The Economist reviewed Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, a new book on Burma written by Thant Myint-U the grandson of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant:

But the book’s main analytical and polemical point is tellingly made: in the absence of a Western counterbalance, Myanmar is falling almost inexorably into the Chinese sphere of influence. There is an age-old dream of linking India and China through Burma. The Victorians even fantasised about a raised railway from Calcutta (now Kolkata), soaring above the jungle.

The dream is at last coming true, as the solution to China’s “Malacca dilemma”—its strategic worry about dependence on imported energy coming through the chokepoint of the Malacca Straits. A new port, oil and gas pipelines, and roads are already under construction, giving China for the first time direct access to the Bay of Bengal, and a new route for as much as 20% of its oil imports. Dams are springing up on Myanmar’s rivers, to generate hydropower to keep the lights burning in Yunnan.

The reviewer mentions Thant’s view that Western sanctions on Burma have been self-defeatingly futile. Obviously, I agree. This is also what Nader Mousavizadeh was arguing back in January 2010:

The two-decade-old policy of isolating Burma now looks like a carefully constructed attempt to weaken Western influence and open the door to China, while devastating Burma’s legitimate economy and doing nothing to improve its people’s human rights.

So it seems quite clear that Western policy towards Burma has failed in several ways, and it has deprived Western governments of whatever influence they might have been able to have. The reviewer notes that the leaders of the Burmese junta would prefer not to be so heavily dependent on China, but they have very few alternatives:

Yet the West, with its fastidious refusal to have any truck with them, seems to leave them little option but to cleave to China.

This is worth bearing in mind when considering how best to respond to Syria’s crackdown now.