Monday, July 13, 2009

China's Cat & Mouse Game with Burma?

So... there is this odd piece in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine about how China is allegedly fed up with the wackadoodle Burmese junta and has been quietly reaching out to the Burmese opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi.  After portraying China as the victim of crafty erstwhile allies who often take it for a ride, the author breathlessly claims that: 

Indeed, recent weeks have shown China to be stealthily exploring the possibility that jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi might govern Burma as a more reliable, and perhaps more pliable, neighbor than Burma's junta does.

Ok - let's examine this claim.  First, she says China is reaching out to ASSK because they think she will be more "reliable" and "pliable" an ally than the junta.  This belief of theirs seems to be predicated on an assumption that a competent democrat will be a better ally that incompetent autocrats.  Pretty speculative stuff.  While I certainly think competent democrats would do a better job of running Burma (hell, a monkey with a dartboard would do a better job that these lunatics), it would be quite shocking if the Chinese government now thinks that a Burmese democracy would be more stable than the status quo.  This would fly in the face of everything they have ever said and done, both with regard to Burma and in China.   Seems unlikely.  Moreover, anyone who has ever met ASSK, or even knows anything about her would never use the word "pliable" to describe her.  This is one tough chick who has made unimaginable sacrifices for the sake of democratic ideals, but hey - the Chinese think she will be willing throw all that aside to preside over a more accommodating client state for their benefit?  Again, unlikely.  

Second, China has been "stealthily exploring" this possibility "in recent weeks."  And how have they been doing this, according to the author?  Through these extremely secret maneuvers: allowing UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to travel to Burma; their support in the fall of 2007 (!) for the ridiculous Gambari mission after the regime crackdown on the Saffron Revolution; and their signing of an EU-ASEAN statement calling for the release of political prisoners.  Color me underwhelmed.  During this same period, China has had numerous state visits with the junta, maintained its economic and military support for the regime, and blocked serious efforts within the UN to go after the junta.  I just don't see it, based on the thin evidence the author provides.  

So maybe she knows something more?  Could be.  There have been claims over the years by various exiled Burmese democracy activists that they have maintained relationships with Chinese contacts who have alluded to their willingness to work with a Suu Kyi-led government.  I find this more compelling than the flimsy material in the FP piece, but I have always believed that these contacts were more likely part of an intelligence gathering operation by the Chinese than a sincere expression of interest in, let alone support for, the political aspirations of Burma's democrats.  

China has undoubtedly, at times, sought to soften its image as the patron saint of the world's worst dictatorships, especially when there was something else it wanted in play.  And yes, the epic bad governance of Burma creates headaches for Beijing.  But to leap to the conclusion that China is seriously reaching out to Burma's opposition, based on such shallow activities as support for a UN mission that serves as a useful fig leaf for the Chinese, especially when compared to the deep and serious ties that China maintains to the Burmese regime, seems like a lot of wishful thinking.

My real gripe, though, is with Foreign Policy magazine for publishing such a weakly argued, sensationalistic piece.  I suppose they could be forgiven if it had been submitted by someone who was famous for passing off gibberish as important information - say, for example Tom Friedman.  But I could not understand their allowance for such a lame piece from someone I had never heard of - one Wen Liao of Longford Advisors.  So I Googled Ms. Wen.

Here is a charming quote from another of her pieces, this time on how China's involvement in the war in Sri Lanka is really a good thing for all of us:
China’s newfound assertiveness, rather than creating fear, should be seen as establishing the necessary conditions for comprehensive negotiations about the very basis of peaceful coexistence and stability in Asia: respect for all sides’ vital interests. In recent years, such an approach ran counter to America’s foreign-policy predisposition of favouring universalist doctrines over a careful balancing of national interests. With the Obama administration embracing realism as its diplomatic lodestar, China may have found a willing interlocutor.


And then there is this, from a piece Ms. Wen did last year on Tibet, which posits that China cracked down on monk-led protests because the US did not sufficiently reassure the ChiComs that Kosovo independence was a one-off event whose logic did not apply to them (especially since they were not engaged in ethnic cleansing - oh, nevermind...): 

The West has historically stressed two bright lines with respect to Taiwan: no independence and no use of force by China. But, in view of Kosovo’s independence against the will of Serbia and without UN sanction, these bright lines have become blurred in China’s eyes.

The world is risking much by injecting ambiguity into an issue that once seemed clear-cut. Thirty-five years ago, in a supreme act of modern statecraft, Zhou En-lai and Richard Nixon signed the Shanghai Communiqué, which set the following unambiguous standard: there is only one China, and Taiwan is part of it. An unequivocal reaffirmation of that understanding, particularly by the United States in the light of its role as primary backer of Kosovo’s independence, is now needed if China is to be reassured that its unity will not be called into question.


Both China and the West must now avoid letting exaggerated fears create self-inflicted prophecies. Events in Tibet can only be properly viewed with the shadows cast by Kosovo and Taiwan in mind.

What the what?  

So, again, who is the mysterious Madame Wen and why do people publish this nonsense from her?  Other than the fact that she is part of Project Syndicate, and that her "consulting firm" Longford Advisors is registered in the Isle of Mann, a notorious tax haven, I could find nothing about her.  Seriously - no professional, academic or other background.  Very strange.  
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