- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For decades, a brutal military junta has ruled the impoverished, mostly Buddhist Southeast Asian nation of Burma. But this week, simmering popular discontent has boiled over into rebellion. An estimated 100,000 protesters in a nation of 47 million have packed the streets of the capital Rangoon. Led by saffron-robed Buddhist monks, these demonstrations are the largest since a major crackdown in 1988. The junta is poised for a violent confrontation, which many fear will result in a Tiananmen Square-style massacre.

Regime change will probably only come from within for this long-stricken nation, which its leaders renamed Myanmar in 1989 and have governed with crackpot economics, extremely repressive politics and no regard for international norms. But world powers can tighten the screws to maximize regime change’s chances.

A few swift moves could cripple the junta. The Asian regional powers, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the United Nations must do more than simply condemn. Each must apply the appropriate diplomatic, trade and financial strictures. The United States has just enacted financial and visa-blocking measures against key governmental figures, which is a big step. But it is time for U.S. allies to apply even greater pressure. Every few years, top ASEAN members threaten membership revocation for the continued house arrest of opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Nothing ever happens. The conventional wisdom holds that ASEAN members need Burma more than Burma needs ASEAN because deeper ties with Communist China beckon should relations with non-Communist Asia fall apart. This causes Burma’s neighbors to soft-pedal its repression.

If we see a Tiananmen Square-style response to the current revolt, there will be no geopolitical fig leaf. ASEAN nations should condition ties with Burma right now on a negotiated settlement with leaders of the uprising. They should demand free elections to follow. We recognize that some of this region’s governments have a hypocrisy problem lecturing others on their internal affairs. The world can countenance some hypocrisy in service of Burmese freedom.

A U.N. condemnation is in order. This is the best hope in years for an end to military rule in a long-repressed nation. Burma’s neighbors can no longer soft-pedal these strongmen, and China should be discouraged from aiding them.

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