If China is to be seen as a responsible and honourable superpower whose “meteoric rise” is no cause for alarm in Southeast Asia, China needs, among other things, to refine its Burmese policy.
Burma has been Southeast Asia’s focus of attention in the post-Cold War era – the largest source of the region’s “non-traditional” threats and the biggest stumbling block in the region’s quest for deeper economic development and integration. How China is perceived in the region depends in large part on its Burma policy.
It is without doubt that the Burmese government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), is one of the world’s most obstinate, repressive regimes, simply impervious to the views and sentiments of the outside world. It is also without doubt that the SPDC, Than Shwe in particular, is a master of political and diplomatic manoeuvrings and extremely skilful in playing games with the outside world – knowing when to appear soft and when to harden its position. It is also without doubt that Burma is largely self-reliant economically. It has existed in self-imposed isolation since General Ne Win seized power in March 1962, making it extremely resilient in the face of sanctions by the international community.