Perhaps only two factors would drive China to be concerned about Burmese monks being mowed down by Myanmar soldiers. It has invested heavily in Burma, has countless Chinese workers inside the country; China draws natural resources from this bountiful nation. It would hurt China economically and in other ways to have to kick the Burma habit.
The second factor is that the world now expects more of China. Prior to 2003's Six-Party Talks, for example, almost no one had predicted a significant measure of involvement by Beijing in the North Korean question. But China initiated and hosted the Six-Party Talks; now, there are hopeful developments on the peninsula.
China now might wish to configure something comparable to alleviate the Burma crisis. Perhaps Beijing could invite the junta's generals -- assuming they don't decide to shoot or run -- to the table. Perhaps they can convince the generals that negotiations with those loyal to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi are unavoidable. She, or her designate, also must be at that table, hammering out some power-sharing arrangement.
Make no mistake: The sandal-clad monks braving both the rain-forest weather and the bullets are firmly camped on the side of the daughter of Burmese independence hero Aung San. They have been passing out pictures of her sainted father as they walk through the streets.
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The junta is made up of mostly bad generals. But in their midst are a few good ones, relatively speaking -- in the tradition of true patriots in military garb, rather than greedy thieves hiding in their uniforms and socking away millions abroad. A few good generals and the Suu Kyi faction could form a government that could move Burma toward representative democracy without ignoring a role for the army, a blunder that could plunge the country into chaos.
Only some formula of this nature is going to save Burma from greater tragedy. They've already shot some of the monks, along with civilians and at least one foreign journalist.
It's not too late. Ironically, only China's hand can prevent the situation from becoming a Burmese Tiananmen.
Plate is a veteran American journalist and professor at the University of California at Los Angeles; he is traveling in Southeast Asia.