Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The world backs down on banning Burma oil profits

by Larry Geller

Although the European Union has imposed a ban on imports of timber, gemstones and precious metals from Burma, it refused to interfere with Burmese oil and gas exports. European companies will be allowed to continue to do business with the murderous military junta in those sectors.

This represents a major setback for efforts to influence the military junta, gain the release of political prisoners, and end the suffering of the Burmese people. Essentially, the EU will continue bankrolling the junta while it chats with them.

Meanwhile the situation in Burma remains dire, though the US press has moved on to other topics.

The world has been horrified by graphic images of the latest crackdown by Burma's military junta. But the bullets and clubs unleashed on Buddhist monks have worked. The monks have retreated, and an eerie normalcy has returned to Rangoon, Burma's principal city and former capital.

That crackdown continues under cover of darkness. When the sun sets in Burma, fear rises. Everyone listens half awake for the dreaded knock on the door. Any night, the military's agents can come for you, take you away, and make sure you are never heard from again.

The above is from Burma's junta benefits from the hypocrisy of the democracies, released today and appearing in world regional papers.

Though the mainstream press has moved on, it is not because the situation is better now in Burma. The article continues:

In recent nights, the junta's henchmen have burst into monasteries, lined up sleepy monks, and smashed their shaved heads against the walls, spattering them with blood. Scores of others, perhaps hundreds, have been carted off for interrogation, torture, or execution. The nighttime assault on a United Nations employee and her family made international news, but hundreds of less well connected Burmese have been similarly abused.

Activists continue to follow the strategy of pressuring China, anxious over the success of its 2008 Olympics, to intervene with the junta. This is certainly a worthwhile strategy, but we need at the same time to be aware of the extent of China's economic entanglement with Burma:

China’s economic ties to Burma’s rulers are strategically important for both sides. Annual bilateral trade, estimated at $1.1 billion – a huge figure, given Burma’s total GDP of $9.6 billion – provides an economic lifeline for the Burmese government. China is also Burma’s largest military supplier.

At the same time, the $2 billion oil pipeline that China is seeking to build from Burma’s southern coast to China’s Yunnan province will allow China to get Middle East oil to its southern provinces more easily and securely. When completed, the pipeline will make China much less susceptible to foreign military pressure in the event of international conflict.

So the stakes in Burma are high for China, as are Chinese fears of about how any future “national reconciliation” government might react to China’s record of complicity with the corrupt military rulers. [The Burma Road Goes Through Beijing, a commentary by Jamie F. Metzl]

The earlier article explains why banning gemstones and timber won't faze the Burmese government:

China balks at interfering in the "internal affairs" of a neighbor from whom it gets precious natural gas and potential access to the sea. India, which "normalized" bilateral relations a few years ago, is reluctant to alienate Burma's military, with which it has worked closely to counter rebels in India's northeast who had been using the common border to tactical advantage. To this end, India has provided aid, including tanks and training, to Burma's military.

But the main reason for India's good relations with Burma's ruling thugs is the country's vast and still largely unexploited energy reserves, which India desperately needs to fuel its economic boom. India has invested $150 million in a gas exploration deal off the Arakan coast of Burma, and India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and Gas Authority of India Ltd. have taken a 30 percent stake in two offshore gas fields in direct competition with PetroChina, which has also been given a stake.

China (and India) are snuggled in bed with the Burmese military strongmen. It will be hard to break them loose. The European Union, which is now facilitating the export of Burmese oil and gas, needs to do the right thing and break with the Burmese. It should then join the rest of the world in pressuring China.

It will be hard to improve the plight of the long-suffering Burmese people until Western nations abandon their hypocrisy, clamp down on the Burmese military's source of income, and pressure China to push for reform.

Much as they might want gold medals for their country's athletes, the medals will be tainted with blood unless Western countries apply meaningful and effective pressure on the murderous Burmese regime.


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