My friend Nicole McClelland has written an upcoming book on war and human rights in Burma. So if you're looking for someone to explain the arrest of human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, for meeting with an American Mormon who arrived at her home uninvited, Nicole's your gal:
Here's what the Western powers would like to happen, as summed up by British Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis: "We want to see Burma's neighbors, the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] countries such as China, Japan, and Thailand, applying maximum pressure on this Burmese regime."
Here's what's never going to happen: that.
Burma's home to some of the largest natural-gas reserves on the planet. In 2008, it experienced a 250 percent increase in the number of Chinese companies involved in mining, oil and gas, and hydropower development over the year before; trade between the two countries is up to $2.6 billion, from $630 million in 2001. Japan (along with China and Russia) rejected a proposal to bring a draft resolution on Burma to the Security Council in 2006, pandering to the regime, some analysts say, in an effort to counter Beijing's influence on it. And Thailand has the rights to nearly two trillion cubic feet of natural gas in one Burmese concession alone. Last year, more foreign companies had invested in Burma than ever, and Burma's neighbors—energy starved, overpopulated neighbors—are not about to just pull their money out because the U.S. and EU keep telling them to.
Especially considering that the U.S. and EU aren't pulling their own money out, either.