Monday, October 01, 2007

Burma Roiled

Depressing news from Burma, this evening, more than enough to put Los Mets into perspective.

Well, not so much depressing as wearingly familiar. Another bout of protests against the monstrous military regime that rules the place dispersed through violence, secrecy and indifference. Mostly because the framing got all messed up.

The BBC World Service recently replaced its short, sweet, informative, 5-minute news headlines podcast with something called "Global News", which I'm praying they didn't focus group. Global News, rather than giving us 12-15 stories laid out as clearly as possible, we get five or six stories, stretched out over 30 minutes with rather flabby interviews, sort of like an inconsequential Today (no, not the one with Matt Lauer).

The edition I sat through on the subway a few days ago (yes, dated, it's taking me a while to get back to this blogging thing) featured the anchor spending a long time baiting a Burmese opposition leader into admitting that wasn't this an internal matter and as such nothing for the international community to get fussed about.

I'm starting to think that the biggest beneficiary of the Iraq war was not Iran, which could very likely suffer from another revolution soon, but China. We'd got into the habit during the late nineties of looking down our noses at some of the Chinese regime's sillier rhetoric. Clinton's bombers accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, with little serious consequence.

Various ham-fisted interventions in the affairs of small European and Asian countries followed, and the most that the Chinese could muster was a series of threats against Taiwan that never rang hugely true because of the role that Taiwanese capital played in supporting industry on the mainland.

Since then, I should note, China gained admittance to the World Trade Organisation, its domestic capital markets have taken off in a big way, and it has mastered the art of buying control of natural resources in otherwise ropey locations.

But if anything revived credence in China's dour "this is an internal matter" mantra it was the Iraq war. It is now very hard for a sane person to talk armed intervention (of the sort, it should be noted, that in the hands of Vietnam ended a genocidal regime in Cambodia) in any regime no matter how ghastly.

I'm sure you'd all love to know how China got into the position whereby it can say to anyone demanding accountability from the Burmese government "you must not intervene in the internal affairs of another country" Well, if you must ask, it was invited into Burma by the British to help eject the brutal Japanese occupiers.

I've been reading recently, and entirely coincidentally, Viscount Slim's account of his campaign against the Japanese in Burma 1942-45, Defeat Into Victory. Once I'm done, I'll tell you more about it. Still, what can be gleaned from the first coupla hundred pages is that the British, in no position to be choosy, and the Chinese, in no position to turn down a means of taking on the Japanese, formed a rough but durable alliance.

Burma's history after that campaign can be described with the benefit of a series of Chinese interventions, some more subtle than others. Now, but its abject political and economic dependence on China, Burma can only be described as a Chinese client state, something even Mongolia has mostly avoided doing. China's aversion to meddling in Burma's affairs really means its aversion to meddling in its affairs. Still, meddling is now very unfashionable. Thanks, Dubya.

Anyway, 2001's over now. Time for bed.


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