The Burma Road Goes Through Beijing

As long as China provides political, financial, and military support for Burma’s rulers, no meaningful change in Burma is likely. But, just as in Darfur, where China’s perceived support for the Sudanese government translated into harsh criticism and threats to brand the 2008 Olympics the “Genocide Games,” the costs of China’s support for Burma’s generals are rising fast.

NEW YORK amp#45;amp#45; Three hard facts are setting the boundaries for the talks United Nations negotiator Ibrahim Gambari is undertaking as he shuttles between Burma’s ruling generals and the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. First, despite the heroic leadership of the Buddhist clergy and the pro-democracy community, almost 50 years of military misrule and terror tactics have worn down Burma’s people, who will likely find it hard to maintain their defiance without obvious splits among the ruling generals or widespread desertions among ordinary soldiers.

Second, Burma’s generals know that they face a stark choice: either maintain power or risk imprisonment, exile, and possible death. In their eyes, this leaves them with virtually no choice but to hold on to power at all costs.

Finally, as long as China provides political, financial, and military support for Burma’s rulers, it will be all but impossible for any meaningful change to occur. Until China decides that it has more to gain from a more legitimate government in Burma than it does from the current incompetent military regime, little can happen.

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