Beijing’s Influence on Junta ‘Overstated’: ICG

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, left, holds a welcoming ceremony in honor of Gen Maung Aye, right, vice-chairman of Burma’s ruling junta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 16, 2009. (Photo: www.english.cpc.people.com.cn)

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, left, holds a welcoming ceremony in honor of Gen Maung Aye, right, vice-chairman of Burma’s ruling junta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 16, 2009. (Photo: http://www.english.cpc.people.com.cn)

Irrawaddy
A leading political think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), said on Monday that although many believe China is the key to pushing the Burmese junta toward political reform, its influence is overstated.

In a new report covering Sino-Burmese relations, the Brussels-based NGO said that Beijing’s influence on the Burmese junta is clearly limited, a fact highlighted by the Burmese government forces’ invasion of the Kokang region, an act that caused some 37,000 refugees to flee to China.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, left, holds a welcoming ceremony in honor of Gen Maung Aye, right, vice-chairman of Burma’s ruling junta at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 16, 2009. (Photo: http://www.english.cpc.people.com.cn)

Titled “China’s Myanmar Dilemma,” the ICG report was written by ICG staffers in Beijing, Jakarta and Brussels.

“Simply calling on Beijing to apply more pressure is unlikely to result in change,” the ICG report said. “The insular and nationalistic leaders in the military government do not take orders from anyone, including Beijing.”

It said that “after two decades of failed international approaches to Myanmar [Burma], Western countries and China must find better ways to work together to push for change in the military-ruled nation.”

The Kokang conflict highlighted the complexity of China’s relationship with Burma, and that Beijing was unable to dissuade the Burmese generals from launching their bloody campaign, said the report.

It also noted that the relation between Beijing and Naypyidaw is “best characterized as a marriage of convenience rather than a love match.”

ICG, which is frequently contracted to advise world bodies such as the UN, the EU and the World Bank, said that while China sees major problems with the status quo [in Burma], particularly with regard to economic policy and ethnic issues, Beijing’s preferred solution is a gradual adjustment of policy by a strong central government, not federalism or liberal democracy, and certainly not regime change.

The ICG noted in its report that unstable Burmese factors on the Chinese border, such insurgency, drugs and diseases, affect China’s interests in the country.

It said that Beijing’s interest in Burma was mainly economic.

However, to highlight the close ties, the report said that from 2003 to June 2009, leaders of the Chinese government and the Burmese junta met 30 times, 15 of which were after the Burmese regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in September 2007.

ICG has published two reports regarding Burma within the last two months. A report titled, “Myanmar: Towards the Elections” was released on August 20. It said the 2010 elections are likely to create opportunities for generational and institutional changes despite major shortcomings.

However, it questioned whether the elections could solve the conflict in Burma, including the clashes at the Sino-Burmese border.

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