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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Commentary

Sino-US Policy on Burma

Has President Bush agreed of Burma becoming an Autonomous Region of China?

Kanbawza Win

When Presidents Hu Jintao shook hands with George Bush, it clearly underlines the inevitable loss of American supremacy in the world, at least in economic sphere to China. This fast rising power is expected to eclipse the United States as its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is tipped to overtake that of America by 2045. Like it or not, is a new rising superpower. When President Hu Jintao of China shakes hands with President George Bush in Washington tomorrow and gives one of his fixed grins for photographers, it will not be just another meeting between the leader of a large developing country and the chief executive of the richest nation on earth.

China is rising fast and is expected to eclipse the United States economically in the future - its gross domestic product is tipped to overtake that of America by 2045.

Article Length: 1101 words (approx.)

Despite the lack of progress on major international issues and trade tensions, a careful choreographed White House meeting pledge to work on together on the Iran and North Korean nuclear issues. It said the two countries would deepen cooperation in addressing global security, the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the violence unleashed by terrorist and then full stop. On Taiwan, the counseling of Bush not to use confrontation was rebuffed by Hu who makes it clear that he will opposed secession by any means (including force). Burma was too trivial to mention.

The Pentagon issued its quadrennial defense review in early February, officially and explicitly identifying China as a military rival for the first time. According to the review, China is the power most likely to "field disruptive military technologies that could ... offset traditional US military advantages". China has "the greatest potential to compete militarily" with the United States and Beijing's military buildup "already puts regional military balances at risk". it underscores America's genuine concern about the rise of China and the potential threat from that country.  It is an open secret that the US and Chinese militaries consider each other the greatest potential threat and have developed contingency plans for actual conflict between the two, but it is diplomatically unwise and politically damaging for Washington to reveal the secret in an official report.

When the American President lecture Hu on the importance of respecting human rights and freedoms, Hu simply replies, "I don't know what you mean by democracy, China is modernizing, " Obviously this phrase make the Burmese nervous about it knowing full well that Hu Jintao had beaten both Zimbabwe's Mugabe and Burma's Than Shwe, to claim the first place as the worst human rights violator of the world, (according to the Canadian research). With China's modernization and its desire to project power abroad, many countries in Asia believe that China is becoming a dominating power in the region. While intra-regional trade continues to expand and integrate China with its neighbors, free trade zones in Southeast Asia such as ASEAN plus one and ASEAN plus three, not to mention the up coming CASEAN (China-ASEAN) have been discussed, all explicitly with non-U.S. involvement, the balance of power has tipped the scale. The dynamics in the region begin to change and there is a strong desire not to polarize Asia again due US-China conflicts. Thus maintaining stable relations is an important strategic component and is in the best interest for US national security. If the thinking of the US is on this line, then Burma is just a pawn in the international chess game of power politics and will be soon sacrificed as inevitable part of the autonomous regions of China.

The strategic landscape in Southeast Asia has begun to change in ways that demand a rethinking of US policy toward Burma. China's economic and military capabilities have grown dramatically at a time when China's traditional security concern, Russia, has faded. Japan remains a long-term, but not an immediate security problem for China. This has left China free, in geopolitical terms, to shift its attention to the south. The most striking manifestation of this development has been a very assertive policy toward the South China Sea; i.e., the entire sea and all the land outcroppings within it are claimed as Chinese sovereign territory. This has been accompanied by a number of statements from senior Chinese civilian and military officials that seem to presage a kind of Chinese Monroe Doctrine for South-east Asia-a modern reprise of the historic preponderance of the Middle Kingdom.

China's Tiananmen Square drama which unfolded in 1989 a year after Burma’s failed 1988 uprising, came to the Burmese generals’ rescue. Shunned by most governments on earth, Burma had nowhere to turn. Likewise, China had also become an international pariah, for its televised display of brutality. It was an unholy alliance or rather the marriage of convenience. Once and for all, the generals in Rangoon discarded Burma’s decades old "non-aligned and neutral" policy. Surrounded by friends, like India and ASEAN the Junta appears secure amid calls for genuine political reforms in Burma. Many observers believe that China holds the key to Burma’s problems and will do nothing to change the status quo as she has access to the Bay of Bengal to India and to the American naval base in 'Diego Garcia.

The Asia Pacific Community Vision has a much more benign prediction how China will affect the region. China’s decision during the Asian crisis not to devalue its currency demonstrated its commitment to the return of economic stability and growth to the region. Figures already show that the region is well on its way to a full recovery, and before long will be leading the world in economic growth. In this context, regional institutions will be strengthened and made more effective; institutional innovations are already being mooted with this purpose in mind, China’s growing interest in and commitment to regional institutions will continue. Interdependence and regime membership will increasingly define China’s relationship with the Asia Pacific region. These forces will also begin to transform China and the Asia Pacific.  China’s regional strategy will be driven by its overriding rivalry with the US, leading it to seek accommodation with former great power rivals: Russia, India, possibly Japan.

But we also realize that China remains the world's leading proliferator of missile, nuclear and chemical weapons technology to state sponsors of terrorism, particularly Burma, Iran, Libya, Syria and North Korea. In deed, very reliable report points out that China has made repeated oral and written commitments to the US to cease this behavior but "not kept its word." China's behavior, is "an increasing threat to U.S. security interests, in the Middle East and Asia in particular," was obvious. These conclusions are not ill considered. They are the product of a year of intensive research, including nine public hearings involving 115 witnesses. Yet nothing was mentioned when Presidents Hu met with Bush.

With critical issues begging for heavy lifting everywhere, from energy and the environment to nuclear proliferation, human rights or Asian security, Washington and Beijing settled for a sterile photo-op. Under President George W. Bush, Washington has squandered so much of its power, influence and treasure that there is little energy or inclination left for true engagement with the emerging Chinese colossus. What happens under a future administration is anyone's guess. Hu and his team are shaping up as the ultimate risk evaders. Seemingly fed by a belief that the winds are blowing its way, that the world will come to it, and that it is only a matter of time before China attains a commanding position on the global stage, Beijing sees little point in soiling its hands trying to manage the world's problems. What better, then, than to let the United States exhaust itself, and moreover to exhaust the good will of others, as it pushily goes about trying to defuse ticking time bombs here and there that few others can be bothered with?

It seems that Beijing prefers to burnish its image as the unthreatening, non-interfering, all-respecting, new and improved superpower: a see-no-evil nation whose bland and benign visage is meant to lull the world until such time as China has finished rebuilding and is ready to engage the world on its own terms. "China needs to grow, and in order to grow it needs energy sources, minerals and raw materials, particularly from Africa," said Patricia Feeney, executive director of the private British group Rights and Accountability in Development.  China is becoming the dominant player in a number of countries that have been particularly marginalized in recent years by the West. One can see its influence and presence spreading in ways that are different from what existed in the 70s, when it supported the anti-colonial struggle. Hu was in Africa to sign offshore oil exploration agreements for Chinese companies, and the best he could muster was a bland statement like this: "We use the policy of noninterference in the affairs of other countries,"  the very same words he used it on Burma. Superficially, such a stance may seem to suit China's narrow self-interests just fine. But on a continent where the pillaging of resources by governing elites is taking place on a monumental scale, while the most basic needs of citizens go unmet, see- no-evil amounts to evil.

From a geopolitical perspective, Burma's approach to its huge northern neighbor is anomalous. The obvious point is that Burma has developed increasingly close ties with the only country in the world that is in a position to seriously threaten its vital security interests. The issue is whether Burmese Generals have fully thought through the implications of their policy. When this question was posed to Burmese military intelligence officers, it was evident that the whole issue was the subject of great interest and no little controversy among them.

The basic ASEAN approach to Burma has been "constructive engagement," i.e., normal relations with an effort to build economic and political ties to Rangoon. As such it is diametrically opposed to .S policy and has been the subject of recurring debate between ASEAN and Washington. ASEAN believes that a policy of isolation and pressure toward Burma only heightens the regime's insecurity, causing it to resort to greater repression at home and to turn to its only perceived friend abroad-China. It is the latter that concerns ASEAN the fear that China is using Burma to extend its military and political reach in the region.

With international pressures and sanctions mounting, Rangoon is increasingly dependent on China for trade and political support. Over the past year China increasingly has emerged as Rangoon's most important ally. Even though there had been significant tensions involving major Chinese contracts and construction deals, the recent important oil deals for oil and gas extraction rights in Western Burma (a plan construction of the pipe line from the Bay of Bengal across Burma to Kunming) seem to have helped mend some problems between the two countries. The Junta is virtually bankrupt and needs Chinese financial support to help overcome some of its immediate problems, and are looking for more soft loans to complete the infrastructure needs of the new capital in Kyet Pyay (Pyinmana).

Even though China believes political reform, is an internal matter for the Burmese regime, the Chinese greatest concern is a social unrest in Burma would dramatically affect their southern provinces. China's main strategic concerns are to see Burma introduce some measures of political reform and boost economic development. The last thing Beijing needs is thousands of Chinese migrants flooding back across the border, increasing the number of restless, unemployed Chinese peasants looking for work and adding to China's growing social and rural unrest. There is no doubt that privately Beijing continues to worry about the lack of progress towards political reform in Burma. For more than a year now, a senior political academic from Beijing has been in Rangoon advising the regime's top generals on various political scenarios.

At the UN level, China has disassociated itself from Rangoon and hate to be construed as supporting the pariah regime. But it is obvious that the unofficial discussion at the UNSC cannot takes place without the approval of Beijing and has made it clear that she would not used the veto, if ever the case of Burma came to the UNSC table. Zhai Kun, of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations based in Beijing commented that even if the democratic leaders took power in Burma, China would be willing to have good relations with them as well, if they could keep stability. Such remarks sent cold chills through the spines of the Junta who saw that since the dismissal of Khin Nyunt Beijing has been silently receiving the delegation of different Burmese opposition both from ethnics and pro democracy movement.

The regime did not seems to object to the idea that a Chinese diplomat be chosen in place of Razali's Ismail because the Generals knows that they can compromise on federalism but not on Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi' NLD which the Generals consider as public enemy number one. But it seems that the regime will have to pay a heavy price for Beijing has demanded that their citizens residing in the country be lenient and in some cases immune from the restrictions which the Burmese put on the foreigners. In other words the Chinese in Burma must be at par with the Burmese citizens which tantamount to selling of the country to China for the Junta's survival. Some of the points to be considered are:-

Both the Burmese and Chinese historical records shows that the Burmese kings had regularly sent homage to the people who sits on the Dragon throne which clearly indicates that the Chinese suzerainty over Burma can be easily renewable that Burma was part of the autonomous regions of China.

The current Burmese economy was so badly shaped that it has to rely on China almost on everything. Burma cannot borrow from anyone except China and the Burmese Generals keep on borrowing immense amount of money, especially in constructing of its new capital Kyet Pyay that there is little or no hope repaying them and eventually will have to surrender the country to China.

The Chinese investment is so huge that most of the big business are in Chinese hands while in major cities like Mandalay, Taunggyi, Pyinama not to mention Rangoon are dominated by the Chinese. The local Burmese people have move to the peripherals of the cities. Mandalay was sarcastically named as second Beijing.

The industrialization of Yunnan province in China was tested on Burma i.e. all the cheap and substandard goods produced in Yunnan was exported to Burma and the Burmese are so desperate for these consumer good that they have no choice but to accept them even knowing their inferior quality. In other worlds Burma is just a whipping boy for the Yunnan province. The people of Burma has been exploited to the full and when Yunnan became fully industrialized it may have plans to export it to other Southeast and South Asian countries, far more cheaper than the West.

Most of the country's natural resources are in Chinese hands e.g. the invaluable teak forest of the Kachin State, the mines and precious stones and so on. The diamond mines were given to China on conditioned that only one quarter of the value was to be given to the Burmese regime. The "Htaung Kae" a Burmese word for Chinese rich boss were so delighted at this generous offer that they have now developed the industry and invaluable diamond and jade are finding their way to China.

The Chinese hunger for oil and gas was quenched by the Burmese offshore oil in the gulf of Martaban and the Bay of Bengal. The Korean and other companies are developing it to construct a pipe line passed Burma on to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. This is very convenient to the Chinese who has to rely on the Middle East shipping lane passed the straits of Malacca.

The unofficial figure of both legal and illegal immigrants from China is now close to three millions that does not include the home grown Chinese that even now many Burmese are learning Chinese instead of English as a business language.

Even though the Burmese has successfully resisted the Chinese encroachment for 2000 years, the current Burmese regime has so much shattered the fighting spirit of the people of Burma that they have scarcely the will to resist. The Junta in their obsession to hold on to power so much that they have commanded their soldiers to routinely demand the ordinary civilians to Shit Khoe (pay omniscience) to them thus destroying the very grain of resistance. The people of Burma vehemently hate this idea of the most favored nation clause, which in their eyes is tantamount to selling the country to China. Next to Vietnam, Burma is the only country in Southeast Asia to make a stand against the encroachment of the Chinese for thousands of years. They had maintained this tradition since the battle of "Ngsaugyan" in Pagan dynasty days of 1044 AD. Thamein Bran, a Mon ethnic leader fighting together with the Burmese troops has killed the Chinese Generals Gamani in single combat. The men sitting on the Dragon throne well knew about the Burmese traits and are very diplomatic in dealing with the Burmese Generals.

But the worst of all is that the education system of the country was so depleted that they would not do anything for the younger generation who will take over their position once they are retired.. Even their own sons and daughters were not imbued with patriotic spirit. The elite off springs who were educated from the United War College could scarcely speak English and after they were educated in foreign countries ninety percent of them refused to return home to work for the country. This explicitly means that the Junta could not maintain their own rotten system, hence they could not last more than a generation.

In another thirty or forty years the region will be so advanced and the Burmese with this rate will be so left behind that there seems to have not choice but the country becoming part of China.

These are just a few aspects that will make Burma part of China in the near future. An expert can points several more facts and figure then a lay person like me. Hence before the end of this 21st century Burma will be just like the autonomous region of Tibet or Hong Kong. The Generals will sell the country as long as they can maintain their power as even now they are systematically dismantling the NLD. The opposition both inside and outside of Burma is too weak to do anything. Even if Mandarin was substitute the Burmese language as a lingua franca and Burma set a Chinese style regime (the Generals will eventually be replaced with the Chinese consensus) will President Bush and the people at the White House continue to look with folded arms is just food for thought.

Bangkok

The views express here are solely the opinion of the author. (Kaowao's Editor)


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