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The Burmese military junta's brutal crackdown on the democracy movement led by Buddhist-monks has put China's foreign policies into stark relief. Because the country has long been under total lockdown, shutting down Internet access and banning foreign news agencies, it is difficult to understand the enormity of what has transpired there in recent weeks. But, according to a former high-ranking Burmese intelligence official who defected from the regime and is now seeking asylum in Norway, the junta has killed thousands of Buddhist monks, dumping their bodies in the countryside. A Swedish diplomat in Thailand ominously told The Daily Mail in London: "The Burma revolt is over." The long-term effects of this latest attack on Burma's democracy movement are almost too ghastly to contemplate.
China, in its decades-long, uncritical support for the regime in Rangoon, bears indirect responsibility for the slaughter of thousands of innocent people. China is Burma's largest trading partner; an increasingly important relationship as the volume of trade has increased over the past two decades with the international community's isolation of the junta.
"China always adopts a policy of non-interference," a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said at a press briefing. In January, for instance, China used its veto on the United Nations Security Council to block a resolution condemning the junta's gross human rights abuses.
BUT IT IS hardly just the foul military junta in Burma that the Chinese prop up with trade and military support. From Harare to Khartoum, China supports totalitarian regimes across the world with no regard whatsoever for how the governments they embolden treat their own people. China has provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware to Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, who has used these weapons and surveillance technology to keep his immiserated people in what is rapidly resembling the nuclear-armed slave state of North Korea - which, it ought be noted, China also supports with vast economic aid.
In exchange for being the largest customer of Sudanese oil, China blocks concerted international action against that government's support for genocidal forces in Darfur. China continually threatens the democratic government of Taiwan with increasingly bellicose rhetoric and military maneuvers, and its expanding military presence makes the entire Asian continent wary.
In light of this track record, how can anyone deny that today's People's Republic of China represents, what Ronald Reagan said of the former Soviet Union back in 1984: "The greatest threat to personal freedom in the world today and the most persistent source of human suffering in our century."
For this "honor," China competes with the Islamists. But al-Qaida and its sympathizers do not control any nation-state. And Iran, led by a theocratic fascist government, does not have the economic capacity or military resources of the Asian behemoth.
China, meanwhile, is itself a darkly authoritarian government that seems to feel a perverse kinship with other, like-minded dictatorships. It has essentially revitalized the Cold War-era Comintern which served as an umbrella organization for communist regimes, this time as a club for authoritarians.
The very least that can be said of the Soviet Union's support for totalitarianism around the world was that, at least in Eastern Europe, Soviet policies were predicated upon concern for a secure border with Western Europe. Its support for left-wing and communist movements in other parts of the world was based upon the ideological conviction that its politically totalitarian and economically statist system would prove to be humanity's salvation. The bankruptcy of this model - economically and morally -eventually led to that the super power's downfall.
With China, however, communist ideology plays no role. It fell in 1989 along with the Berlin wall. Though the Chinese Communist Party runs the country, China is communist in name only. The Chinese could not care what sort of regime they ally with as long as it helps their own economy. Because China is not a democracy, like the United States or the nations comprising the European Union, its people are unable to express their disfavor with their rulers' decision-making, nor is there a free media to expose the reality of China's foreign policies to its people. In America, there are countless lobbying groups that affect the way America does business in the world, and this is how it should be. Not so in an authoritarian police state.
The 2008 Summer Olympics are scheduled for Beijing, and, so as to avoid bad press, the Chinese government is trying to play nice on the world stage. Sending a clear message, like Ronald Reagan did to the Soviet Union, about the misery China's foreign policies are creating in places like Zimbabwe, Darfur and Burma, would embolden Chinese reformists and might just start the process of seriously challenging the Beijing leadership.
The writer is on the editorial staff of The New Republic.