But can China compel the junta to do the right thing?


Surely China will have to “fix” the problem, analysts argue, because of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 


Last night I saw the news reports saying two military divisions had arrived in Rangoon, including the 22nd —one of the same units deployed to Rangoon in 1988. ~Melinda Liu

This last point is one of the more telling observations of the article.  The question about China forcing the junta to “do the right thing” assumes that Beijing sees the “right thing” to be the same as other outsiders do.  I am doubtful that the Chinese government sees it this way.  As the article relates, China has tried to distance itself from its more disreputable satellites in recent months, but any expectation that China wants to stop the crackdown in Burma because of the ‘08 Olympics seems mistaken.  There is no guarantee that China’s economic interests in Burma would be seriously threatened by a destabilisation or ousting of the junta, but it is likely not something that the Chinese government wants to risk.  Any government that replaced the junta would be made up of those democrats who will remember China’s backing of the junta for all these years. 

Even if economic realities dictate that Burma remain tied to China for the present, resentment against China’s role in the junta’s grip on power could fuel a strong reaction against the Chinese.  (Consider how radicalised Iranians reacted against the United States as a model of what might happen.)  There have been strong expressions of anti-Chinese sentiment in other outposts of Beijing’s informal empire:

While China likes to portray itself as a benign force in Africa, free of the historical baggage carried by the former colonial powers, Beijing’s conduct is already resented.

During last year’s presidential election in Zambia, the leading opposition candidate, Michael Sata, campaigned on an explicitly anti-Chinese ticket. Beijing’s investment was, Mr Sata argued, almost entirely worthless for Zambia.    

China has every interest at this point in backing the junta, even if it engages in a brutal crackdown.  Those who think that hosting the Olympics inspires good international behaviour should recall that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of the year before the Moscow games.  There was a U.S. boycott, of course, which did nothing substantial to harm Moscow.  If one of China’s satellites does something vicious between now and next summer, it will affect Beijing even less.

P.S. Joshua Kurlantzick has a good article on Burma in The New Republic, which concludes:

Apparently convinced they’d risk no serious sanction, in September 1988 the Burmese military stepped in, staging a kind of auto-coup. In the course of suppressing protests, Burmese troops killed as many as three-thousand people. Today, similar fears are rising. More soldiers reportedly are taking positions in Rangoon, and the regime reportedly is recruiting criminals, possibly to infiltrate protests and cause havoc, a tactic utilized in 1988. Burmese opposition radio has reported rumors that senior junta leader Than Shwe has ordered that authorities can use violence to squash demonstrations. Twenty years on, 1988 looks nearer than ever.