I still don’t really know anything about Burma, but what I’d come up with in the way of an opinion is that the key actor here is China, and that aside from ineffectual posturing the most useful thing to be done is to try to influence China which, in turn, is actually in a position to restrain the Burmese military. According to Josh Kurlantzick, either many people who know what they’re talking about agree with me, or else the leading western officials are no better informed than I am:
Many Western powers believe that China, the most important foreign actor in Burma, can be convinced to withdraw its blanket backing for the junta. In a British cable earlier this year obtained by THE NEW REPUBLIC, British diplomats argue “China is closer than any other country to Burma’s military regime … China’s interests had changed in Burma. They [are] investing heavily and want to see a return on their investment … There may be an opportunity to persuade China that it is in their interest to see a stable and developing Burma.” Indeed, some of this week’s Burma protests have signaled popular anger at China as well, with demonstrators pointedly going by the Chinese embassy; several Burmese previously told me of kidnappings of Chinese businesspeople in the north of the country. Recently, according to AFP, senior Chinese official Tang Jiaxuan offered a gentle rebuke to the Burmese junta, telling its foreign minister that “China sincerely hopes that Myanmar can bring stability back to its domestic situation.”
Kurlantzick, though, is skeptical this will work and says that “placing so much trust in China conceals the fact that there are still steps other nations can take on Burma.” His analysis, though, mostly comes down to the fact that there’s are still steps other nations can take that might increase China’s level of concern with the situation.