along the way that 
if they are blocked from doing so, then the money will pull out.

The Chinese government is failing to show itself a responsible broker 
in Burma. Chinese business leaders can pick up the slack and ensure 
they have a future in that troubled country, and anywhere else for 
that matter.

James Rose is editor of www.corporategovernance-asia.com

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