Published on October 17, 2007
To begin with, it's just not in Beijing's nature to condemn neighbouring countries, especially ones with the potential to satisfy China's strategic interest.
Besides being the gateway for China's access to the Indian Ocean, Burma's vast natural resources and energy are just too lucrative for Beijing to risk losing by taking a hard-line approach towards the military-run state.
So long as China's interest is at stake, Beijing is not going to bring out the big stick.
Like everybody else, China wants to be on the winning side regardless of who takes the helm. Whether it's Aung San Suu Kyi or Thaksin Shinawatra, one can be sure Beijing will roll out the red carpet if either of these individuals comes to power in Burma or Thailand.
Since the military takeover in 1962, after the overthrow of the U Nu government, the Burmese junta has been extremely Sinophobic. And General Ne Win's "Burmese way to socialism" never had the Chinese or the Soviet model in mind. He wanted to do it his own quirky way.
In fact, Rangoon's inward-looking policy not only bred anti-Chinese sentiment but also gave rise to words such as "Black Jews" - in reference to the country's Indian merchants.
But to dismiss the Burmese attitude towards the Chinese as being one-sided would be unfair. Communist China wasn't exactly squeaky clean either.
China was not only arming the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in its fight against the nationalist Kuomintang in northern Burma. This was also seen as a way to keep Rangoon at bay.
But the end of CPB in 1989 didn't mean an end to the cross-border ties between old comrades. Ethnic Chinese warlords like Lin Ming-xian (U Sai Lin) and Li Ziru had originally gone to Burma's northern frontier to spread the word of Marx. They stayed behind and eventually became power players in Burma's opium production - and ethnic insurgency. Like others, they invested and laundered their drug money on the Chinese side of the border.
Indeed, just about all of Burma's ethnic armies - the Wa, Chin, Kachin, and others - invest handsomely in Chinese border towns and districts and continue to have close personal ties with top Chinese officials at the provincial level.
And while the end of CPB may have paved the way for stronger diplomatic ties between Beijing and Rangoon, China has never ceased in its dealings with ethnic armies operating inside Burma, despite knowing that these arrangements don't sit well at all with the Burmese generals.
Today, China's frustration with Burma tends to centre on its own domestic concerns. Beijing does not want anything to tarnish the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, as this is seen as a springboard to boost its presence on the international stage.
Nonetheless, China is concerned that its relationship with the Burmese junta could translate into anti-Chinese sentiment both in and outside of Burma.
A recent drive-by shooting at the Chinese consulate in Mandalay may have irked the Chinese government. Still, it was nothing for Beijing to get all worked up about.
"It's just a little irritation. We don't think it's going to develop into something serious," said a Chinese official on the Burmese border in Yunnan, who has been monitoring Burma's northern frontier.
The logic for many in the international community is that if Beijing is willing to stick its neck out for Burma, it can also use its friendship to persuade the Burmese junta to change course.
Two weeks after street demonstrations in Rangoon, China used its clout in the United Nations to block efforts by the United States and European countries to have the UN Security Council condemn Burma's bloody crackdown against the monks and unarmed demonstrators.
In the end, a watered-down statement from the Security Council called for "reconciliation" in Burma and was only passed after some serious horse-trading between the Chinese and Western countries.
Nevertheless, the course of events created the impression that Beijing still holds tremendous clout over Burma. But Beijing knows only too well that the Burmese junta doesn't want to be anybody's lapdog. The Burmese generals have much more up their sleeves than just the China card; Pakistan, India and Russia are also some of Burma's other "important friends".
Just weeks before the bloody crackdown in Rangoon, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win was in Beijing. That official trip also took him to Moscow. Interestingly worryingly perhaps more than 100 Burmese officials have been sent to Russia for training in nuclear technology.
A few days ago human rights groups were barking up Asean's tree, door-stopping Surin Pitsuwan, the incoming secretary general of the regional grouping, urging him to get tough on Burma.
Strangely, a decade ago Burma was admitted into Asean because the regional grouping was concerned that Rangoon might be drifting too far towards China.
But today, ten years later, Burma is farther from Asean than it has ever been before. Any changes inside of Burma, it seems, will be on Burma's terms and nobody else's.