Do China And India Hold The Key?

Both the US and UK plan on applying tough sanctions against the military junta running Burma (Myanmar), increasing the economic pressure on the regime in support of the protestors filling the streets. However, the West has had sanctions of varying strength against the junta for years, and it has not yet weakened their grip on power. Bronwen Maddox argues in the Times of London that Burma’s two neighbors have to take action before any change can occur:

Burma will be a test of whether the heat of world attention can burn through the shield around a country which its leaders have gone to such lengths to isolate.
The call for more sanctions from Gordon Brown and George Bush means little. Britain and the US long ago imposed what they could on arms and trade. The effect of sanctions on a regime that does not care about its people’s wellbeing, let alone their happiness, is very slim.
Yet the symbolic effect is important. It will add to the worldwide clamour provoked by the crackdown, which must give the generals pause for thought. It is to be hoped, for a start, that it will put them off any thought of harming Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democracy movement. Any attempt to repeat their forceful crushing of the 1988 protest, in which they fired into peaceful crowds, will carry a much greater cost than it did then.
More practically, the outrage may also encourage China and India to put pressure directly on the regime. They are by far in the best place to do so, as neighbours and trading partners. Even if only out of self-interest, they would have good reason to try: they want access to its gas reserves, do not want turmoil, and would greatly prefer Burma’s peaceful economic development.

Without much doubt, pressure from both China and India would undermine the military junta. However, one has to wonder whether China wants to see a burgeoning democracy movement on its southern border. The uprising by the Buddhist monks in Burma has to seem uncomfortably akin to those in and out of Tibet. The last thing they’d want is to provide momentum for Buddhist uprisings.
India may be more fertile ground for action. Their border with Burma is roughly the same length as China’s, but more importantly, India and Burma share the Bay of Bengal. They could exert some pressure on shipping in the waters on which Burma relies. However, since China serves as a rival for Burma’s energy exports, India may not agree to sanctions in which China does not share.
Maddox also fails to close the sale in another, more basic sense. Sanctions alone have never collapsed a tyranny. Usually it just results in misery for the people who already suffer under the oppressive tyrants, a dynamic which the UN tried to avoid in Iraq by establishing the Oil-for-Food program. That turned into a massive corruption scandal that wound up enriching the tyrant that sanctions supposedly targeted. Even without the corruption, the sanctions lost popularity in just a couple of years, with some nations arguing that they killed 5,000 Iraqi children a month. The world has almost as little tenacity for sanctions as they do for military action.
The notion that worldwide condemnation would change the direction of the military junta seems mostly naive. It could have an affect on India, although they have their hands full with Pakistan and may not appreciate the extra load. Maddox places too much faith in the power of shame on governments who care not a jot about the approbation of their own population, let alone that of others.

8 thoughts on “Do China And India Hold The Key?”

  1. Odd, Burma has been off the radar for so long it hard to say much of interest about it. It does not appear to be as insular as North Korea and culturally it appears similar to Thailand, which I have visited. Why are the monks motivated to take to the streets right now, all of a sudden, instead of any time since 1988. Do they perceive the Junta weakening, and if so, why?

  2. Serious help from China, beyond the level of lip service (while they bandage their consumer export reputation) is a pipe dream, IMO. As for global pressure bringing a “higher price” for violent repression, CNN Headline News is reporting – as I type this – that the troops have now opened fire with automatic weapons on the crowds of protesters.
    That’s not a part of the world where we have any significant influence and we dare not tread on it with a direct military assault. They know it, and democracy can only come from within if the people rise up with enough power. That looks unlikely also, so I don’t see a happy ending for this story.

  3. poor Cap, you still dont get it. Somewhere Halliburton will raise its ugly tentacles in its ever increasing search for oil profits for the Bush clan. Making it all Bush’ fault!!!
    And President Peanut will go oversee the free and fair elections that will place the anti-Bush junta back in power with a 99.97% victory.
    Or alternately, Alec Baldwin, Cindy Sheehan, Rosie, Babs, et al, will hold a rolling hunger strike. They will go without mocha frappe creme lattes for 12 minutes apiece to protest why we haven’t sent in the Marines to save Mandalay so Brangelina can go there to adopt another Third World baby and plant trees along the Burma Road to combat global warming.
    I wont mind that as long as the Marines can find the long lost treasure trove of Burma Shave. O, OK, no blood for Burma shave.

  4. My wife’s family lives on the India side of the Burma border. The market is filled with goods from China and heroin from Burma. Burma is a narco state. The military controls the drugs trade. You want to overturn the junta, then you have to severely curtail the drug trade. Since heroin leaves the Golden Triangle by the truckload it wouldn’t be that hard if there was the will power. It is in the world’s best interest to do so. See Afghanistan. You would be surprised what is imported into Burma with all that narco cash.
    Protests, why now? Twofold. The government has been cracking down and taking an ever increasing hardline on dissent for the last 3 years. Recently there was a government decision to let price of fuel go way up. The last move led to spontaneous street protests. These protests have snowballed with the pro-democracy forces, tribal leaders and most importantly, Buddhist monks getting on board.

  5. 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!“.

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