No country has greater influence on Burma's military leaders than China, Burma's biggest trading partner and staunchest defender. While Beijing publicly says it will not get involved in Burma's latest crisis, however, experts say it is likely Chinese officials are working behind the scenes to promote a peaceful solution. But it seems the Burmese generals are not listening, as Claudia Blume reports from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.
Burma expert Sean Turnell of Australia's Macquarie University says China's influence on Burma is enormous.
"China of course is Burma's most important security protector, if you like. At the U.N. Security Council, it is China's veto that usually stops the regime being hauled before the Security Council," he said. "On top of that, China is the largest supplier of defense equipment to Burma. But probably trumping all of those is that China also is also Burma's largest economic partner."
When the Burmese leadership threatened earlier this week to crack down on growing pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks, China refrained from open criticism.
A senior party official, Zhang Jijun, told reporters on Tuesday that the Chinese Communist Party strictly abides by the principle of not interfering in other countries' internal affairs.
Yet despite the public hands-off approach, experts like Turnell think it highly likely that Chinese officials are working behind the scenes with the Burmese government to advise restraint.
Turnell says stability in Burma is of the utmost importance to Beijing.
Many Western nations have imposed economic sanctions on the country because of the military regime's poor human rights record. But trade relations between Burma and China have grown dramatically in the last few years.
Burma's commodities and natural resources, such as oil and gas, are vital for China's booming economy. Burma in turn is an important market for goods from China's western province of Yunnan, which borders Burma on the north.
But Turnell doubts that the regime is listening to the Chinese or anyone else. On Wednesday, soldiers and police fired shots over the heads of protesters in the main city, Rangoon. They fired tear gas at the marchers, and arrested and beat scores of protesters - including Buddhist monks, who are revered in the devoutly Buddhist nation.
"When the regime's actual survival is at stake, I'm not sure the regime would listen to anyone at all," said Turnell. "And I'm afraid just hearing the news of the last few hours, it seems to me that the regime is moving more and more quickly to suppressing dissent, and so to that extent, I wonder whether it is listening to anyone at all."
Turnell says with the 2008 Beijing Olympics coming up, China does not want to be linked to atrocities in Burma. Earlier this year, human rights groups called for a boycott of next year's games if Beijing does not use its influence to end violence in the Darfur region of Sudan - another of China's important trading partners.