Who's buying Burma's gems?
Laura Bush's campaign for a global boycott is being undone by China's appetite for Olympic souvenirs made of Burmese jade.
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"It is in all our interests to address the poor governance that can give birth to conflict and instability," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told students at the elite Peking University on a trip to China last month. "When the incentives of global engagement do not work, there will be cases for applying pressure," he said. "Burma is on your border. You know it well," and outlined Britain's view that Burma's military government is "brutal."Skip to next paragraph
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His carefully chosen words echoed those of Mrs. Bush: "President Bush and I call on all nations – especially Burma's neighbors – to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition," she said, addressing China in a December teleconference.
Recently, several Burmese human rights and opposition groups have begun linking China's Burma policy to the upcoming Olympics – a particularly unwanted development for Beijing. The Burmese "88 Students Generation" group issued a call two weeks ago appealing to people around the world not to watch the sports events on TV, and the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma has called on athletes to boycott the games.
Linkage between Burma policy and the Olympics would be "inappropriate and unpopular," responded Liu Jingmin, vice president of the Beijing Olympics organizing committee, at an October press conference.
But whether or not it's the specter of the Burma issue mushrooming into a rallying call of similar proportions to that the campaign linking China's role in Sudan's Darfur region to the Olympics – such pressure on China seems to be having some effect.
While there is no indication China will sanction Burma or even dramatically change its basic working relationship with the country – China is famously averse to interfering in other country's internal affairs – there are nonetheless small signs that Beijing's patience with the military junta next door is waning and an eventual policy shift is possible.
"We sense China is changing its attitude," says U Han Than, a spokesman for the Burmese opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). "We have heard that high-ranking Chinese officials were here and told the military generals they are not happy."
China's official news service did report, in November, that a special envoy, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, had been in Burma and asked the military "to resolve the pending issues through consultations so as to speed up the democratization process."
"China is trying harder to be constructive," says a Western diplomat in Rangoon, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They don't care about democracy or a political opening up, but they care about their investments and the Olympics and don't want the sort of instability that resulted from the September blunders of the government. They want an economic opening up, which is not a bad start."