September 26, 2007


Freedom for Burma: China is propping up another despotic regime (JODY WILLIAMS, September 26, 2007, Opinion Journal)

China's relationship with Burma is the closest of any it has in Southeast Asia. It views that nation as a strategic ally, coveting the potential use of its ports on the Indian Ocean and easier access to oil from Africa and the Middle East. China has provided economic support key to keeping the dismal economy afloat, and has built roads, bridges, airport facilities, power stations, factories and telecommunications networks. It has also modernized Burma's army, including an infusion of weaponry valued at over $1.4 billion when the junta took power. [...]

Against this backdrop, and for nearly two decades, Ms. Suu Kyi and other activists have repeatedly called for international support to bring the military to the negotiating table and begin the transfer of power that should have taken place after the NLD's 1990 electoral victory. Tragically, Ms. Suu Kyi-- known to millions simply as "The Lady"--has spent 12 of the past 18 years as a political prisoner. Her most recent house arrest began in May 2003 after her convoy was attacked while she was traveling around Burma speaking at large public rallies.

Just a few months before her arrest I managed to enter Burma and meet with Ms. Suu Kyi in her Rangoon home, to discuss what the international community should do to help her people. She was quite clear that her party's call for the strengthening of economic sanctions against the military junta remained unchanged; that all investment in Burma should cease; and that tourists should not spend their money or provide some sense of legitimacy to the regime by visiting her country until democracy is established.

Unfortunately, the international community in general--and China in particular--has largely ignored her call for support.

The most recent protests against the regime began in mid-August, after the government doubled fuel prices. They quickly grew into mass, nonviolent protests for freedom and democracy. By the end of August, thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns had begun to join the protests, even as the junta cracked down and arrested untold numbers of protesters and activists.

Less known is that, on Sept. 18, as the protests grew in numbers, Burmese activists (many now in hiding because of the crackdown) managed to deliver a letter to the government of China. Along with protesters outside Chinese embassies and consulates in 15 cities in 10 countries around the world, they asked that Beijing publicly end its support for the junta and instead help achieve reconciliation and democratization in Burma.

If China won't change its policies toward Burma on its own, it must be pressured to do so. Just as there has been public outrage over Beijing's support for the Sudanese government and its ongoing war in Darfur, there should be similar outrage at its involvement with Burmese military junta.

While it's not easy to get folks to help the Burmese just because it's morally right to do so, the fact that it will cripple China strategically makes it an easier sell, kind of like "Saddam's WMD."

Burma hits new low in corruption (BBC, 9/26/07)

Burma and Somalia have been jointly ranked by Transparency International as the world's most corrupt countries.

The index is based on perceptions of public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories.

Saffron revolution (Sian Powell, September 27, 2007, The Australian)
A democracy activist in Rangoon says protesters want to encourage political change and avoid bloodshed.

"Definitely there are a lot of people who are very moved and who are very emotional," she says. Still, she adds, the people of Burma are worried about the consequences of the uprising, consequences that could easily involve mass arrests, assault and slaughter.

"But this is a time which is very critical, and they will understand that this is the case and they will need to do something."

Resting its back against the might of China to the north, the SPDC regime has long ignored the polemic from notables such as one-time Czech president Vaclav Havel, South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, and more recently US first lady Laura Bush.

For years Russia and China have staunchly resisted any efforts to discuss Burma in the Security Council. Now, though, it appears China -- mindful of its international image and sensitive to criticism as the 2008 Beijing Olympics loom nearer -- has advised the Burma regime to refrain from the brutal oppression at which it has become so adept.

Refusing to accept alms from anyone in the military and thereby imperilling soldiers' important religious observances, the rebel monks set the scene for a showdown. There are more than 400,000 monks in Burma, and only a small percentage have marched through the streets, but many senior abbots have so far declined to block their efforts.

Yesterday, the regime declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay, and used truck-mounted loudspeakers to warn that meetings of more than five people were illegal. Burma's Religious Affairs Minister, Brigadier-General Thura Myint Maung, has publicly accused the monks of being manipulated by the Government's domestic and foreign enemies, and warned that if senior abbots failed to restrain their disciples, the Government would act.

Burma has groaned under a military dictatorship since 1962 and the last big uprising, in 1988, was swiftly and brutally crushed, leaving as many as 3000 people dead.

Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy news magazine based in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai, was a student dissident in the famous 1988 protests. He was imprisoned in Rangoon's notorious Insein jail and tortured. He finally fled to Thailand.

"The monks have been on the streets again; I think it's the moment of truth," Zaw says. The sheer size of the protests amazes him; the crowds of monks, nuns and civilians willing to brave the worst the junta can bowl up, from indiscriminate killings to long terms in prison.

Monks vs. Police in Burma (With foreign journalists locked out of the country by Burma's military government, this dispatch was written by TIME staff based on eyewitness reports, 9/26/07)
The battle for Shwedagon began in ferocious noonday heat. The authorities had locked the gates of the pagoda, Rangoon's most famous landmark, by mid-morning to prevent the monks who had led the weeklong demonstrations against Burma's military rulers from gathering. Police and soldiers guarded the entrances. The eastern gate of Shwedagon is where thousands of monks would otherwise exit to start their march into downtown Rangoon. But today, hundreds of soldiers and riot police blocked their way.

By 12:30 p.m., hundreds of monks, students, and other Rangoon residents approached the police, stood in the road and began to pray. Then the soldiers and police began pulling monks from the crowd, targeting the leaders, striking both monks and ordinary people with canes. Several smoke bombs exploded and the riot police charged. The monks and others fought back with sticks and rocks. Many others ran, perhaps four or five of them bleeding from minor head wounds. A car was set alight — by the soldiers, some protesters claimed — and then there was the unmistakable crack of live ammunition: the soldiers were shooting into the air.

"They are not Buddhists," cried one student, who clutched half a brick in his hand, running from the smoke. "They are not humans. We were praying peacefully and they beat us. They beat the monks, even the old ones." An 80-year old monk stood with the student, bleeding from a baton gash on his shaven head.

However, after this confrontation, the monks regrouped and surged forward again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2007 10:29 AM

We could solve a number of the world's problems simply by ceasing to trade with China until they curb their dogs.

It is one of those rare political issues where you have the public on your side, even if for the wrong reasons.

Posted by: Bruno at September 26, 2007 11:14 AM

I think decapitation of the Burma regime would be cheaper and easier.

Posted by: Bob at September 26, 2007 4:28 PM

Are you surprised? China is the most despotic regime, and you expect them to not prop up their brothers-in-crime? Can China do that and not expect their own monks/ and whatnots to line up the streets and demand the same from their own govt.? Frankly, it is a bipolar world, the US, and the Chinese at either poles, the Euros are suffering from their own bipolar disorders, the Russians are jealous of the Chinese, and Putin is trying to emulate them, the Arabs are also in the Chinese camps.

Posted by: ic at September 26, 2007 5:54 PM

Unipolar. The Chicoms couldn't save the Taliban, Saddam, Aristide, etc.; can't save the junta; indeed, couldn't save themselves if we chose to regime change the PRC.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2007 6:12 PM

I don't always agree with you, but I see that you are objective in your
postings. Despite the differences I still enjoy reading your posts and I
often learn even when our viewpoints are different. :-)

Posted by: Kim at September 26, 2007 11:39 PM

Free Burma!
International Bloggers' Day for Burma on the 4th of October

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

Posted by: Free Burma! at October 1, 2007 9:13 AM