- Burma will change on its terms only
- Pressure builds on Thai firms over
- Burmese junta rebuff intl pressure, vow to march
- A monument to juntas
- In Myanmar, rivers, forests suffer
- EU falls short on
- AIPMC Statement supporting a Global Arms Embargo on
- Special Announcement
citizenship for Aung San Suu Kyi
- ASEAN will never
suspend Burma, says Malaysia
- The geopolitical
stakes of 'Saffron Revolution'
beating of monks 'very bad' - Dalai Lama
Burma will change on its
So much has been written about how China can use
its influence to push for change in Burma but the international community may be
heading for a big disappointment if it thinks Beijing can simply wave a magic
wand over the Burmese junta.
The NationOctober 17, 2007
To begin with, it's just not in Beijing's nature to condemn
neighbouring countries, especially ones with the potential to satisfy China's
Besides being the gateway for China's access to the Indian
Ocean, Burma's vast natural resources and energy are just too lucrative for
Beijing to risk losing by taking a hard-line approach towards the military-run
So long as China's interest is at stake, Beijing is not
going to bring out the big stick.
Like everybody else, China wants to be on the winning side
regardless of who takes the helm. Whether it's Aung San Suu Kyi or Thaksin
Shinawatra, one can be sure Beijing will roll out the red carpet if either of
these individuals comes to power in Burma or Thailand.
Since the military takeover in 1962, after the overthrow of
the U Nu government, the Burmese junta has been extremely Sinophobic. And
General Ne Win's "Burmese way to socialism" never had the Chinese or the Soviet
model in mind. He wanted to do it his own quirky way.
In fact, Rangoon's inward-looking policy not only bred
anti-Chinese sentiment but also gave rise to words such as "Black Jews" - in
reference to the country's Indian merchants.
But to dismiss the Burmese attitude towards the Chinese as
being one-sided would be unfair. Communist China wasn't exactly squeaky clean
China was not only arming the Communist Party of Burma
(CPB) in its fight against the nationalist Kuomintang in northern Burma. This
was also seen as a way to keep Rangoon at bay.
But the end of CPB in 1989 didn't mean an end to the
cross-border ties between old comrades. Ethnic Chinese warlords like Lin
Ming-xian (U Sai Lin) and Li Ziru had originally gone to Burma's northern
frontier to spread the word of Marx. They stayed behind and eventually became
power players in Burma's opium production - and ethnic insurgency. Like others,
they invested and laundered their drug money on the Chinese side of the border.
Indeed, just about all of Burma's ethnic armies - the Wa,
Chin, Kachin, and others - invest handsomely in Chinese border towns and
districts and continue to have close personal ties with top Chinese officials at
the provincial level.
And while the end of CPB may have paved the way for
stronger diplomatic ties between Beijing and Rangoon, China has never ceased in
its dealings with ethnic armies operating inside Burma, despite knowing that
these arrangements don't sit well at all with the Burmese generals.
Today, China's frustration with Burma tends to centre on
its own domestic concerns. Beijing does not want anything to tarnish the
upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing, as this is seen as a springboard to boost its
presence on the international stage.
Nonetheless, China is concerned that its relationship with
the Burmese junta could translate into anti-Chinese sentiment both in and
outside of Burma.
A recent drive-by shooting at the Chinese consulate in
Mandalay may have irked the Chinese government. Still, it was nothing for
Beijing to get all worked up about.
"It's just a little irritation. We don't think it's going
to develop into something serious," said a Chinese official on the Burmese
border in Yunnan, who has been monitoring Burma's northern frontier.
The logic for many in the international community is that
if Beijing is willing to stick its neck out for Burma, it can also use its
friendship to persuade the Burmese junta to change course.
Two weeks after street demonstrations in Rangoon, China
used its clout in the United Nations to block efforts by the United States and
European countries to have the UN Security Council condemn Burma's bloody
crackdown against the monks and unarmed demonstrators.
In the end, a watered-down statement from the Security
Council called for "reconciliation" in Burma and was only passed after some
serious horse-trading between the Chinese and Western countries.
Nevertheless, the course of events created the impression
that Beijing still holds tremendous clout over Burma. But Beijing knows only too
well that the Burmese junta doesn't want to be anybody's lapdog. The Burmese
generals have much more up their sleeves than just the China card; Pakistan,
India and Russia are also some of Burma's other "important friends".
Just weeks before the bloody crackdown in Rangoon, Burmese
Foreign Minister Nyan Win was in Beijing. That official trip also took him to
Moscow. Interestingly worryingly perhaps more than 100 Burmese officials have
been sent to Russia for training in nuclear technology.
A few days ago human rights groups were barking up Asean's
tree, door-stopping Surin Pitsuwan, the incoming secretary general of the
regional grouping, urging him to get tough on Burma.
Strangely, a decade ago Burma was admitted into Asean
because the regional grouping was concerned that Rangoon might be drifting too
far towards China.
But today, ten years later, Burma is farther from Asean
than it has ever been before. Any changes inside of Burma, it seems, will be on
Burma's terms and nobody else's.
Pressure builds on Thai
firms over Burma
A growing number of human and labour rights organisations
in Europe are calling on Thai companies to cease their business operations with
Burma as a way to step up pressure on its military regime, criticised as being
one of the world's biggest human-rights violators.
The Nation October 17, 2007
According to Chanin Donavanik, president of the Thai
Hotels Association (THA) and owner of the Dusit International hotel chain, at
least two non-governmental organisations from Europe have written to Thai
companies asking them to stop doing business in Burma.
Chanin did not say how the THA would respond to the request
but admitted the recent bloody crackdown had affected business in Burma and the
hotel industry was not excepted.
He said the THA was taking a wait-and-see approach. Any
major decision would have to wait until the situation returned to normal.
Thai companies that have been hit hard by the disturbances
include the Baiyoke Group and Thai Airways International, observers said.
"The hotels are empty at the moment," Chanin said.
Octavio Gamarra, senior vice-president of Dusit
International, said the group's management contract with a hotel in Rangoon, the
Dusit Inya Lake, would terminate at end of this year. The group has not yet
decided whether to withdraw the management, but is closely monitoring the
situation. Dusit has been managing the hotel for nearly five years.
According to Kasikorn Research, Thai-run hotels in Burma
include those of the Baiyoke hotel group, the Novotel at Mandalay, the Andaman
Club on Song Island (opposite Ranong province), the Golden Triangle Paradise
Resort and the Myanmar Allure Hotel in the border town of Tachilek, which is
adjacent to Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district.
Burmese junta rebuff intl pressure, vow to march on -
Mizzima News: Tue 16 Oct
The Burmese military junta on Tuesday made clear its
determination to March on with its planned roadmap to democracy, despite
increasing international pressure on the regime to hold a dialogue with
The junta, in an article published in its mouthpiece, New Light of
Myanmar newspaper, on Tuesday criticized last weeks Presidential Statement of
the UN Security Council which deplored the regimes brutal crackdown on
protesters and called for the immediate release of political prisoners, saying
the statement can not derail their plan.
The situation in Myanmar [ Burma] does not constitute a
threat to the regional and international peace and security, the article
The junta also flatly rejected that there are no political
prisoners in Burma and reiterated that it will continue with its planned
seven-step roadmap to democracy despite pressure by the international
We will March On, said the article written under a
pseudonym Banya Aung. There is no reason to change the course. We warmly
welcome those who join us with genuine goodwill. We will remove all the
hindrances and obstacles that may lie ahead.
The juntas response came as Japan, one of the juntas
biggest donors of aid, announced to cut-off US $ 4.7 million funding for a human
resources centre in Burma as a reflection of its stance on the military-ruled
country after the brutal crackdown on monk-led protests last month that killed
several people including a Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai.
The Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura on Tuesday
told reporters that Japan cannot support Burma this time around and will
persuade the junta to move towards democratic reforms.
Meanwhile on Monday, foreign ministers of European Union
approved a new set of sanctions against the junta including an embargo on the
export of wood, gems and metals. The EU also imposed import and an investment
ban on the sectors of wood, gems and metal.
However, the EU confirms that it will continue with
humanitarian aid assistance aimed at the most vulnerable population of Burma and
Burmese refugees living in neighboring countries.
The EU also called on all concerned countries to put in
place further restrictive measures, including a ban on new
George Bush, President of the US, which imposed targeted
sanctions on the Burmese regime, similarly called for more international
pressure, to make it clear to the Burmese generals that they will be completely
isolated and not accepted into the international community.
Meanwhile, the Burmese junta, trying to show that normalcy
has returned to the country eased the imposition of curfew and reopened internet
accesses. But, contrary to its claims, the junta during the weekend arrested six
more activists including two prominent 88 generation student, who led some of
the protests in August.
Ibrahim Gambari, the UN Secretary Generals special envoy
to Burma, who is currently in the region to hold consultations with key Asian
nations on Burma, said the unabated arrest of activists by the junta would have
detrimental effects on the process of national reconciliation and on the
peaceful and prosperous Myanmar [ Burma].
The Nigerian diplomat, after consulting Thai officials on
Burma, left for Malaysia on Tuesday and will continue to Indonesia, India, China
and Japan. He told reporters that he plans to revisit Burma in mid-November
after concluding his consultation trip.
Gambari said he has received confirmation at the level of
the head of state from Myanmar to grant him permission to visit the country
again in mid November 2007, adding that the situation in Myanmar [ Burma] could
move in the right direction, if efforts are made.
monument to juntas fear - Kenneth Denby, Naypyidaw,
The Australian: Tue 16 Oct
Even before you have arrive in
Naypyidaw, it is obvious the worlds newest capital is a place like no other in
It is not just the
isolation, in a jungle 320km from the sea; its not just the active
discouragement of foreigners, which is circumvented easily enough.
It is the
road leading into it.
Ten lanes wide, cut flat and straight
through hills and forests, it is the grandest and fastest stretch of road in a
country where potholed tracks qualify as major highways.
Occasionally, a cement lorry or a
rickety open-backed minibus drives past. But otherwise, the traffic consists of
sputtering motorbikes, horse-drawn carts and lines of women carrying baskets on
The grandiose public buildings and
shopping centres, like the broad roads, are meant as a model of the advanced
Asian city, but many of them stand empty and unused. Unknown millions have been
lavished on the new capitals construction, in a country where most people live
on less than a dollar a day.
Its inaccessible location is intended to
protect the junta of Senior General Than Shwe, but many believe the Governments
increased isolation is hastening its downfall.
I am the first Western journalist to
visit the capital since the juntas crackdown on pro-democracy protests last
month. Foreigners should have permission to visit, and travel agents refuse to
sell train tickets to Pyinmana, the closest town. But no one stopped me getting
off the train.
The port of Rangoon had been Burmas
capital since the British conquest of the country in 1885, and remains its
greatest city - a seething stew of extreme poverty, lively commerce and rich
culture. So it came as a surprise in 2005 when the junta announced the new
capital and the relocation of all government functions. Over months, long
convoys made the 10-hour journey to Naypyidaw, carrying entire government
departments and their civil servants.
I miss Rangoon, one man, an employee
of the Planning and Economic Development Ministry, said. I miss my life there,
my parents and friends.
In structure, Naypyidaw is hardly a city
at all, but rather a series of zones carefully dispersed to isolate the
different parts of the city from one another.
The hotel zone is where foreigners stay,
in places with names such as the Royal Kumudra, the Golden Myanmar and the
Aureum Palace. For $77 a night, I enjoyed foreign cable TV and airconditioning
in a self-contained bungalow. I saw not a single other guest.
The civilian heart is a town of white,
blue and pink four-storey flats. A shopping complex contains scores of premises,
all unfinished or unoccupied.
But not all of Naypyidaw is a building
site. The city hall has high white walls and curving tiled roofs, like the
palace of Ming the Merciless.
North of here are the identical ministry
buildings. The one I entered had manual typewriters instead of computers and the
silvery-blue glass at the front was already showing cracks.
The first sign of life comes at the
citys market and bus station, the only place in Naypyidaw where messy human
reality impinges on Than Shwes sterile folly.
The telephone directory is 12 pages
long, compared with 470 for Rangoon, but according to the Government almost a
million people live here.
Members of Burmas Muslim minority are
excluded, and there are almost none of the monks who turned against the
Government last month. But the most surprising thing is the absence - except for
a few unobtrusive policemen - of the armed forces.
The generals live in yet another zone,
where soldiers parade before titanic statues of Burmas ancient
The obvious question is: why?
The most plausible explanation is that
the generals are escaping from the increasingly clamorous people. Rangoon, after
all, is a city of protest and opposition, of the democracy leader, Aung San Suu
Kyi, who remains a threat to the junta even under house arrest.
By removing the Civil Service, it can at
last avoid a repeat of the 1988 uprising, when government workers took to the
streets alongside students.
The move to Naypyidaw will be the
undoing of the generals, one foreign diplomat in Rangoon said. Their isolation
from the population makes them less intimidating
and its a death blow to
their intelligence gathering.
So perhaps this is the irony of the
retreat to the jungle: far from being a demonstration of strength, it is a
symptom of fear.
In Myanmar, rivers, forests suffer
Associated Press: Tue 16 Oct
Truckloads of illegal timber cross the
Myanmar border to sawmills in China, while markets along the Thai border openly
sell bear paws, tiger skins and elephant tusks.
Further inland, the repressive military
regime plans to dam one of Asias purest rivers, and allows gold and gem mines
to tear up hillsides and pollute groundwater for quick cash.
Myanmar has become notorious in the
region for ignoring international and its own environmental laws in a
single-minded effort to make the money that environmentalists say helps keep the
regime in power.
They may have laws on the books but
they mean extremely little, said Sean Turnell, an expert on the Myanmar economy
with Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. I would say environmental
considerations mean zero to them. It wouldnt even enter their
After decades of self-imposed isolation,
the junta in the late 1980s began courting foreign investors with offers of
stakes in gem mines, forest tracts and hydroelectric projects. Foreign
investment allowed the regime to double its military to 400,000 soldiers while
offering neighbors like China and Thailand access to cheap raw materials and
energy to feed their growing economies.
A Myanmar government spokesman did not
respond to a request for comment on its environmental record. Chinese government
officials could not be reached for comment and Thailand denied its investment in
Myanmar contributes to the countrys environmental destruction.
Hardest hit in the rush to develop the
country formerly named Burma have been its rivers and forests, environmentalists
Over the past decade, they say, two
dozen dams have either been built or are scheduled to be built mostly with the
help of Chinese and Thai firms. They accuse the government of uprooting tens of
thousands of villagers to make way for the dams to provide electricity mostly to
Thailand and China.
Among the planned dams are at least five
on the Salween, which rises in Tibet and is considered one of Southeast Asias
last untamed rivers. A first dam is also planned on the Irrawaddy, which
activists fear will result in the forced relocation of 10,000 villagers and the
decimation of its shoreside fishing communities.
This region is one of the worlds
biodiversity hot spots, said Naw La of the Kachin Development Networking Group,
a coalition of environmental groups watching Myanmar. If this dam is built on
the Irrawaddy, the fish populations will decrease. A lot of people will be
suffering because their livelihoods will disappear.
Along Myanmars border with China,
illegally felled timber is transported to China, according to the Britain-based
group Global Witness. From there, it becomes flooring and furniture for European
and American homes.
Global Witness said most of the logging
takes place in an area described as very possibly the most biodiverse, rich,
temperate area on earth, home to red pandas, leopards and tigers.
About 95 percent of Myanmars total
timber exports to China are illegal, Global Witness said, costing its treasury
$250 million a year. Much of the profits go to Chinese firms as well as regional
military commanders and ethnic guerrilla groups, it said.
The borders along China and Thailand
also are host to massive, unregulated markets that sell everything from illicit
gems to animal parts. At the Tachileik market on the Thai border and Mong La
market on the Chinese border, vendors openly sell tiger and leopard skins, bear
paws, ivory and live turtles.
The markets are filled with Western
tourists looking for souvenirs and Asia businessmen supplying traditional
medicine and food markets in China and other Asian countries, activists
Given the high demand and extent of the
trade in Myanmar, many species will be lost, said Chris Shepherd, a senior
program officer for conservation group Traffic. Rhinos in Myanmar are probably
already extinct due to trade. Tigers are on a huge decline. Elephants are in
huge decline. The list goes on and on.
Even the few environmental success
stories in Myanmar seem to have a dark side.
The junta in 2001 created the worlds
largest tiger reserve in Hukaung Valley with help and funding from the
U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society. It contains as many as 150 tigers
about a third of the total in Myanmar.
But the Kachin group says the junta has
allowed widespread gold mining in the reserve. Three gold mines are polluting
the rivers through the valley with mercury, cyanide and other chemicals, the
group said in a report released this year.
EU falls short on sanctions
International Trade Union Confederation:
Tue 16 Oct 2007
The ITUC and the European TUC have described the European
Unions new sanctions policy on Burma, announced today, as a step in the right
direction, but falling well short of what is needed to put the Burmese military
junta under real pressure. The exclusion of oil and gas from the scope of
the new sanctions means that the major source of foreign finance for the junta
will remain basically intact. The previous EU bans have been extended to
include a ban on European exports to Burma of equipment for the metal, timber,
minerals and gemstone sectors, as well as import and investment prohibitions
covering these sectors.
These new restrictions are welcome, but they dont go far
enough. The oil and gas sector is the single largest source of revenue for
the military regime, and we are extremely disappointed that the EU has left this
huge revenue stream untouched, said ITUC General Secretary Guy
With some 400 foreign companies having business links to
Burma, European companies in the oil and gas sector have come under particular
pressure to sever their links as part of the global campaign for all companies
to disinvest. While those in the new sectors covered by the revised EU
sanctions will need to sever their links, the international trade union movement
will continue to press for comprehensive global sanctions covering all
People in Europe might rightly wonder why the European
Union, having rightly extended sanctions to some products, has failed to do so
for others, especially given the importance of oil and gas income to the junta,
said ETUC General Secretary John Monks.
Founded on 1 November 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million
workers in 153 countries and territories and has 305 national
For more information, please contact the ITUC Press
Department on: +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018.
AIPMC Statement supporting a Global Arms Embargo
ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus:
Tue 16 Oct 2007
AIPMC: Global Arms Embargo on Myanmar
Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) firmly supports the call of former
world leaders for a global arms embargo on Myanmar . A United Nations Security
Council (UNSC) resolution on an arms embargo will serve to protect civilians in
the conflict-stricken country.
The embargo is necessary immediately,
given the recent use of violence by the Myanmar military junta during its brutal
crackdown on peaceful protesters.
AIPMC also urges ASEAN to support, if
not initiate, such a UNSC resolution. ASEAN stands in good stead given that none
of its member-countries sells arms to the regime. AIPMC understands that ASEAN
wishes to see a global decrease in arms shipments. An arms embargo on Myanmar is
consistent with ASEANs vision for a stable and secure region.
The Myanmar military junta has shown, on
numerous occasions during its reign, that it does not use its weapons for
self-defence of the country but to suppress its own people and in recent times
against foreigners, including a Japanese journalist.
AIPMC commends the initiative of 20
former heads of state and leaders, led by Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell
Magne Bondevik, when appealing to President Hu Jintao of China to use his good
office for an immediate stop to the violent assault against the people of Burma
The Caucus also supports the call for
the commencement of a dialogue between military leaders and various
pro-democracy stakeholders in Burma . Parliamentarians in the region once again
strongly call on the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, all political
prisoners, monks and others detained recently.
AIPMC sees the urgency for an arms ban
on Myanmar not only for the safety of the people of Burma but also to ensure
regional security. The regimes violence must not be tolerated. This is an
opportunity for the international community to curb the regimes unruly
AIPMC Steering Committee
National League for Democracy:
Tue 16 Oct 2007
UNSC has now issued its Presidential Statement with
consensus of all UNSC members for the national reconciliation and
democratization process in Burma.
Despite of this Presidential Statement, the concerned authority is
continuing their arbitrary arrests at any time anywhere elsewhere in Burma on
the peaceful protesters who expressed their desire peacefully.
Though some have been released from their detention, we
heard that thousands of monks, nuns, people, political party leaders, MPs, NLD
party members, students and youths are still in these detention centres, prisons
and interrogation centres, and languishing in these places.
Such unlawful arrests, interrogation, and persecution
determine the national reconciliation process.
Thus we called for the State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC) to stop immediately the arrests on these peaceful protesters of monks,
lay devotees, students and the people. And also we called for the unconditional
and immediate release of those who expressed their desire peacefully.
By the meeting resolution reached at CEC meeting held on
Central Executive Committee
National League for
No. 97/B, West Shwegondaing Road
Bahan Township, Rangoon
Waxing day of Thadingyut, 1369 BE
citizenship for Aung San Suu Kyi
Press | October 17, 2007
OTTAWA : Canada is responding to Myanmars bloody crackdown
on its citizens by promising to bestow honorary citizenship on that countrys
leading prisoner of conscience. The Conservative government will ask Parliament
to recognize Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as an honorary Canadian citizen,
according to a copy of the Throne Speech leaked Tuesday to The Canadian Press.
The junta that rules the country formerly known as
Burma has confined Ms. Suu Kyi to her home under house arrest for years in
response to her pro-democracy efforts.
Our government will immediately call upon Parliament to confer honorary
citizenship on Aung San Suu Kyi, the speech states.
Her long struggle to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Burma has
made her the embodiment of these ideals (of democracy, freedom, human rights and
the rule of law) and an inspiration to all of us.
Myanmars military junta was defiant Tuesday in the face of international
efforts to sanction its repression of protests last month.
State-controlled media reported that the generals who run the country are
still holding 500 demonstrators in prison. Protests have left at least 13 people
dead, including a Japanese cameraman whose shooting death at point-blank range
by a soldier was beamed around the world.
The junta also poured scorn on a recent United Nations Security Council
statement condemning violence used by the army to crush the anti-government
Those protests were launched by pro-democracy monks calling on the government
to end their repression and hold talks with Ms. Suu Kyi.
She is not the first foreigner given honorary citizenship in Canada. Nelson
Mandela, for example, was given similar recognition by the government of former
prime minister Jean Chrétien.
ASEAN will never
suspend Burma, says Malaysia
News : | October 17,
South-east Asian countries will never suspend Burma from their 10-nation
bloc despite its bloody crackdown on mass protests, Malaysias foreign minister
said after talks with a UN envoy. The military regime in Burma has come under
heavy international pressure since quelling last months peaceful rallies, but
Syed Hamid Albar dismissed suggestions the Association of South-East Asian
Nations (ASEAN) could suspend its membership.
If you want Myanmar (Burma) to continue to be
engaged, first we should not be talking about suspending. Nobody can talk when
you are threatening with all sorts of things, the foreign minister told a press
Secondly, there is no mechanism for suspension in ASEAN. ASEAN will never
take that route, he said after a meeting with United Nations special envoy
Mr Gambari is on a regional tour trying to increase pressure on the regime
to halt its violent suppression of dissent, release political detainees and
launch talks with the pro-democracy opposition.
Malaysia sponsored Burma to join ASEAN in 1997, but has recently become
highly critical of the ruling generals, who snubbed Mr Syed Hamid during a visit
However, the minister said Burmas neighbours must work to prevent the
impoverished nation from becoming even more internationally isolated, notably by
fostering dialogue between it and the United Nations.
Mr Syed Hamid was upbeat about developments in Burma since Gambaris first
visit earlier this month, noting that the situation remained calm and that the
regime had appointed an official to maintain relations with detained democracy
leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
He said, however, that more needed to be done, but he stressed that change
must come from within the country.
There are facts and then there are facts. Take the case of the recent mass
protests in Burma or Myanmar, depending on which name you prefer to call the
former British colony.
First it's a fact which few will argue that the present military
dictatorship of the reclusive General Than Shwe is right up there when it comes
to world-class tyrannies. It's also a fact that Myanmar enjoys one of the
world's lowest general living standards. Partly as a result of the ill-conceived
100% to 500% price hikes in gasoline and other fuels in August, inflation, the
nominal trigger for the mass protests led by saffron-robed Buddhist monks, is
unofficially estimated to have risen by 35%. Ironically the demand to establish
"market" energy prices came from the IMF and World Bank.
The UN estimates that the population of some 50 million inhabitants spend
up to 70% of their monthly income on food alone. The recent fuel price hike
makes matters unbearable for tens of millions.
Myanmar is also deeply involved in the world narcotics trade, ranking only
behind Hamid Karzai's Afghanistan as a source for heroin. As well, it is said to
be Southeast Asia's largest producer of methamphetamines.
This is all understandable powder to unleash a social explosion of protest
against the regime.
It is also a fact that the Myanmar military junta is on the hit list of US
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration for its
repressive ways. Has the Bush leopard suddenly changed his spots? Or is there a
more opaque agenda behind Washington's calls to impose severe economic and
political sanctions on the regime? Here some not-so-publicized facts help.
Behind the recent CNN news pictures of streams of monks marching in the
streets of the former capital city, Yangon, calling for more democracy, is a
battle of major geopolitical consequence.
The major actors
The tragedy of Myanmar, whose land area is about the size of George W
Bush's Texas, is that its population is being used as a human stage prop in a
drama scripted in Washington by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the
George Soros Open Society Institute, Freedom House and Gene Sharp's Albert
Einstein Institution, a US intelligence asset used to spark "non-violent" regime
change around the world on behalf of the US strategic agenda.
Myanmar's "Saffron Revolution", like the Ukraine "Orange Revolution" or the
Georgia "Rose Revolution" and the various color revolutions instigated in recent
years against strategic states surrounding Russia, is a well-orchestrated
exercise in Washington-run regime change, down to the details of "hit-and-run"
protests with "swarming" mobs of monks in saffron, Internet blogs, mobile SMS
links between protest groups, well-organized protest cells which disperse and
re-form. CNN made the blunder during a September broadcast of mentioning the
active presence of the NED behind the protests in Myanmar.
In fact the US State Department admits to supporting the activities of the
NED in Myanmar. The NED is a US government-funded "private" entity whose
activities are designed to support US foreign policy objectives, doing today
what the CIA did during the Cold War. As well, the NED funds Soros' Open Society
Institute in fostering regime change in Myanmar. In an October 30, 2003 press
release the State Department admitted, "The United States also supports
organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the Open Society
Institute and Internews, working inside and outside the region on a broad range
of democracy promotion activities." It all sounds very self-effacing and noble
of the State Department. Is it though?
In reality the US State Department has recruited and trained key opposition
leaders from numerous anti-government organizations in Myanmar. It has poured
the relatively huge sum (for Myanmar) of more than $2.5 million annually into
NED activities in promoting regime change in Myanmar since at least 2003. The US
regime change effort, its Saffron Revolution, is being largely run, according to
informed reports, out of the US Consulate General in bordering Chaing Mai,
Thailand. There activists are recruited and trained, in some cases directly in
the US, before being sent back to organize inside Myanmar. The US's NED admits
to funding key opposition media including the New Era Journal, Irrawaddy and the
Democratic Voice of Burma radio.
The concert-master of the tactics of Saffron monk-led non-violence regime
change is Gene Sharp, founder of the deceptively-named Albert Einstein
Institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group funded by an arm of the NED to
foster US-friendly regime change in key spots around the world. Sharp's
institute has been active in Myanmar since 1989, just after the regime massacred
some 3,000 protestors to silence the opposition. CIA special operative and
former US military attache in Rangoon, Col Robert Helvey, an expert in
clandestine operations, introduced Sharp to Myanmar in 1989 to train the
opposition there in non-violent strategy. Interestingly, Sharp was also in China
two weeks before the dramatic events at Tiananmen Square.
Why Myanmar now?
A relevant question is why the US government has such a keen interest in
fostering regime change in Myanmar at this juncture. We can dismiss rather
quickly the idea that it has genuine concern for democracy, justice, human
rights for the oppressed population there. Iraq and Afghanistan are sufficient
testimony to the fact Washington's paean to democacy is propaganda cover for
The question is, what would lead to such engagement in such a remote place
Geopolitical control seems to be the answer - control ultimately of the
strategic sea lanes from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea. The coastline
of Myanmar provides naval access in the proximity of one of the world's most
strategic water passages, the Strait of Malacca, the narrow ship passage between
Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Pentagon has been trying to militarize the region since September 11,
2001 on the argument of defending against possible terrorist attack. The US has
managed to gain an airbase on Banda Aceh, the Sultan Iskandar Muda Air Force
Base, on the northernmost tip of Indonesia. The governments of the region,
including Myanmar, however, have adamantly refused US efforts to militarize the
region. A glance at a map (click here) will confirm the strategic importance of
The Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, is the
shortest sea route between the Persian Gulf and China. It is the key chokepoint
in Asia. More than 80% of all China's oil imports are shipped by tankers passing
the Malacca Strait. The narrowest point is the Phillips Channel in the Singapore
Strait, only 1.5 miles wide at its narrowest. Each day, more than 12 million
barrels in oil supertankers pass through this narrow passage, most en route to
the world's fastest-growing energy market, China, or to Japan.
If the strait were closed, nearly half of the world's tanker fleet would be
required to sail further. Closure would immediately raise freight rates
worldwide. More than 50,000 vessels per year transit the Strait of Malacca. The
region from Maynmar to Banda Aceh in Indonesia is fast becoming one of the
world's most strategic chokepoints. Who controls those waters controls China's
That strategic importance of Myanmar has not been lost on Beijing.
Since it became clear to China that the US was hell-bent on a unilateral
militarization of the Middle East oil fields in 2003, Beijing has stepped up its
engagement in Myanmar. Chinese energy and military security, not human rights
concerns, drives their policy.
In recent years Beijing has poured billions of dollars in military
assistance into Myanmar, including fighter, ground-attack and transport
aircraft; tanks and armored personnel carriers; naval vessels and surface-to-air
missiles. China has built up Myanmar railroads and roads and won permission to
station its troops in Myanmar. China, according to Indian defense sources, has
also built a large electronic surveillance facility on Myanmar's Coco Islands
and is building naval bases for access to the Indian Ocean.
In fact Myanmar is an integral part of what China terms its "string of
pearls", its strategic design of establishing military bases in Myanmar,
Thailand and Cambodia in order to counter US control over the Strait of Malacca
chokepoint. There is also energy on and offshore of Myanmar, and lots of it.
The gas fields of Myanmar
Oil and gas have been produced in Myanmar since the British set up the
Rangoon Oil Company in 1871, later renamed Burmah Oil Co. The country has
produced natural gas since the 1970s, and in the 1990s it granted gas
concessions to the foreign companies ElfTotal of France and Premier Oil of the
UK in the Gulf of Martaban. Later Texaco and Unocal (now Chevron) won
concessions at Yadana and Yetagun as well. Yadana alone has an estimated gas
reserve of more than 5 trillion cubic feet and an expected life of at least 30
years. Yetagun is estimated to have about a third the gas of the Yadana field.
In 2004 a large new gas field, Shwe field, off the coast of Arakan, was
By 2002 both Texaco and Premier Oil withdrew from the Yetagun project
following UK government and non-governmental pressure. Malaysia's Petronas
bought Premier's 27% stake. By 2004 Myanmar was exporting Yadana gas via
pipeline to Thailand, worth $1 billion annually to the Myanmar regime. In 2005
China, Thailand and South Korea invested in expanding the Myanmar oil and gas
sector, with export of gas to Thailand rising 50%.
Gas export today is Myanmar's most important source of income. Yadana was
developed jointly by ElfTotal, Unocal, PTT-EP of Thailand and Myanmar's state
MOGE, operated by ElfTotal. Yadana supplies some 20% of Thai natural gas needs.
Today the Yetagun field is operated by Malaysia's Petronas along with MOGE,
Japan's Nippon Oil and PTT-EP. The gas is piped onshore where it links to the
Yadana pipeline. Gas from the Shwe field is to come on line in 2009. China and
India have been in strong contention over the Shwe gas field reserves.
India loses, China wins
This past summer Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding with
PetroChina to supply large volumes of natural gas from reserves of the Shwe
gasfield in the Bay of Bengal. The contract runs for 30 years. India was the
main loser. Myanmar had earlier given India a major stake in two offshore blocks
to develop gas to have been transmitted via pipeline through Bangladesh to
India's energy-hungry economy. Political bickering between India and Bangladesh
brought the Indian plans to a standstill.
China took advantage of the stalemate. It simply trumped India with an
offer to invest billions in building a strategic China-Myanmar oil and gas
pipeline across Myanmar from Myanmar's deepwater port at Sittwe in the Bay of
Bengal to Kunming in China's Yunnan province, a stretch of more than 2,300
kilometers. China plans an oil refinery in Kumming as well.
What the Myanmar-China pipelines will allow is routing of oil and gas from
Africa (Sudan among other sources) and the Middle East (Iran, Saudi Arabia)
without depending on the vulnerable chokepoint of the Malacca Strait. Myanmar
becomes China's "bridge" linking Bangladesh and countries westward to the China
mainland independent of any possible future moves by Washington to control the
India's dangerous alliance shift
It's no wonder that China is taking such precautions. Ever since the Bush
administration decided in 2005 to recruit India to the Pentagon's "New Framework
for US-India Defense Relations", India has been pushed into a strategic alliance
with Washington in order to counter China in Asia.
In an October 2002 Pentagon report, "The Indo-US Military Relationship",
the Office of Net Assessments stated the reason for the defense alliance would
be to have a "capable partner" who can take on "more responsibility for low-end
operations" in Asia, provide new training opportunities and "ultimately provide
basing and access for US power projection". Washington is also quietly
negotiating a base on Indian territory, a severe violation of India's
traditional non-aligned status.
Power projection against whom? China, perhaps?
As well, the Bush administration has offered India a deal to lift its
30-year nuclear sanctions and to sell advanced US nuclear technology,
legitimizing India's open violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. At
the same time Washington accuses Iran of violating same, an exercise in
political hypocrisy to say the least.
Notably, just as the saffron-robed monks of Myanmar took to the streets,
the Pentagon opened US-Indian joint naval exercises, "Malabar 07", along with
armed forces from Australia, Japan and Singapore. The US showed the awesome
muscle of its 7th Fleet, deploying the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS
Kitty Hawk, guided missile cruisers USS Cowpens and USS Princeton, and no less
than five guided missile destroyers.
US-backed regime change in Myanmar together with Washington's growing
military power projection via India and other allies in the region is clearly a
factor in Beijing's policy vis-a-vis Myanmar's present military junta. As is
often the case these days, from Darfur to Caracas to Yangon, the rallying call
of Washington for democracy ought to be taken with a large grain of salt.
F William Engdahl is the author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil
Politics and the New World Order, Pluto Press Ltd. Further articles can be found
at his website, www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net