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Myanmar Crisis Sheds New Light on China’s Regional Influence

During recent protests in Myanmar, the country also known as Burma, the international community relied heavily on the diplomatic intervention of China in efforts to stop a military crackdown. Experts consider China's growing regional influence.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The ongoing crackdown in Myanmar has led to widespread condemnation in the West. But Myanmar's neighbors, China, Thailand and India, have had relatively little to say about the violence. One possible reason: trade.

    The ruling junta in Myanmar, once known as Burma, sits atop significant deposits of natural gas and oil, much of it off the coast. Burmese natural gas generates 20 percent of the electricity in Thailand just to the east. And India is also a market for gas and for Burmese minerals, precious stones, and timber.

    Such resources, many of them untapped, are fueling China's rapidly expanding economy. The Chinese have declined to intervene in Myanmar directly, calling it the inner affairs of another country.

    But on Friday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sounded slightly tougher in a statement: "China is very much concerned with this situation and hopes that all parties show restraint, resume stability through peaceful means, as soon as possible, promote reconciliation, and achieve democracy and development. China will continue to work to actively facilitate the proper solution to the problem."

    After Thailand, China is Myanmar's second-largest trading partner, sending money to the cash-strapped nation in exchange for hardwoods from its mountainous north, especially teak wood. Much of the forest there has been decimated.

    U.S. sanctions have limited the ability of Myanmar's ruling generals to move money through international banks. The Bush administration has continued to push for broader sanctions against the ruling junta.

  • DANA PERINO, White House Spokeswoman:

    Reports about very innocent people being thrown into detention where they could be held for years without any representation or charges is distressing. And we understand that some of the monasteries have been sealed. And obviously this has, again, a chilling effect on protesters, but we would ask that everyone show restraint and allow those who want to express themselves to be able to do so in Burma.

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