September 28, 2007
Written by C.N.
By now, I hope you have heard about the protests for democracy organized by Buddhist monks in Burma (called Myanmar by its current regime). In case you don’t know the background, Burma has been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962. There was a similar popular uprising for democracy in 1988 that was violently crushed by the military (similar to what happened at Tienanmen Square in China).
The Burmese dictatorship actually allowed democratic elections in 1990 but annulled the results when the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide. Isn’t that convenient? The NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was subsequently arrested and despite winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been under house arrest ever since.
last month, Burmese citizens staged small protests against skyrocketing fuel prices. After the military cracked down on these protests, Buddhist monks reignited the protests and since then, have expanded their goals to include real political democracy. At its height recently, an estimated 100,000 citizens have participated in daily marches against the government.
Unfortunately, it looks like the military dictatorship is starting to violently crack down by raiding Buddhist monasteries and firing into crowds of protesters. Ironically, in the midst of this impending crisis, there is hope that China can play a positive role:
China, which has come under increasing pressure to use its regional influence on Myanmar’s ruling junta, issued an evenhanded plea for calm on Thursday after refusing to condemn the military-run government at the United Nations. . . .
The crackdown puts China in a bind. Its communist government has developed close diplomatic ties with junta leaders and is a major investor in Myanmar. But with the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, China is eager to fend off criticism that it shelters unpopular or abusive regimes.
“I perceive a little movement coming from the Chinese government and the Chinese people,” Kouchner said. “But they are certainly, apart from the other ASEAN nations, they are really those who can do something to influence the behavior of the Myanmar government.”
As we all know, China has been roundly criticized on so many fronts recently, ranging from tainted foods and dangerous consumer goods, to environmental degradation, to its own human rights abuses. However, here, China has the opportunity to significantly improve its image — if it has the political courage to do so.
That is, China’s leaders are probably afraid that if they appear to be too sympathetic or supportive of the democracy protesters that the same kind of mass movement can emerge against them. If this fear prevents them from persuading the Burmese regime to react peacefully rather than violently to the protests, that would be a huge loss and wasted opportunity.
In that case, China will undoubtedly be complicit in any violence that takes place against the Burmese citizens.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "China’s Role in Democracy Movement in Burma" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/09/chinas-role-in-democracy-movement-in-burma/> ().
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