If monks who are leading the protests are mistreated, that could outrage the predominantly Buddhist country, where clerics are revered. But if the junta backs down, it risks appearing weak and emboldening protesters, which could escalate the tension.Although, that is not to say that the monks have the upper hand. Generally speaking, pacifists don't fare to well in armed confrontations and the Burmese government has dealt with this before:
When faced with a similar crisis in 1988, the [Burmese] government harshly put down a student-led democracy uprising. Security forces fired into crowds of peaceful demonstrators and killed thousands, traumatizing the nation.If the people of Myanmar are lucky, this little skirmish my lead to the beginnings of freedom.
What is interesting about this story has been China's reaction to the protests:
China has quietly shifted gears, the diplomats said, jettisoning its noninterventionist line for behind-the-scenes diplomacy. A senior Chinese official asked junta envoys this month to reconcile with opposition democratic forces. And China arranged a low-key meeting in Beijing between Myanmar and State Department envoys to discuss the release of the leading opposition figure.
The government that committed the Tiananmen Square atrocity is now quietly telling the Burmese government to cool its jets. Why? After all, almost two decades after their own massacre of pro-democracy protesters China is still an oppressive authoritarian state. The cynic in me wonders if China just wants to look good for next summer.
Regardless, the Burmese monks are in my thoughts and prayers and I hope they have even mild success.