Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The monks march up, the monks march down, the monks march around and around...

David Seaton's News Links
The monks march up, the monks march down, the monks march around and around... What does it all mean?

Condoleezza Rice is scandalized by the lack of democracy in Burma, Bush is pushing for sanctions. That alone should put us on our guard.

As we saw in pre-war Iraq, international sanctions only hurt the ordinary people of the country sanctioned, the leaders of such countries are hardly inconvenienced at all. I agree with this reading of the Burmese situation from the German business daily Handelsblatt:
"The sanctions, demanded by human rights activists and increased gradually over the last two decades by the West, have proven themselves to be largely useless. They merely crippled the economy and hurt ordinary people. For those in power, the sanctions have been like water off a duck's back; they continue to flog Burma's oil, gas, gemstones and rain forests off on China. Beijing expresses its gratitude with weapons and with vetoes against threatening UN resolutions. Out of fear that its neighbor will turn into a Chinese protectorate, India has also been courting the junta instead of supporting the opposition as it used to do. Thailand and Russia are likewise eagerly trading with the pariah state."

"It is naïve to hope that all countries might join in an effective embargo. But especially now that internal opposition is raising its head, the world should take the opposite tack and integrate the isolated country into world trade and into the processes of globalization. Western countries wouldn't just be able to help minimize poverty. They would also provide a better example than the Chinese when it comes to fair treatment of workers and the environmentally sustainable exploitation of resources. But Western democracies score more points on the home front with permeable embargoes than with politically motivated trade agreements. But trade has, on the long term, more promise of success -- and will cause less damage to the innocent. For the moment, in any case, Burma is so poor and so isolated from the global economy that its dictators have little to lose from sanctions."
Some think that with the Beijing Olympics just around the corner the Chinese will discourage a brutal response from the Burmese regime. I think that the exact opposite could very well be true. A great part of recent Chinese geopolitical success is due to their willingness to trade with countries the United States and the European Union sanction for their human rights abuses, such as Iran, Sudan and Zimbabwe. Supporting the Burmese junta through thick and thin would send a message to commodity-rich authoritarians that they can always count on China in a pinch and since unfortunately many of the countries of the world most endowed with natural resources are cursed with nasty regimes this could be an immensely profitable stance. DS


Anonymous said...

And the bitter irony is, if they should 'win' they will only get raped by the much bigger beast of neo-fascist capitalism. The more things change the more they stay the same.

RLaing said...

Handelsblatt has a valid point. The dictators sit at the top of Burmese society, and by the time sanctions have even a marginal effect on their lives, the population will have been reduced to abject misery, well beyond what they endure even now.

The obvious solution is to lift trade sanctions and give the West a cut of the action, rather than letting the Chinese have it all, since nobody with power is going to do anything for the Burmese people in any event.

Of course, there is nothing mysterious about the fact that many parts of the world, rich in naturual resources, are cursed with the world's nastiest regimes. Democratic government has the unfortunate drawback that it must place the needs of the local population first, a thing which the rest of the world is prepared to tolerate in inverse proportion to the value of said resources.