Monday, September 14, 2009

China’s Myanmar Dilemma


Beijing/Jakarta/Brussels, 14 September 2009: After two decades of failed international approaches to Myanmar, Western countries and China must find better ways to work together to push for change in the military-ruled nation.

China’s Myanmar Dilemma*, the latest International Crisis Group report, examines Chinese national and provincial policy towards Myanmar and its implications for international approaches toward the country. While many believe that China is the key to pushing Myanmar toward political reform, its influence is overstated.

The Myanmar army’s recent raid against the Kokang ceasefire group, resulting in the flight of 37,000 refugees to China, highlights the complexity of China’s relationship with Myanmar. China was unable to dissuade the generals from launching their bloody campaign. Tensions along the border remain the highest in 20 years.

“The insular and nationalistic generals do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “By continuing to simply expect China to take the lead in solving the problem, a workable international approach to Myanmar will remain elusive”.

While China shares the aspiration for a stable and prosperous Myanmar, it differs from the West on how to achieve these goals. China will not engage with Myanmar on terms dictated by the West. To bring Beijing on board, the wider international community will need to pursue a plausible strategy that takes advantage of areas of common interest as well as China’s actual level of influence.

The West should emphasise to China the unsustainable nature of its current policies and continue to apply pressure in the Security Council and other fora. At the same time, China is just one among many countries courting Myanmar. International pressure should not exclude other regional states pursuing their own narrowly defined self interests in Myanmar.

“Both Chinese and international policies towards Myanmar deserve careful reassessment,” explains Donald Steinberg, Crisis Group’s Deputy President for Policy. “An effective international approach also requires a united front by regional actors as well as multilateral institutions such as ASEAN and the UN.”

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