Just as Iran's energy wealth frustrates U.S. and European efforts to sanction Tehran, foreign competition for gas contracts will obstruct international attempts to pressure Burma toward democratic reform. China has profited time and again by forging commercial deals with states that are the objects of international scorn, and other energy-dependent Asian countries (India and South Korea, in particular) don't want China to monopolize Burma's energy reserves. These states and others will continue to chase energy deals there, including agreements to build the infrastructure needed to pipe gas or petroleum directly to their consumers and industries. Even the United States and European Union have resisted pressure to ban all investment in the country—so energy firms Unocal and Total can join in the scramble.
The Burmese junta knows when it approves these deals that it's giving its Asian neighbors an important stake in the regime's survival. China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, is an especially useful provider of diplomatic cover. Energy revenues also help finance the domestic repression that keeps the opposition in check and the generals in charge.
What else might this new wealth buy? The riches generated by Burma's natural-gas deposits may provide the junta with enough cash to realize its long-standing ambition to purchase nuclear technology. In 2002, the Russian government approved an agreement with Burma to help the regime build a civilian nuclear reactor. The deal was never consummated, according to the Russian foreign ministry, because Burma lacked the money to pay for it. But when Russia's atomic agency announced last October that talks on the subject had resumed, Western governments reacted with alarm and dismissed official Burmese claims that the facility is meant only for medical research and the production of radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment. More worrying still, the junta's long-rumored high-level contacts with North Korea may well include discussion of the transfer of nuclear technology.
Now we are begining to see a down side to the system of pre-emptive intervention against evil regimes.
Evil regimes with enough money will seek Nuke's as some form of get out of jail free card.
More on the Chinese screwing us over.
Another reason Burma matters for regional stability is that it adds to the growing list of irritants in U.S. relations with China. Burma provides China with the use of a military base on the Indian Ocean. Sino-Burmese trade grew by more than 10 percent between 2004 and 2005 to more than $1.1 billion. Late last year, China outmaneuvered India for an agreement to buy 6.5 trillion cubic feet of gas. As China's dependence on Burma's energy grows, we can expect Beijing to help the junta resist international pressure—just as they have done for authoritarian regimes in Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. (China has invested around $300 million in Zimbabwe in return for mining concessions and direct supply of gold, diamonds, chrome, bauxite, and possibly uranium.) That will only add to Washington's diplomatic frustrations.
I think the problems of the world come down to a Sino-Russian Axis these days and that needs to get fixed.