Hypocrisy On Burma
By Satya Sagar
02 October, 2007
the Burmese military brutally cracks down on a popular uprising of its
citizens demanding democracy the question on many minds is – so
what is the world going to do about it?
From the trend visible so
far the answer is simple- nothing at all.
Nothing, that is, beyond
the usual condemnations and pious appeals for ‘peaceful dialogue’
and the posturing at international forums in support of the Burmese
Nothing more than sending
a lameduck UN envoy to negotiate with the paranoid Burmese generals.
Negotiate what? Funeral services for their innocent victims mowed down
like rabbits on the streets of Rangoon?
It is not that nothing can
be done at all – to begin with, how about kicking the illegitimate
military regime out of the UN seat it continues to occupy and replacing
it with the country’s elected government-in-exile? Why should
Burma continue to be a member of ASEAN or for that matter, by default,
also of the Asia-Europe Meeting or ASEM?
What about international
sanctions on foreign companies doing business in Burma- including dozens
and dozens of Western companies apart from those from Asia? Why should
large oil companies like the US based Chevron, the Malaysian Petronas,
South Korea's Daewoo International Corp or the French Total continue
to be involved in Burma without facing penalties for their support of
one of the world’s most heinous dictatorships?
The answers to these elementary
questions are quite elementary too- it is Burma’s abundant natural
resources and investment opportunities that really matter. Which government
really gives a damn for corralled Burmese citizens desperately battling
a quasi-fascist regime that is open to foreign enterprises and shut
to its own people.
Following the bloodshed in
Burma the new French President Nicholas ‘Napoleon’ Sarkozy
for instance grandly called on French companies to freeze all their
operations in Burma. Close on his heels Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner
clarified however that the French oil giant Total, the largest European
company operating in Burma, will not pull out for fear they will be
‘replaced by the Chinese’.
Gordon Brown, the British
Prime Minister also expressed ‘outrage’ at the Burmese government’s
despicable behaviour but was mum about UK companies merrily investing
away in Burma. Between 1988 and 2004 companies based out of British
territories invested over £1.2bn in Burma, making Britain the
2nd largest investor in this supposedly ostracised country. The sun
it seems has not only set on the British Empire but–on its way
out- also deep fried the conscience of its politicians.
The Japanese government,
another monument to global hypocrisy, shed crocodile tears at the cold-blooded
killing of Kenji Nagai, a Japanese journalist shot by a Burmese soldier
after he had fallen to the ground while photographing a fleeing crowd
of protestors. Mustering all the courage at its command Tokyo asked
for an ‘explanation’ and got the response ‘ooops….very
sorry” from the Burmese Foreign Minister who must have also muttered
‘that was easy – Moroni San’.
On the question of cutting
off aid to the murderous Burmese regime of course the Japanese made
their position quite clear- ‘ it is too early’ for such
action. They are probably politely waiting for the regime to murder
an entire posse of Japanese pressmen before doing anything - Burmese
deaths being of no consequence anyway.
The most predictable rhetoric
of course came from US President George Bush who while announcing a
slew of sanctions on Burma’s military leaders incredibly said,
“I urge the Burmese soldiers and police not to use force on their
Wait a minute, that is what
the Burmese soldiers and police are trained and paid to do- shoot fellow
citizens- so what was the point Bush was trying to make? As usual only
he and his Maker- from whom he claims to take instructions directly-
Bush could have maybe uttered
better chosen words but none of it would have been credible coming from
a man with a record of war mongering and mass killings in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Bush own regime’s systematic destruction of international
human rights norms have robbed it of the right to lecture even something
as low as the Burmese junta about anything. A sad situation indeed.
What about Burma’s
old friends like Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia who in a surprise indictment
of their fellow ASEAN member expressed ‘revulsion’ at the
use of deadly force against innocent civilians? Their statement was
welcome no doubt but comes at least two decades too late to be of any
Burma’s military rulers
have already milked the dubious ASEAN policy of ‘constructive
engagement’ for what it was worth to shore up both their regime
at home and claw their way back to recognition abroad. In the early
nineties when the Burmese generals were really down and out it was ASEAN
who offered them succour and friendship while chastising those who called
for democracy in Burma as being ignorant of ‘Asian values’.
All this leaves China and
India, two of Burma’s giant neighbours, who for long have showered
the Burmese junta with investments, aid and sale of armaments and whom
the world now expects to use their ‘influence’ over the
China’s active support
for the Burmese regime is not surprising at all for a country with its
own sordid record of suppressing democratic movements at home and shooting
civilian dissenters. I don’t however think the Chinese are really
worried about Burmese democracy triggering off another Tiananmen-like
event in their own country- not immediately at least and not as long
as Chinas’ consumerist boom keeps its population hypnotised.
In fact the Chinese, pragmatic
as they are and conscious of protecting their many investments in Burma,
may also be among the first to actively topple the Burmese junta if
they feel that the tide of protests for democracy is about to win. Their
future position on Burma will surely seesaw like a yo-yo depending which
cat, black or white, is catching the mice.
Of all the countries around
the world the most shameful position is held by India, once the land
of the likes of Mahatma Gandhi but now run by politicians with morals
that would make a snake-oil salesman squirm. India likes to claim at
every opportunity that it is ‘the world’s largest democracy’
but what it tells no one, but everyone can see, is that its understanding
of democracy is also of the ‘lowest quality’.
Why else would the Indian
government for instance send its Minister for Petroleum Murali Deora
to sign a gas exploration deal with the military junta in late September
just as it was plotting the wanton murder of its own citizens. In recent
years India, among other sweet deals, has also been helping the Burmese
military with arms and training- as if their bullets were not hitting
their people accurately enough.
It was not always like this
though. The "idealist" phase of India’s foreign policy
approach to Burma dates from when Indian Prime Minister Nehru and his
Burmese counterpart U Nu were close friends and decided policies based
on trust and cooperation. After U Nu’s ouster in a military coup
in 1962, successive Indian governments opposed the dictatorship on principle.
At the height of the pro-democracy
movement in 1988 the All India Radio’s Burmese service for instance
had even called General Newin and his men ‘dogs’ (very insulting
to dogs of course). With the coming of the P.V.Narasimha Rao government
in 1992 though it is India that has been wagging its tail all along.
phase of Indian foreign policy toward Burma since the early nineties
meant throwing principles out the window and doing anything required
to further Indian strategic and economic interests. An additional excuse
to cozy up to the military junta was the perceived need to counter ‘Chinese
influence’ over the country.
In all these years however
there is little evidence that India’s long-term interests were
better met by "amoral pragmatism" than the "muddled idealism"
that had prevailed in the past. In fact, what emerges on a close examination
of current Indian policy is that, for all its realpolitik gloss, the
only beneficiary is the Burmese regime itself.
Take the myth of India countering
China which, according to Indian defence analysts has in the last two
decades gained a significant foothold in Burma, setting up military
installations targeting India and wielding considerable influence on
the regime and its strategic thinking. They say that India’s strong
pro-democracy stand in the wake of the 1988 Burmese uprising provided
a window for countries like China and Pakistan to get closer to the
Indian and other defence
analysts, with their blinkered view of the world as a geo-political
chess game, forget that the then Indian government’s decision
to back the pro-democracy movement was not a "mistake" born
out of ignorance, but an official reflection of the genuine support
for the Burmese people among Indian citizens.
The second myth that propels
the Indian foreign ministry to woo the Burmese generals is that by doing
so India can get Burma’s support in curbing the arms and drugs
trafficking that fuel the insurgencies in the Indian Northeast. This
argument assumes that the Burmese junta is both willing and able to
control the activities of Indian ethnic militants and Burmese drug traffickers
along the border. In the case of drug trafficking from Burma there is
reason to be worried—groups close to the regime benefit directly
from the trade.
Through its current policy
the Indian government has achieved none of its strategic aims in Burma
and instead alienated Burma’s pro-democracy movement and its millions
of supporters worldwide. While sections of the Indian population are
apathetic or ignorant about their government’s policies towards
Burma, their silence does not imply approval.
India is not a democracy
because of the benevolence of its elitist politicians, bureaucrats and
"defence analysts" but despite them and because of the strong
abhorrence of dictatorship of any kind among the Indian people. It is
high time that the Indian government respected the sentiments of its
voters and stopped misusing the term "national interests"
to support Burma’s military dictators.
As for the Burmese people
themselves what the world’s wilful impotence in dealing with their
brutal rulers indicates is that ultimately they will have to achieve
democratic rule in Burma entirely on their own strength.
The people of the world will
of course support them in whatever way they can but to expect governments
around the globe to help topple the Burmese military regime is as unrealistic
as asking the regime to step down on its own. There is no option but
to keep the struggle going.
is a writer, journalist and videomaker based in New Delhi. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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