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ISSUE 121 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/12/2007

Chinese politics jilt Burma

By Matt Everhart
Staff Writer

Friday, October 12, 2007

The first thing I want to explain about Burma, also known as Myanmar, is its name. Myanmar is the name given by the military junta which took control of Burma in 1989. The United Nations recognized the name change, but the United States and United Kingdom did not.

I use the name "Burma" because I don't recognize the name change these dictators imposed. It is a false government that took power in spite of a democratic election in 1990 which supposedly deposed the military reign.

The recent protests led by Buddhist monks in Burma finally caught international attention for one of the most tyrannical military dictatorships in the world. Burma has long been a downtrodden nation, a jewel of Southeast Asia tainted by an oppressive government. The recent protests were the country's most significant protests since the 1988 student uprisings, which resulted in over 3,000 deaths.

There are several important differences between the present and past protests. One of the most important is China's actions, or lack thereof.

Over the years, the United Nations, Group of Eight (G8) and other international political bodies such as Amnesty International proposed several motions to increase economic sanctions against Burma. These proposals highlighted Burma's human rights issues, which include slave and child labor, imprisonment of pro-democracy activists and a rampant sex slave market.

Burma has made some concessions. It has released political prisoners and more recently allowed U.N. advisor Ibrahim Gambari to meet with democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi. However, most of these are just tactics to deflect international attention. China, India and Russia, all of which have major economic ties with Burma, have all blocked international motions to increase sanctions.

India recently closed a major natural gas deal with Burma, because the Indian government doesn't want a major violent clash transpiring in their region of the world.

Their response to the protests, which was publicized several days after the protests began, was vague and weak in comparison to those of most Western nations.

Russia has also launched business deals with Burma and has denied further economic sanctions against Burma.

However, China is the worst offender.China has large investments in Burma, since Burma is rich in natural resources and is a vital trade hub for China's western land-locked provinces. The Burmese military junta acquires most of its weapons from China as well.

So what has China done to help the situation and bring peace and prosperity to the Burmese people? Nothing. Beijing merely suggested that the Burmese dictatorship show "restraint" in dealing with the protests, something they must have learned after the backlash of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

China may wish to be the greatest global superpower of the 21st century, but if they continue their non-interference foreign policy, they're not going to make meaningful changes to the world.

By ignoring the Burmese protests, they tell the rest of the world that they care more about their own economic interests than the suffering and injustice faced by almost 50 million neighbors. This is especially disappointing given that China, which will host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, is in the international spotlight.

When I visited China last January, my Interim group met with a US-China diplomat in Beijing. When we asked her about China's stance towards Burma and if there would be any change or any push towards reducing human rights violations, the diplomat said that China is focusing almost all of its energy on its own domestic affairs.

I guess controlling the Internet and imprisoning Tibetan monks must take a lot of effort. I got the impression from her that China was more interested in monitoring text messages for pro-democracy propaganda than using its international influence to help the Burmese people lead better lives.

What upsets me most is that Burma has such potential. It's a country rich in natural resources positioned between two of the fastest growing economies in the world. Its people could become well-educated and its society modernized; instead, the Burmese people continue to suffer.

The protests one positive effect is that Burma is back on the international radar screen. For years, the world has turned a blind eye to the suffering and tyranny in Burma. Maybe now that more people have seen the injustices occurring daily in Burma, we will act to bring freedom to the Burmese people.

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