Larry Jagan provides a perspective on intra-junta rivalries that augur well for potential mischief by outsiders to exploit. Friends of Burma would do well to spread the word that the removal of hardliners by moderates would put the new leadership on the fast track to removal of sanctions and substantial international aid, tied to reasonable goals of release of political prisoners and some semblance of represenative government.
Jagan’s portrait of a fluid situtation in the military leadership is joined by Ralph Peters offering a realistic appraisal of China’s long-term interests in Burma informed by his lengthy visit to Burma in 1996 on a counter-drug mission for the US Army.
Peters portrays Burma as integral to China’s security and interests:
“Myanmar offers 1,200 miles of coastline on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, bordering the Indian Ocean. And those waters are a strategic lifeline for China, carrying trade westward and bringing back desperately needed oil from the Middle East and Africa.
Myanmar offers the promise of its own oil and gas deposits, while its magnificent hardwood forests are being clear-cut to feed China’s industrial appetites. (The ecological devastation is stunning.) And Beijing sets the terms of trade.
The advent of a pro-Western government in Myanmar would mean that, in wartime, China would have no direct access to the Greater Indian Ocean. The equivalent would be for the United States to lose access to the Caribbean – or worse.”
Given all this, Peters writes there is little America can do to influence Beijing to pressure the junta that would be successful.
Knocking American policy and strategic attention for being focused on one issue: that of the democracy campaign of “The Lady”, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he captures the horror of misrule and exploitation in one effective sum-up:
“but the undocumented ravages of AIDS up on the Chinese border, the ecological devastation of a unique environment, the junta’s cultural genocide and Beijing’s economic imperialism happen to be a great deal more important than the agenda of the country’s urban intellectuals.”
Considering all the excellent writing on the issue in the past week, I’ve identified several wild cards we have to take into account from here on out.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Peters writes: “The only way that Beijing would swing its support behind the pro-democracy movement would be if The Lady cut a back-room deal guaranteeing China’s continued presence, influence and access.”
Junta #2 in command General Maung Aye. According to Larry Jagan, some diplomats and aid workers in country depict him as at odds with the junta leader Than Shwe, leading to curious incidents of military discipline breaking down amid orders to shoot monks and restrict access to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Should the two continue to be at an impasse over how to move on in the aftermath of the protests, how willing is Maung Aye to risk his neck in a coup and cut his own deal with the Chinese. After all a compliant satellite is better for the Chinese than the festering cesspool of failure Burma currently is.
Junta leader Than Shwe. Will he compromise on anything of substance in the aftermath? Will his firm stance render his position of power brittle? Another article by Richard Ehrlich and Shawn Crispin even suggests in his xenophobic, isolationist worldview, he considers Burma joining ASEAN to be a mistake and is considering withdrawing Burma’s membership.
Japan. Anger over the murder of a Japanese journalist and an evolving foreign policy lead Younghusband at Coming Anarchy to ponder Japan’s potential role. The potential for Japan to make Burma the test case for its more democracy/human rights affirmative worldview is there if Japanese public opinion is spurred by further developments (i.e. some form of confirmation for the (believable) claims of thousands of dead monks and protesters) and Japan could further develop useful ties between ASEAN and Japan for one.
China. If Peters is right that China cares more about its long-term presence in Burma than the tainting of its Olympics (a position I tend to agree with) by revelations of terrible slaughter and a worsening situation in Burma, then other avenues need to be explored with China by Western nations. This brings up a point from Robert Kaplan’s 2006 article about the Kim Family Regime and the post KFR North Korea where it was reported that Beijing had a cadre of well-trained North Korean exiles ready to assume control.
Building on this last wildcard, why not the same for Burma?
A future Burma and North Korea with competent leaders who ran satellite states with China-style economies would be better than the disasters the respective populaces are stuck with right now. Such states are more realistic bets than failed states convulsed by revolution reborn into democracies. The chances for influence in such states for Western and democratic nations like India and ASEAN would obviously be less, but which wins and losses matter more?
Georgetown Professor Michael Green and CSIS Senior Fellow Derek Mitchell present a must-read article in Foreign Affairs, “The Battle Over Burma.”
Japan is a key player because of the evolution of Japan’s foreign policy, especially the opportunity Burma offers for Japan to “demonstrate its bona fides on promoting democracy, protecting human rights, and advancing regional security- especially at a time when the rhetoric and policies of China, the other ASEAN giant, continue to focus on outdated mercantilist principles.”
ASEAN is at its wits end after 10 years of attempting constructive engagement with Burma’s junta, leaving them stuck with Burma’s instability and failure to improve dragging down their credible progress, shown in the ongoing “revision of underlying principles in their charter that champions democracy promotion and human rights as universal issues”.
China and India are the two largest stumbling blocks to a reasonably unified effort by ASEAN, Japan, America, EU and others. Their competition in every relevant arena from military assistance to economic development will continue to have a negative impact until they both grow out of their short-term thinking. China’s reputation among ASEAN members and others stands to suffer, as well as its security interests, while India can ill afford more instability along its already porous and strained borders.
“Given the differing perspectives and interests of these nations, a new multilateral initiative on Burma cannot be based on a single, uniform approach.” Multi-track efforts utilizing targeted sanctions and various carrot and stick engagement schemes could allow “Washington to lead the five key parties — ASEAN, China, India, Japan, and the United States — in developing a coordinated international initiative and putting forth a public statement of the principles that underlie their vision for a stable and secure Burma.”
Furthermore, “the road map should present the SPDC (the Junta’s official name) with an international consensus on how Burma’s situation affects international stability and the common principles on which the international community will judge progress in the country.”
This would represent a significant improvement over the current conflicting efforts of all parties, shifting from a helpless stalemate to a potentially effective international concert of interests. For this to succeed, obviously the President and others would have to have diplomatic flexibility and the necessary dexterity to pursue seemingly contradictory paths that add up to moving up the calendar for change in Burma.
Ending, the authors posit that “as with the six-party talks on North Korea, a multilateral approach will require some compromise by all participants. The United States will need to reconsider its restrictions on engaging the SPDC; ASEAN, China, and India will need to reevaluate their historical commitment to noninterference; Japan will need to consider whether its economics-based approach to Burma undermines its new commitment to values-based diplomacy. But all parties have good reasons to make concessions. None of them can afford to watch Burma descend further into isolation and desperation and wait to act until another generation of its people is lost.”
An excellent essay that is worth the attention of anyone interested in the future of Burma.