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The Burma Road Goes Through Beijing

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.

China’s decision to block the UN Security Council from condemning the Burmese regime’s assault on the Buddhist monks and other peaceful protestors underscores its long-standing political support for the junta. This past January, China, alongside Russia, vetoed a Security Council resolution that condemned Burma’s human rights record and called on the government to stop attacks on ethnic minorities, release political prisoners, and begin a transition towards national reconciliation and democracy. For years, China has also blocked meaningful sanctions against Burma.