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Burmese crisis: A case for democracy

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  • Ong Yong Peng
    Dear friends, Asia is currently the fastest growing region in the world, and is estimated to remain so for many decades to come. Many people have called this
    Message 1 of 9 , Oct 12, 2007
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      Dear friends,

      Asia is currently the fastest growing region in the world, and is
      estimated to remain so for many decades to come. Many people have
      called this time that we live in the Asian Century, and we are only 7
      years into the century. If the predictions of the world's prominent
      statesmen, bankers, economists and entrepreneurs are correct, what we
      shall see over the next few decades is continuous growth in Asian
      economies, fueled primarily by China and India, as well as
      technological advancement led by China, India, Japan and the Asian
      tigers. However, the booming economy needs to be sustained by social
      and political stability, not just nationally but regionally as well. A
      united Korea, an integrated and progressive ASEAN, an economically
      strong India, and a socially reformed China are all good reasons to
      pursue democracy in Asia.

      Democracy will keep the booming Asia in pace with the West socially.
      In turn, Asian economy will create opportunities to many people across
      the globe, especially to businesses and investors in the West. The
      recent violence ignited by the Burmese military government has raised
      concerns from world leaders about the democracy process in the nation.
      In this short essay, I hope to highlight the areas where the military
      junta has failed or fared badly, in addition to its political
      oppression tactics, which have already invited worldwide criticisms.

      [Corruption]

      Corruption is a form of injustice to the people. The 2007 report of
      Transparency International lists Myanmar, which ties with Somalia, as
      the most corrupt government in the world. Already, it is a heavy
      burden to be poor, but people living in highly corrupt countries face
      even more intense hardship. In Myanmar, where corruption and poverty
      intersect, people are desperately poor. Suppression of the civil
      society, forced labour and bribery are all tell-tale signs of
      corruption in Myanmar.

      [Poverty]

      Endowed with abundant natural resources and fertile land, Myanmar
      should be one of Asia's most prosperous countries. However, corruption
      and government mismanagement have placed it among the 20 poorest
      countries in the world. Myanmar has a per capita income of $200, 10
      times less than its neighbour Thailand. Some 90% of the population
      live on $1 a day, many people go without regular food and electricity.
      Unemployment rate is 10% and inflation is high, in particular the
      ruling military junta increased fuel prices by 500% in August this year.

      A recent report on BBC reveals that poverty is driving thousands of
      Burmese to find work outside their home country:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7033663.stm

      [Health, disease and drugs]

      Corruption, poverty and weak public health structures have denied many
      people in Myanmar the most basic health care services. The worsening
      economic situation of affected families lowers Burmese children's
      health and nutrition rates, which are already among the lowest in
      Asia. More than one million children are malnourished, 9% to 12% of
      them severely so. The infant mortality rate in Myanmar is 66, higher
      than the world's average of 49. In addition, inadequate sanitation and
      water treatment are also contributing to disease. The life expectancy
      in Myanmar is 62.1 years, which is at 10% below the world's average of
      67.2 years.

      Myanmar remains one of the most serious HIV epidemic centers in
      south-east Asia. It has the third highest adult HIV prevalence rates
      in the region, following Cambodia and Thailand. HIV in Myanmar is
      mostly spread by injecting drug use and risky sex. HIV prevalence
      among sex workers and IDUs are 32% and 43% respectively.
      Antiretroviral therapy was introduced in 2005, but only 3% of HIV/AIDS
      patients currently receive such treatment. In 2005, the Global Fund
      terminated a US$98m grant after Myanmar government restricted the
      travel of its staff.

      After Afghanistan, Myanmar is the world's second largest producer of
      opium. The World Drug Report 2006 reveals Myanmar annual prevalence of
      opiates abuse at 0.7%, which is one of the highest in Asia.

      [Environment]

      Myanmar faces serious environmental problems. Two-thirds of its
      tropical forests had been eliminated by 1994. The smuggling of
      teakwood is the major cause of deforestation. Teak forests that have
      provided livelihoods for many ethnic minorities are still being
      rapidly destroyed by Thai loggers, causing floods and landslides. The
      military government has allowed massive logging and the construction
      of gas pipelines and other development projects, which continue to
      cause serious damage to the environment. Many endangered animal and
      plant species are facing extinction as a result of the junta's mining
      and logging policies, and pipeline and dam projects. Uncontrolled
      fishing by foreign companies to whom the junta gave fishery
      concessions has led to the impoverishment of the people from whole
      villages who depend on this activity as their only sustenance. The
      government's ban on public discussion of environmental issues and
      punishing those who try to question its policies only further
      increased the environmental woes while deepening the generals' pockets.

      [Terrorism]

      Terrorism is a global threat. Containment of terrorism requires both
      national effort and international cooperation. The military junta's
      action on peaceful protesters in the past two weeks is condemned by
      world leaders and citizens as unacceptable, inhumane and a violation
      of human rights, and likened to terrorist acts by the outside world.
      By isolating itself from the world and failing to unite the Burmese
      people under its doctrine of cruelty and brutality, the military
      regime puts the country at risk of potential import of fundamentalism
      and terrorist attacks.

      [Conclusion]

      It is long overdue the Myanmar government hands over the governance of
      the country to its people. It is long overdue that the Myanmar
      military releases Aung San Suu Kyi, who was democratically elected
      leader of the nation 20 years ago. It is long overdue that the Burmese
      people are treated with dignity, that their voices are heard and their
      choices respected.

      I hope the military generals now running the country listen to the
      will of the people, allow democracy in the country, hand over their
      powers and end the dictatorship.

      Thank you.

      metta,
      Yong Peng.
    • Ong Yong Peng
      Dear friends, The brutal treatment of its people by the Myanmar government does not befit good old Asian traditions. Asian culture balks at tyranny. Myanmar is
      Message 2 of 9 , Oct 13, 2007
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        Dear friends,

        The brutal treatment of its people by the Myanmar government does not
        befit good old Asian traditions. Asian culture balks at tyranny.
        Myanmar is a Buddhist country. The model of good Buddhist rulers lies
        in the concept of the "universal monarch" or "wheel-turning monarch"
        (raajaa cakkavatti). He is the benevolent ruler who governs with
        righteousness, and peacefully unites the world under a reign of
        universal justice and prosperity. He rules with virtues and kindness,
        not violence and fear. In fact, poverty, ill-will, violence, and
        wrongdoings do not exist in his domain.

        The teachings of Confucius, the highly revered Chinese philosopher
        whose teachings has influenced East Asia for the last two millenia,
        also has no place for dictators. The core value of Confucian teaching
        is the principle of 'ren', meaning benevolence. A good ruler is a
        benevolent ruler, or a gentleman ruler. The ideal ruler is a "sage
        monarch", or a sage who governs with benevolence, ethics and trust of
        the people. A 'sage' in Confucianism carries no religious
        significance, since Confucius is a secular philosopher.

        metta,
        Yong Peng.
      • Gunnar Gällmo
        ... Well well well - Buddhist culture does, but Asian culture in general? I think the history of Asia is much more complicated than that; despotism can be
        Message 3 of 9 , Oct 14, 2007
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          --- Ong Yong Peng <pali.smith@...> skrev:

          > The brutal treatment of its people by the Myanmar
          > government does not
          > befit good old Asian traditions. Asian culture balks
          > at tyranny.

          Well well well - Buddhist culture does, but Asian
          culture in general? I think the history of Asia is
          much more complicated than that; despotism can be
          found there as well as in other continents. (Many
          Europeans, blind for the failings of their own region,
          have thought it even an Asian specialty and talken
          about "Oriental Despotism".)

          > Myanmar is a Buddhist country.

          That is a matter of definitions. I don't think there
          are, or have ever been, any Buddhist countries, only
          Buddhist persons.

          > The model of good
          > Buddhist rulers lies
          > in the concept of the "universal monarch" or
          > "wheel-turning monarch"
          > (raajaa cakkavatti). He is the benevolent ruler who
          > governs with
          > righteousness, and peacefully unites the world under
          > a reign of
          > universal justice and prosperity. He rules with
          > virtues and kindness,
          > not violence and fear. In fact, poverty, ill-will,
          > violence, and
          > wrongdoings do not exist in his domain.

          This is true about the cakkavatti as a theoretical
          model to be strived at. Unfortunately, this idea has
          throughout the history of Buddhism been linked to
          actual rulers, from Asoka to Bhumibol; but as Asoka
          got his power by violence, even if he minded his ways
          later, he doesn't qualify as a cakkavatti; neither do
          any of the actual kings or presidents in "Buddhist"
          countries.

          There are, however, differences of degree in evil as
          well as in good, and it seems to me that the present
          situation in Burma is among the worst. The only
          parallell I come to think of is the regime of the Red
          Khmer in Cambodia - bud Pol Pot at least didn't call
          himself a Buddhist...

          By the way: there has been some talk in other circles
          about nominating the Burmese sangha for the Nobel
          Peace Prize. There is a problem here; it is true that
          the Peace Prize, unlike the other Nobel prizes, can be
          given to organizations as well as to physical persons,
          but the candidate in that case has to be a formal
          organization, not just a loose network; and is the
          Burmese sangha actually a formal organization, divided
          as it is into several nikayas? Is there any formal
          organization of Burmese monks that could be officially
          nominated (and that stands behind the bhikkhus'
          actions)?

          There are also bureaucratical rules about who may
          nominate (not anyone may), and how (in sealed letters,
          not public newspaper articles); but let's take first
          things first. Deadline for nominations is February
          1:st, so they couldn't have gotten this year's prize
          in any case.

          Gunnar

          http://metrobloggen.se/esperanto


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        • Dmytro O. Ivakhnenko
          Hello, ... Evidently, due to the lack of information from Myanmar, the notions about events there took on some mythical features. I would highly recommend the
          Message 4 of 9 , Oct 14, 2007
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            Hello,

            > By the way: there has been some talk in other circles
            > about nominating the Burmese sangha for the Nobel
            > Peace Prize.

            Evidently, due to the lack of information from Myanmar, the notions
            about events there took on some mythical features.

            I would highly recommend the detailed video report:

            http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/A0A81AA6-DACD-4913-AB67-AA8602962EAB.htm
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UqQaizM15Q
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2goTVC5g3M

            And the account from inside the monastery:
            http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7022475.stm

            Best wishes, Dmytro http://dhamma.ru/sadhu/
          • Ong Yong Peng
            Dear Dmytro, thanks for the links. metta, Yong Peng. ... I would highly recommend the detailed video report:
            Message 5 of 9 , Oct 14, 2007
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              Dear Dmytro,

              thanks for the links.

              metta,
              Yong Peng.


              --- In Pali@yahoogroups.com, Dmytro O. Ivakhnenko wrote:

              I would highly recommend the detailed video report:

              http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/A0A81AA6-DACD-4913-AB67-AA8602962EAB.htm
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UqQaizM15Q
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2goTVC5g3M

              And the account from inside the monastery:
              http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7022475.stm
            • Ong Yong Peng
              Dear Gunnar, I think you have carried my message beyond its intention. I did not intend to link Asoka or any other historical person to be a cakkavatti. There
              Message 6 of 9 , Oct 14, 2007
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                Dear Gunnar,

                I think you have carried my message beyond its intention. I did not
                intend to link Asoka or any other historical person to be a
                cakkavatti. There also isn't any discussion to nominate the monks to
                any award.

                It is true that Myanmar is not constitutionally Buddhist, but it is
                still by and large culturally Buddhist. The cakkavatti is an ideal,
                something for any Buddhist political leader to work towards. I am not
                arguing for despotism but democracy.

                I am also not aware of any part of Asian culture which supports
                tyranny, if you could enlighten us.

                metta,
                Yong Peng.


                --- In Pali@yahoogroups.com, Gunnar G�llmo wrote:

                > The brutal treatment of its people by the Myanmar
                > government does not befit good old Asian traditions.
                > Asian culture balks at tyranny.

                Well well well - Buddhist culture does, but Asian
                culture in general? I think the history of Asia is
                much more complicated than that; despotism can be
                found there as well as in other continents. (Many
                Europeans, blind for the failings of their own region,
                have thought it even an Asian specialty and talken
                about "Oriental Despotism".)
              • Gunnar Gällmo
                ... I didn t say _you_ did. I said it has often been done in Buddhist history. ... There is some - see
                Message 7 of 9 , Oct 15, 2007
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                  --- Ong Yong Peng <pali.smith@...> skrev:

                  > Dear Gunnar,
                  >
                  > I think you have carried my message beyond its
                  > intention. I did not
                  > intend to link Asoka or any other historical person
                  > to be a
                  > cakkavatti.

                  I didn't say _you_ did. I said it has often been done
                  in Buddhist history.

                  > There also isn't any discussion to
                  > nominate the monks to
                  > any award.

                  There is some - see

                  http://www.mizzima.com/MizzimaNews/EdOp/2007/Oct/01-Oct-07.html

                  Unfortunately Mr Corso, who wrote the article, managed
                  to do about everything wrong:

                  1. He thought he is entitled to nominate, which he
                  probably isn't.

                  2. He nominated for the wrong year - nominations for a
                  certain year must be presented no later than February
                  1:st that year.

                  3. He tried to nominate through a public article,
                  which the committee wouldn't accept - it abhors public
                  campaigns.

                  4. He didn't define exactly whom he wanted to
                  nominate.

                  That's why I would like to know if there actually is
                  any person or organization who could, realistically,
                  be nominated, or not.

                  (I have sent a e-mail to Mizzima pointing these things
                  out, but they haven't answered.)

                  > It is true that Myanmar is not constitutionally
                  > Buddhist, but it is
                  > still by and large culturally Buddhist.

                  Now we are coming into problems of definitions. In
                  Thailand, Buddhism is officially state religion; but
                  that doesn't guarantee it is always ruled according to
                  Buddhist ideals. (For example, it still has the death
                  penalty, which many Non-Buddhist countries manage to
                  do without.)

                  I person becomes a Buddhist by taking the three
                  refuges; but a country can't do that.

                  > The
                  > cakkavatti is an ideal,
                  > something for any Buddhist political leader to work
                  > towards. I am not
                  > arguing for despotism but democracy.

                  True.

                  > I am also not aware of any part of Asian culture
                  > which supports
                  > tyranny, if you could enlighten us.

                  I don't think it is possible to speak about "Asian
                  culture" in singular, nor "European culture" in
                  singular. There are several cultures in both parts of
                  the Eurasian continent.

                  A recent example of one of the Asian cultures
                  supporting tyranny is State Shinto during the time
                  prior to World War Two, and the Shogunate before that.
                  Also, the Pali texts contain many stories about evil
                  rulers, so I think there must have been some in India
                  as well; and let's not forget that Prince Siddhattha
                  actually ran away from home not to risk becoming one.
                  (And note: we often end our recitations with "raajaa
                  bhavat_u_ dhammiko" - but never with "bhavat_i_"...)

                  The culture of any region, whether Asia or some other,
                  is not only its lofty treatises, but also the actions
                  actually done, which is often something quite
                  different. In that respect, I think the distinctions
                  between continents are negligible.

                  Gunnar

                  http://metrobloggen.se/esperanto


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                • Ong Yong Peng
                  Dear Gunnar, I do agree on diversity among cultural elements over the Asian subcontinent . In particular, we see religious diversity alongside varying
                  Message 8 of 9 , Oct 20, 2007
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                    Dear Gunnar,

                    I do agree on diversity among "cultural elements" over the
                    Asian 'subcontinent'. In particular, we see religious diversity
                    alongside varying degree of interaction among the Asian communities.
                    Multireligious communities had long existed in large parts of Asia,
                    including China, India, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Southeast Asia.

                    The underlying principle towards this observed cultural phenomenon is
                    religious tolerance, which is the result of, I think, the wide spread
                    influence of Buddhism (non-violence) and Confucianism (secularism) in
                    Asia.

                    Even though it is not an easy task, it is such key elements as
                    religious tolerance which I would employ in defining an "Asian
                    culture".

                    Secondly, it is hard for me to accept that a momentary period in a
                    nation's history can be used to define its culture. We do not live in
                    a perfect world, and we have witnessed tyranny in different places at
                    different times. The ascension and even the long reign of a tyrant
                    ruler does not constitute support of tyranny (especially in the
                    absence of democracy). Also, in my views, Japan of WWII is more a
                    colonial evil than a domestic tyrant.

                    metta,
                    Yong Peng.


                    --- In Pali@yahoogroups.com, Gunnar Gallmo wrote:

                    > I am also not aware of any part of Asian culture which
                    > supports tyranny, if you could enlighten us.

                    I don't think it is possible to speak about "Asian culture" in
                    singular, nor "European culture" in singular. There are several
                    cultures in both parts of the Eurasian continent.

                    A recent example of one of the Asian cultures supporting tyranny is
                    State Shinto during the time prior to World War Two, and the
                    Shogunate before that. Also, the Pali texts contain many stories
                    about evil rulers, so I think there must have been some in India as
                    well; and let's not forget that Prince Siddhattha actually ran away
                    from home not to risk becoming one. (And note: we often end our
                    recitations with "raajaa bhavat_u_ dhammiko" - but never
                    with "bhavat_i_"...)

                    The culture of any region, whether Asia or some other, is not only
                    its lofty treatises, but also the actions actually done, which is
                    often something quite different. In that respect, I think the
                    distinctions between continents are negligible.
                  • Gunnar Gällmo
                    ... I agree (I wouldn t like Sweden to be defined by the Thirty Years War). I just want to avoid over-generalisations, in both directions. Wars can,
                    Message 9 of 9 , Oct 21, 2007
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                      --- Ong Yong Peng <pali.smith@...> skrev:

                      > Secondly, it is hard for me to accept that a
                      > momentary period in a
                      > nation's history can be used to define its culture.

                      I agree (I wouldn't like Sweden to be defined by the
                      Thirty Years' War). I just want to avoid
                      over-generalisations, in both directions. Wars can,
                      unfortunately, be found in most cultures. So can lofty
                      thoughts. I think both are much older than recorded
                      history.

                      After all, cultures are built by people, and as the
                      Buddha said: the animal is an open field, the human
                      being is a jungle. It is, unfortunately, quite normal
                      in human history to preach one thing and practice
                      another.

                      Gunnar

                      http://metrobloggen.se/esperanto





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