The world has been horrified by graphic images in the media of the latest crackdown by Myanmar's military junta. But the bullets and clubs unleashed on Buddhist monks have worked. The monks have retreated, and an eerie normalcy has returned to Yangon.
That crackdown continues under cover of darkness. When the sun sets in Myanmar, fear rises. Everyone listens half awake for the dreaded knock on the door. Any night, the military's agents can come for you, take you away, and make sure you are never heard from again.
In recent nights, the junta's henchmen have burst into monasteries, lined up sleepy monks and smashed their shaved heads against the walls, spattering them with blood. Scores of others, perhaps hundreds, have been carted off for interrogation, torture or execution. The nighttime assault on a UN employee and her family made international news, but hundreds of less well connected Burmese have been similarly abused.
For 45 years, Myanmar's people have been subjected to the junta's reign of terror. My father was born in Rangoon (now Yangon) long before the 1962 coup that brought the current regime to power. Afterwards, many of my relatives, prosperous Indian merchants who had been settled in Myanmar for generations, abandoned homes and businesses to save their skins as chaos enveloped the city, which was later renamed Yangon.
A relative who now lives in Bangkok, but who returned part-time to Yangon in response to overtures from Myanmar's cash-starved rulers, recalled those days: "We lived through hell. We never knew when we woke up each morning what would happen. People were being denounced left and right. They could just come and take you away and take everything away from you."
Those who couldn't leave Myanmar, or didn't want to, have lived with this fear ever since.
The US and Europe have issued strong statements condemning the crackdown and calling upon Myanmar's neighbors, especially India and China, to exert their influence on the regime. The response from both has been muted (as it has from Thailand, which also has strong economic ties with Myanmar).
China balks at interfering in the "internal affairs" of a neighbor from whom it gets precious natural gas and potential access to the sea. India, which "normalized" bilateral relations a few years ago, is reluctant to alienate Myanmar's military, with which it has worked closely to counter rebels in India's northeast who had been using the common border to tactical advantage. To this end, India has provided aid, including tanks and training, to Myanmar's military.
But the main reason for India's good relations with Myanmar's ruling thugs is the country's vast and still largely unexploited energy reserves, which India desperately needs to fuel its economic boom. India has invested US$150 million in a gas exploration deal off the Arakan coast of Myanmar, and India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corp and Gas Authority of India have taken a 30 percent stake in two offshore gas fields in direct competition with PetroChina, which has also been given a stake.
India and China are simply doing what the US and European countries have done for so long: trump rhetoric about democracy and human rights with policies that serve their strategic and energy security interests. US relations with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are two examples, and the US' Chevron and France's Total, two of the world's oil giants, continue to do a brisk business in Myanmar, thanks to loopholes in the sanctions.
But the rise of India and China means that the time-tested posture of Western democracies toward emerging states to "do as we say, not as we do" will become less tenable. If the EU and the US want democratic India to act according to its stated moral values and not its vital national interests when these appear to conflict, they had better be prepared to do the same.
Feeling the heat, including threats from some US senators to link the US' nuclear deal with India to its actions in Myanmar, India has announced that it is asking for the release of Burmese democratic opposition leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. But the credibility of all democratic regimes, not just India's, is at stake in what unfolds in Myanmar.
Mira Kamdar is a fellow at the Asia Society.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Asia Society
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday last week announced it would impose sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a vast paramilitary organization that is directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has been linked to human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The sanctions follow US travel bans against other Xinjiang officials and the passage of the US Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorizes targeted sanctions against mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials, in response to Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation on the territory. The sanctions against the corps would be implemented
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose