Lindsey Hilsum in the New Statesman
An estimated 2.5 million people of Chinese descent live in Burma; several ethnic groups straddle the 2,000-kilometre border dividing the two countries. Believing the junta’s inflexibility to be inherently unstable, the Chinese government has tried to persuade the generals to come to some accommodation with the political opposition and rebellious ethnic fighters. Chinese officials have met opposition leaders in Kunming, on the Chinese side of the border, and in June they facilitated a meeting between US and Burmese government representatives. The current upheaval may have stymied that initiative, but according to the Burma specialist Larry Jagan, Beijing had hoped the contacts could herald a process similar to the six-party talks that have brought North Korean and US negotiators together.
Western leaders dream of a Burma reinvented in their image – with a little lustre from association with the revered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi rubbing off on them. But China is still ruled by the Communist Party that shot and mowed down protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and which suppresses Buddhist monks in Tibet.
Authoritarian capitalism, not liberal democracy, has made China successful. The Beijing government’s ideal would be for the Burmese generals to allow limited political participation, so that stability could be assured and China’s supply of timber, gemstones, oil and natural gas guaranteed.