Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Freedom for the Burmese

I have been following with great interest and hope the ongoing events in Burma, and I still don't know what to make of it. Generally speaking, revolutions require a uniting of disparate lesser power sources with the common people. This generally involves something like radicals and moderates finding common cause (see French, Russian, or Iranian revolutions), or previously neutral parties joining in (Turkish or maybe Burmese with the monks?). There is an important distinction, however, from many overthrows of corrupt tottering regimes and superpower client states like the revolving door of Pakistani/Bangladeshi governments, the Afghanistan cold war saga, or even the Indonesian 1998 revolutions.

This is a totalitarian state. Burma isn't some carefully sown together balance of power between conflicting factions like ethnic groups (see Lebanon), sectarian parties (see Iraq), ancient political families (see Bangladesh/Indonesia), or any of the other traditional pedestrian power centers that must be carefully managed in many traditional governments. This is hard-core, orthodox totalitarianism. Kickin'-it Stalin style, if you will. Belarus and the old N Korea are close competitors for truly worst places on earth. In a vacuum, they would simply not exist, but would collapse under the weight of their own oppression. They only exist as client states of major powers-ironically more useful the more oppressive they are-because they are more annoying to the open democratic societies of the world.

In this kind of state, revolutions aren't quite simply a matter of aligning domestic power interests, but removing the external sources of power. Without Russia, Belarus would not exist the way it does today, without China, their would only be one Korea and no Myanmar-Burma. Pressure on China is the key, but where can this come from? Considering how important image is to China these days, maybe simply public pressure from its customers (us) can bring the pressure? Sign this petition.


Andre Moulton said...

Interesting comments: A Client-state for China, that would not exist without its "crutch" sums up the ongoing situation well.

But consider this: If you were pensively tense about someone, so much so that you knew an explosive conflict was a rash word away, yet at the same time you knew that this conflict would only result in defeat, would you not find indirect ways of striking your opponent.

China might actually "need" Burma to channel its inner Communist ways. Almost like a guilty pleasure. As you rightfully said, they care about their image, which as a result prevents them repeating the errors of Tinamen square (though such an incident is not totally impossible, its highly improbable for the rising dragon). This China which relies heavily on sales to wester nations, might not be able to take the public backlash but that does not the mean the mentality or the attitude required to oppress is gone, its just subtely disguuised. I think Burma represents a surogate for China, a totalitarian nation where the people are one people. Also Burma is that needling thorn in the humanitarian mentality of western nations.

The thoughts there of course take a general look at two countries as if they were individual personalites and not a collective of citizens but I thought it might interest you to think of this scenario.

Kudos to the Monks and the people of Burma for taking a stand, though, the world is in support.

MAR said...

I agree dude, in general, but I still think that the current Chinese government is simply too shrewd and too sensitive to its reputation to indulge in these kinds of fantasies. Its current involvement in Burma is based on a careful calculation of the usefulness of the state as a thorn in the Western side, while weighing the negative reputational effects of being associated with this kind of barbaric state. While this calculus might be wrong (in that its reputational damage exceeds what minor advantages China gains from continued support of the regime), it remains a 'realist', pragmatic view.

What China should be doing, is trying to reform its internationalist image, and begin competing with the US, EU and Japan for favor among other destitute world states. China is increasingly getting involved in Pakistan, and is funding a brand new megaport near Karachi. This is what it should be doing, fighting for influence in big, important developing states, rather than supporting repulsive governments in irrelevant corners of the world.