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Chinese dilemma over Burma protests
By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing
China, which has become one of Burma's main supporters over recent
years, has remained largely silent about the current protests.
Beijing is traditionally reluctant to speak publicly about the internal
affairs of other countries.
But, despite this, there are signs that Chinese politicians are anxious
to help stabilise the political situation in Burma.
They perhaps do not want to tarnish China's image ahead of next year's
Beijing Olympics by appearing to support any military crackdown in Burma.
Officially, China is playing down its ability to influence events in Burma.
"China always adopts a policy of non-interference," said Chinese Foreign
Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu at a regular press briefing.
It is in China's long-term business interests to make sure its
neighbour is stable
"As Myanmar's (Burma's) neighbour, China hopes to see stability and
economic development in Myanmar," she added.
"The stability of Myanmar serves the interest of Myanmar itself and the
interests of the international community."
But China's ties with the military junta ruling Burma go deep, and
include expanding trade links, the sale of military hardware and
"In the last decade or two, with the improving economic situation in
China and the increasing isolation of Burma, China has become
increasingly important to the regime," said a spokesman for the Asian
Human Rights Commission, based in Hong Kong.
The relationship between Burma and China is mainly based on trade.
Burma, which has very little industry itself, imports manufactured goods
"If you walk around the streets in Burma, particularly in the north, the
overwhelming majority of manufactured goods are Chinese made," said the
commission spokesman, who regularly visits Burma.
That trade is reflected in official Chinese figures, which show that
exports from China to Burma were up by 50% in the first seven months of
this year. They were worth $964m (£479m).
Burma mainly exports raw materials, such as timber and gems, to China.
According to research published a few days ago by EarthRights
International, 26 Chinese multinational firms were involved in 62 major
projects in Burma over the last decade.
These include the construction of oil and gas pipelines stretching
2,380km (1,479 miles) from Burma's Arakan coast to China's Yunnan Province.
The rights group, based in the United States and South East Asia, says
this is to help China import oil and gas from the Middle East, Africa
and South America.
Official Chinese figures say total imports from Burma amounted to just
$146m in the first seven months of this year.
But others doubt the accuracy of these figures. Rights group Global
Witness estimated timber exports to China alone were worth $350m in 2005
- most of it illegally exported.
China also sells Burma military hardware, according to the Asian Human
And Beijing used its veto in the United Nations' Security Council in
January to block criticism of Burma's military junta.
But despite these deep links, China has shown signs of promoting reform
in Burma over recent months.
In June this year it hosted low-profile talks in Beijing between
representatives from the US and Burma.
And earlier this month, senior Chinese diplomat Tang Jiaxuan had some
advice for visiting Burmese Foreign Minister U Nyan Win.
"China whole-heartedly hopes that Myanmar (Burma) will push forward a
democracy process that is appropriate for the country," he said,
according to state-run Xinhua news agency.
Tang, who acts as a foreign policy adviser, said China "hoped Myanmar
would restore internal stability as soon as possible, properly handle
issues and actively promote national reconciliation".
China is perhaps wary of backing a regime that might order a violent
crackdown of protesters ahead of next year's Beijing Olympics.
Beijing is extremely sensitive to criticism about any of its foreign
policies before the event is held. They do not want anything to spoil
Chinese officials have already tried to limit criticism of Beijing's
support for Sudan by backing a UN plan that aims to bring peace to the
African country's troubled Darfur region.
And, as the Asian Human Rights Commission spokesman said, it is in
China's long-term business interests to make sure its neighbour is stable.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/09/25 09:50:38 GMT
© BBC MMVII
See also: MyanmarNews.net
Edited by Tom Lacey on Sep 25, 2007 11:24 PM