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The World From Berlin: 'It's Beijing's Responsibility to Put a Stop' to the Deaths in Burma

Two catastrophes just days apart highlight the differences between China and its client state to the south, Burma. German commentators wonder if China will be able to pressure the paranoid Burmese regime to open up before it's too late?

An earthquake that hit western China on Monday has claimed at least 15,000 lives, and officials say more than 80,000 people are still unaccounted for. Refugees are streaming out of the mountainous province to makeshift shelters and camps as the search for survivors intensifies.

Tens of thousands of soldiers have been sent to the disaster zone in Sichuan province. The region was hit Monday morning by a quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, a tremendously powerful force. Aftershocks have rocked the area consistently over the last few days, terrifying residents already made homeless by the earthquake.

In a departure from the Chinese government's typically secretive reaction to natural and manmade disasters, the government has allowed and even encouraged domestic and foreign journalists to visit the stricken area and has openly welcomed foreign assistance.

There has been a stark contrast between the Chinese government's reaction to the earthquake and the actions of its neighbour to the south, Burma. More than a week after a devastating cyclone ripped through its coastal lowlands, the Burmese government was still putting up every barrier it could to keep international aid workers and journalists out of the country -- and endangering thousands of lives.

Though they're thousands of miles apart, the cyclone that hit Burma last week and the earthquake that devastated parts of western China on Monday are being linked by international commentators. Both took place in states known for their authoritarian leanings and both have attracted the interest and concern of the international community. But the different way the two countries are handling the disasters -- and the example China might set for Burma -- are the focus of comment in the German press on Wednesday.

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"It's not yet clear how the Chinese government will deal with the pile of problems it has in front of it -- especially now that those problems are in full view of the whole world. The old rules of repression and authoritarianism suddenly don't work, as the actions of the highest ranks of China's leadership show. If they can't solve the crises facing China's people, then the Chinese will be pitted against their leaders. It's happened in countless revolutions already."

"One earthquake does not a revolution make, but the recent catastrophe in Sichuan should send important signals about the pulse of Chinese society. Together with other indicators -- inflation, an increasingly heated atmosphere over the situation in Tibet, tension before the upcoming Olympic games -- it's clear that China is under a dangerous amount of stress. The credibility and viability of the government depends heavily on how it handles the crisis in Sichuan."

"One contradiction is clear: China can't block international aid to the suffering people in Burma while taking aid from abroad itself. Emergencies have a way of making things equal. A cynical foreign policy like the one that supports the military regime in Burma won't work anymore."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"The United Nations estimates that almost 2 million people are fighting for their lives in Burma right now. Aid organizations are prepared to help and have the necessary funding, but Burma's generals are standing in the way. As a result, the international community is debating whether to force its way in to help the people of Burma. The answer is no."

"So what options does the international community have when it comes to helping the Burmese people? The easiest would be to engage the UN Security Council. Though the UN Charter doesn't allow for military intervention when a state fails to help its own people, if the members of the Security Council supported such action unanimously they could extend the reach of international law."

"Other states also have the option of coming to the aid of Burma's cyclone victims without the approval of international law. Whether they could reach the people of Burma in the face of the Burmese government's opposition and somehow stem the risk of plague, though, is doubtful."

"There's an easier answer. China can and should pressure its ally Burma to let international aid workers into the country. The victims can be better helped with the regime's cooperation than without it. And neither China nor anyone else need fear another redefinition of the idea of sovereignty by the international community just yet."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The regime in Beijing is showing -- surely with an eye to the PR benefits -- an unusual openness. Three months before the beginning of the Olympic games it is demonstrating efficient crisis management and politely thanking the world for aid offers. The Burmese junta, on the other hand, is playing with the lives of its citizens and refusing to let workers with international aid organizations travel inside the country. It's a game that will end in thousands more deaths. There's no question: The Chinese government is striving to deal with the consequences of the earthquake while the Burmese military is only interested in preserving its own power. The responsibility it has to take care of its people is of no interest. It's conduct is murderous."

"That's why calls for 'international humanitarian intervention' are growing louder and coming from unexpected directions. The regime isn't taking responsibility and the actions it is taking amount to crimes against humanity."

"Now, at last, should be the time for Asian nations which have the most to gain -- and which constantly criticize the West's moral appeals as misplaced -- to take action. Not least, it's the time for China -- which has shown by its conduct in the latest crisis that it has learned from its past mistakes -- to stop tolerating the actions of its client state. This toleration means death for thousands. It's Beijing's responsibility to put a stop to it."

-- Andrew Curry, 12:45 CET

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Photo Gallery: Destruction, Shock and Fear after the Quake


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