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    « San Francisco To Ban Toys With 'Happy Meals' | Main | New US Govt Report Finds Fraud & Abuses Within H2B Visa Program »

    China Blocks UN War Crimes Probe On Burma & India Supports The Move

    Just when it seemed that the international community was finally waking up from a self imposed deep slumber over Burma and momentum was gathering to launch an official UN investigation into possible war crimes by the Burmese military junta, Beijing has run to the rescue of it's friend, General Than Shwe (Burmese military dictator).

    Burma (Myanmar), Image Source: Wiki

    Earlier this year in August, reports started to circulate that President Obama would support UN investigation on Burma and was open to the idea of more severe sanctions against Burma. Last week Secretary Clinton reiterated the administration's commitment for an official inquiry. In March, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, called on the UN for an official inquiry into Burmese military junta's atrocities. Following Quintana's call, the European Parliament in May passed a resolution calling on the EU member states to publicly support the UN's possible inquiry on Burma. Numerous prominent, international NGOs have called for and supported UN inquiry on Burma. 

    But China has other plans for Burma and those plans don't involve UN inquiry. China has significant trade relations with Burma (in excess of $1.4 billion). It also has vested interest in Burma's natural gas reserves, being it's number one beneficiary. Politically speaking, allowing such inquiries sets a dangerous precedent for China, as Beijing has many corpses of human rights abuses of their own buried in their backyard. They certainly don't want anyone to go digging for them.

    In addition to trade relations and track record of human rights abuses, Beijing has even more in common with Burma. Thus far detained Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi was the only Nobel Peace laureate in the world who was imprisoned. But now Beijing shares that dishonor with Burma, as Liu Xiaobo, this year's Nobel laureate is serving a prison sentence too. 

    The entire situation was rife with potential pitfalls for Beijing and was dealt with - what they know best- bullying at the highest level. And so Beijing waged a systematic, and fierce campaign of 'diplomacy' (which included not so subtle threats about 'consequences' to other nations) at the UN to derail any and all efforts towards UN inquiry about war crimes by Burmese dictators. 

    Here is an excerpt from a WaPO (Washington Post) article published last week: "The Chinese government has launched a high-octane diplomatic campaign during the past two months aimed at thwarting the Obama administration's plan to back an international probe into possible war crimes by Burma's military rulers. The Chinese effort - which includes high-level lobbying of top U.N. officials and European and Asian governments - has taken the steam out of the U.S. initiative, which was designed to raise the political costs to Burma's military junta for failing to open its Nov. 7 elections to the country's political opposition.

    China, meanwhile, has forcefully urged European and Asian countries and the U.N. leadership to oppose the measure on the grounds that it could undermine Burma's fragile political transition, according to diplomats and human rights advocates. Just days after the United States signaled support for the war crimes commission, China's U.N. ambassador, Li Baodong, paid a confidential visit to Ban's (UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon) chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to make his opposition clear: The U.S. proposal, he said, was dangerous and counterproductive, and should not be allowed to proceed, three U.N.-based sources familiar with the exchange told The Post."

    The DVB (Democratic Voice of Burma) reports, "Benjamin Zawacki, Burma researcher for Amnesty International, said that in its response to the Quintana report, China had gone further than merely expressing its own reservations. The Chinese “went out of their way” to say that the inquiry was the wrong signal to send to developing countries and that those countries “would also be well advised to think seriously about whether or not to support that". "Amnesty read the Chinese response as being a very thinly veiled instruction to other developing countries and to other countries that are like-minded, that they would rather not see them in support of this commission of inquiry,” he said."

    As disheartening as all of this is, China is unfortunately not alone on the world stage in support of the oppressive Burmese regime. Burma's other neighbor, the biggest democracy in the world - India - has apparently sacrificed all of it's values and principles at the altar of trade, economic growth, GDP and other such worldly things. India is also a significant trade partner of Burma (close to $1 billion) and vies for the same natural gas resources as China. India however doesn't quite manage to acquire as much from Burma as China does. (Yet that doesn't seem to deter New Delhi.) India shares China's 'concerns' and wonders what the purpose of such an inquiry would be.

    Indian diplomat, Acquino Vimal recently told the UN General Assembly committee that UN inquiry on Burma would be "counter productive" and "end up adversely affecting the very people it is supposed to help". How exactly would the Burmese people who are forced into labor camps, exploited, beaten, and at times even killed, the Burmese children who are forcibly recruited as child soldiers, and the Burmese women who are frequently raped by the military junta, be 'adversely affected' if their perpetrators are brought to justice? It would be nice if anyone from the Singh (PM Manmohan Singh of India) administration cared to explain this apparent paradox, because most of the rest of us can't understand this twisted logic. 

    Nobel laureate and acclaimed Indian economist Amartya Sen last month in a lecture at Johns Hopkins University slammed India and PM Singh for supporting the Burmese military junta and for welcoming General Than Shwe this summer to India. Sen like many other Indians (including expats) is bewildered, to say the least at India's foreign policy towards Burma. He poignantly vocalized the feelings that many Indians feel when he said, "It breaks my heart to see the prime minister of my democratic country – and one of the most humane and sympathetic political leaders in the world – engage in welcoming the butchers from Burma and to be photographed in a state of cordial proximity. When our power to influence the world was zero, we spent our time lecturing the world on morality. And when we get a bit of power, although not as much as China, then we completely abdicated that responsibility."

    In the lame elections coming up in Burma on November 7th, which the democratic party of Aung San Suu Kyi is banned from contesting, the military junta is guaranteed to win (unopposed). Maung Zarni, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, told the DVB why China would prefer such an election outcome which maintains status quo and robs the country of a true democratic process. He said, "The Chinese consider the Americans and the British – especially the Americans – their serious rivals who don’t want to see the Chinese come up the ladder, so I think any democratic regime that comes to power is logically going to be more in tune with the Americans than the Communists or the pseudo-Communists in Beijing". He further added rather bluntly, "Butchers don’t feel comfortable in monasteries. The Chinese are in no position to enlighten the Burmese or teach the Burmese how they should behave".

    For now, General Than Shwe can send some more natural gas to Chinese President Hu Jintao as a token of his appreciation as Beijing has apparently succeeded at least temporarily in blocking the UN inquiry. And while he is at it, he might as well make a few more (empty) promises to PM Singh about giving India some natural gas too. His neighbors have loyally stood by him as Burma continues to burn and the world fiddles. 

    ~ Gauri

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