India and China Greedy in Burma; Obama Scolds

Even as President Barack Obama endorsed India's candidacy for the U.N. Security Council, he scolded New Delhi for not being tough on its neighbor, Burma.
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Even as President Barack Obama endorsed India's candidacy for the U.N. Security Council, he scolded New Delhi for not being tough on its neighbor Burma that has just pulled off dodgy elections, which are also the first in nearly two decades.

"Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community, especially leaders like the United States and India, to condemn it," Obama told India's parliament on Monday.

"If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from these issues," he said.

For those who give little credence to the U.S. preaching on human rights -- having supported a fair share dictators and rogue regimes -- there are many activists and analysts that have also echoed similar rebuke.

Nobel laureate in economics, Amartya Sen, for instance, described Indo-China behavior in Burma as "exceptionally crude and valuationally gross."

"When our power to influence the world was zero, we spent our time lecturing the world on morality. And when we get a bit of power, although not as much as China, then we completely abdicated that responsibility," said Sen recently at John Hopkins University.

The lack of influence of the U.N. and Western countries, over the military regime has also escalated the pressure on both of Burma's largest trading partners to use their leverage.

U Pyinya Zawta, leader of the 2007 Saffron Revolution and a refugee monk in New York, said that the U.N. would be more effective if it had the backing of India and China.

"In reality they [the U.N.] are following the path laid out by the military regime," he said. "This is due to the influence of other big players in the region like China and India."

Thaung Htun, who works for the exiled Burmese government in the U.S., suggested that India and China could still nudge its leaders. "They don't really push hard to make the regime to fully cooperate and that is why the regime can ignore the secretary-general," he said.

Burma, located in the middle of India and China, is a trade passage to the Southeast Asian Nations, and both countries are also competing for oil and natural resources. It is estimated that Beijing plans to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure, pipelines, a seaport and oil refineries.

"It would be strategic for oil tanks of Chinese companies to ship oil from Africa to Myanmar, dock in the refineries on the western coast and Burma and ship it by pipelines," said Alberto Turlon, human rights officer of the New York based Burma Fund.

While many assert that the two Asian countries can sway the military regime, another school of thought rules out any outside pressure in countries like Burma, North Korea and Zimbabwe.

North Korea threatened nuclear war, earlier this year, if the U.S. pushed it too far on the matter of torpedoing a South Korean submarine. Myanmar doesn't have the nuclear bomb but it has still managed to ignore U.N. resolutions and survive U.S. sanctions.

One reason for this nonchalance is that the military regime confines its violations inside its own borders, according to Lex Rieffel, a Burma expert at the Brookings Institute, who also pointed out the absence of internal upheaval.

"Myanmar may not be a big or strong country, but the military government has had sufficient resources and enough control over its soldiers to contain all popular uprisings so far," he said.

One day after the elections, clashes have erupted near the border regions of Burma between the army and ethnic groups that have forced thousands of people to flee into Thailand.

While the U.N.'s role's has been timid so far, it is expected to get its act together to put pressure on the new regime. Elaine Pearson, of the Human Rights Watch, suggested that the U.N. should focus on bringing "uniformity" in the international community's dealings with Burma.

"The U.N. needs to very quickly look at appointing someone who can deal with the regime and also deal with important partners like China and India," she said.

The scattered positions are evident in the different responses countries gave to a proposal to set up an international probe into widespread human rights violations. While the U.S. supports such an inquiry, India and China have opposed it and the European Union is unsure.

At the same time, a few observers advise against completely rubbishing the elections, which could lead to some improvement in the daily lives of people and for the marginalized ethnic minorities.

"Some of them, if they dare enough can raise the voice of the people but we'll have to wait and see," said Htun. "I am not too pessimistic about the change... I don't think it will be a dead end."

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