Stewart Manley

Publication Date

Spring 2012

Document Type


First Page



Encouraging reports of dramatic reforms in Myanmar since late 2011 hide an ugly past. Until the recent developments, numerous allegations of government-perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity had evoked growing support for a U.N.-led commission of inquiry and a potential referral of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. Perhaps the largest perceived obstacle to invoking these international justice mechanisms was the anticipated opposition of China, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council and longstanding ally of Myanmar. This article argues that, to the contrary, there is strong evidence that China would not block international efforts to prosecute Myanmar perpetrators of grave crimes. The combination of three factors in particular support this proposition: first, China’s voting record on the U.N. Security Council reflects a strong reluctance to use its veto power; second, economic growth, political stability, and international prestige—instead of the defense of other countries’ sovereignty—have become paramount to China’s foreign policy; and third, in 2004 and 2005, China declined to veto a Commission of Inquiry and referral to the ICC of Sudan, another important ally. The article suggests that China would also be unlikely to exercise its veto power in connection with Myanmar because the economic and political costs of permitting a Commission of Inquiry and referral to the ICC of Myanmar are no greater than those that were associated with Sudan. While recognizing that economic and political costs are not the only factors that influence China’s decisions on the U.N. Security Council, and that the political environments and nature of crimes in Sudan and Myanmar are different, the article’s comparative analysis seeks to demonstrate how “no” votes on investigating and prosecuting crimes in Myanmar would nevertheless be out of character for China.

Included in

Law Commons