Tuesday, November 20, 2007

We strongly support "Free Burma," while China doesn't

In September, rising oil prices in Burma led the Burmese including monks to massively protest against the military government. The protest was similar to the objectives of the democratic faction leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, which hoped to end the military dictatorship as soon as possible. This was the biggest challenge posed to the military government in Burma after the bloody suppression of 1988. However, the Burmese military government ordered military troops to surround the main Buddhist temple of the capital Rangoon, while also arresting several monks.

Concerning the Burmese suppression, U.S. President George Bush appealed to the international community at the UN General Assembly to impose severe sanctions against the Burmese government. He also requested UN members to assist in ending the 19 years of terror reign in Burma. Besides focusing on the Burmese military government, global media emphasized China’s relationship with Burma as well. The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting on September 26, proposing to impose international sanctions against Burma. However, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, said that sanctions would not be helpful to the situation. Wang said that the Burmese military government needed to restore stability. His logical deduction on Burmese government’s suppression was to protect political power and to restore back the normal state of affairs. Even though Beijing called on the Burmese military government to restrain, Wang Guangya said, “The circumstances did not constitute an international or regional threat to peace.” Nevertheless, during President Bush’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Yang Jiechi, Bush demanded China’s intervention in assisting Burma’s democratization.

For a long period of time, China has being ignoring the Burmese military government’s suppression over human rights. On the surface, China did not want to get involved in Burmese domestic affairs, but in reality, China has its own strategic interests. The first one is that as soon as they criticized Burmese military suppression, it would be difficult to wash away the history of their own 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. The second reason is that Burma is China’s second largest trading partner. According to Chinese official statistics, trade between China and Burma reached US$1.4 billion in 2006. Chinese multinational corporations conducted ten major contracts involving the mining of jade, petroleum and natural gas with Burma. The third reason is that China has been involved in aiding Burmese military modernization, providing more than $1 billion worth of weaponry. China and the Burmese military government have maintained a close relationship (as shown in exhibit 1). The fourth reason is that China places a strong importance in the geo-political position of Burma, striving to make use of Burma’s vantage point at the harbor of the Indian Ocean and its proximity to African and Middle Eastern oil resources. This strategy will prevent a marine transit block in the South China Sea in case of a crisis.

◆ Exhibit 1 Exchange Visits between Chinese and Burmese High-Level Officials

Visits to Burma by Chinese Defense Ministry Officials:
Minister of Defense Chi Haotian (July 1995); Central Military Commission’s Vice Chairman, Zhang Wannian (April 1996); Lin Guanglie, Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army (October 2006).

Visits to China by Officials of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar:
Than Shwe, Commander in Chief of Defense Services (October 1989); Vice Senior General Maung Aye (October 1996 and August 2003); Lieutenant-General Tin Aye (November 1994 and April 2000); General Thura Shwe Mann (December 2002 and January 2007); First Secretary Thein Sein (July 2004); etc.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People’s Republic of China

China’s standpoint toward Burma is equal to China’s long-term assistance to Sudan and North Korea. The international community does not identify with China’s standpoint and has criticized China, hoping that China would take greater responsibility. On the other hand, Taiwan has protested against the suppression of democracy by the Burmese military government; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately showed critical concern for the Burmese people, delivered censure to the Burmese government and appealed to the international community to support the Burmese’ pursuit of freedom and democracy. The MOFA was “determined to support any efforts that would help Burma’s democratization.” In addition, Taiwanese civic groups have been providing care for a long-time at the Thai-Burmese border of Mae Sot by training local teachers and conducting computer initiation classes. The Mae Tao Clinic, which has also established a digital center of learning, is a collaborative effort between Taiwan and the Burmese refugee Dr. Cynthia Maung. One can easily observe that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have different viewpoints regarding the democracy development of Burma and different methods in handling the issues of Burma, of international peace and of human rights.

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