Friday, September 11, 2009

China’s Failed Foreign Policy

The Irrawaddy News

The recent breakdown of a two-decade-old ceasefire between Burma’s military junta and ethnic militias in the country’s north demonstrates the failure of China’s outdated foreign policy, according to Burmese political analysts.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing has aggressively pursued a path of rapid economic development as the surest way to avoid a similar fate. Although it has dramatically expanded its trade ties with the rest of the world, the principle of non-interference in other countries’ political affairs remains the cornerstone of its foreign policy. However, as the situation in Burma attests, this principle may no longer be sufficient to protect China’s national interests.

Beijing certainly enjoys the economic benefits of being the Burmese junta’s best friend. Since 1989, China has been the regime’s most important supplier of military aid, providing jet fighters, armored vehicles and naval vessels, as well as extensive training to Burmese military personnel. In exchange, it has been given access to Burma’s abundant natural resources.

A joint statement on “Future Cooperation in Bilateral Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Federation of Myanmar,” issued in June 2000, indicated the future direction of Sino-Burmese relations, which were to be based on the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” and the consolidation of mutual relations for wider regional stability and development.

Despite Beijing’s willingness to be more direct in persuading Burma to enhance its economic reforms and to push for political reconciliation at home, China still regards Burma’s poor human rights record as an “internal affair.”

At the same time, the United States has continued to denounce the Burmese generals’ human rights records and refusal to honor the 1990 election results. Washington’s harsh criticism, especially during the Bush administration, gave the Burmese generals no other choice but to turn to the Chinese government for support. In 2003, when the US imposed tougher sanctions against the regime under the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act, Beijing was highly critical of the move.

China’s foreign policy is completely divorced from the harsh realties of life under military rule in Burma. Without taking this suffering into consideration, Beijing has used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions designed to push Burma toward genuine political reform. This has allowed the junta to simply move forward with its efforts to orchestrate a political transition from an absolute dictatorship to a faux democracy within the framework of a militarized constitution.

China has continued to back the Burmese regime as part of its policy of extending its influence within the region. However, Burma’s long history of ethnic conflict and political dissent presents serious challenges to Chinese policy, which may not be viable in the long run.

Another problem facing Beijing is that the Burmese regime is deeply distrustful of China. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Burma’s armed forces fought hard against the Burmese Communist Party, which was backed by China’s ruling Communist Party. This experience has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Burmese generals and continues to affect the thinking of the current military leadership.

China’s current dual-track policy of supporting both the junta and the ethnic groups living along the Sino-Burmese border has helped to keep these memories alive. It has also raised the specter of renewed conflict with China. In a 2006 quarterly report, Burma’s ruling military council said that it needed to brace for an invasion from the northeast—obviously referring to China.

According to a reliable source, officials from China’s Yunnan Province have recognized the significance of developments inside Burma and are seeking to minimize the negative impact of Beijing’s policy. However, China can’t change its foreign policy within a few years; it will take decade, said a high-ranking diplomat from Beijing.

However, other China watchers have argued that Beijing is less interested in dealing with the Burmese junta since it purged Gen Khin Nyunt, the former intelligence chief, in 2004. Chinese leaders know that the current rulers in Naypyidaw have little interest in engaging with the outside world, but believe that the generals would not dare to turn their guns against China.

China may also feel that it is paying too high a price for backing Burma politically. Some analysts suggest that Beijing could move away from its long-held position on Burma in international forums to protect its broader geopolitical interests. China realizes that defending Burma may have triggered a more aggressive US policy in the Asia-Pacific region. Beijing is carefully observing the current US administration’s re-engagement in the region to decide whether Burma should be a center of China’s foreign policy.

China is aware that regional countries have supported a new Burma policy by the US government in terms of their constructive engagement and economic interests. China could be isolated by its Burma policy, proving its policy is still inferior to that of the US.

In the post-Cold War era, China should have more pro-active and tangible fairness to the citizens of the region, rather than putting its emphasis on ruthless authoritarian rulers. Beijing’s ignorance may have impacted the understanding of the Burmese generals. All the socialist states in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are willing to yield to the US political engagement while they enjoy China’s limited favor in economic prosperity.

In recent years, Burma has moved to develop strategic and commercial relations with India, with which it shares a long land border and the Bay of Bengal. Increasing trade and military cooperation with India and developing bilateral relations with Japan within Asean shows a shift in Burma’s foreign policy to avoid excessive dependence on China.

Chinese analysts closely observed the Kokang incident in August and questioned whether the Sino-Burmese relationship was really impacted. In line with the 2008 constitution, the regime was attempting to ensure the stability of border areas by neutralizing armed forces that are independently standing outside the framework of the constitution.

“They (the Burmese military) don’t always heed China’s advice. China has so little leverage against them because China, in some sense, depends on them,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Chinese officials were not only extremely upset over the lack of forewarning about the border clash but were also worried about the future political consequences.

China-Burma relations may be at a crossroads. Only demanding ethnic rights and showing concern about the situation at the border cannot reflect China’s foreign policy in terms of its status in the international arena. China should bring the role of Aung San Suu Kyi and a settlement of the general political crisis to the forefront of its Burma policy in order to show China’s role in finding a solution along with the US and the international community.

Nyo Ohn Myint is a chairperson and Moe Zaw Oo is secretary of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) Foreign Affairs Committee.

Burma Newscasts - China’s Failed Foreign Policy
Thursday, September 10, 2009

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Kokang Crisis Disrupts Border Trade

The Irrawaddy News

Rangoon — The conflict in the Kokang area near the Sino-Burmese has disrupted border trade and caused shortages of Chinese goods in markets as far away as Rangoon and Mandalay.

The shortages will lead to price rises, according to local traders.

A shopkeeper who sells popular brands of Chinese-made snacks at Rangoon’s Yuzana Plaza in Rangoon said: “If we don't get fresh supplies by the end of this month, prices will jump.”

Other major Rangoon markets such as Mingala, Nyaung-bin Lay and Thein-gyi also report shortages of Chinese goods. One trader said supplies of food, medicine and electronic equipment had dropped in the past 10 days by one-third.

A Chinese trader in Nyaung-bin Lay market said supplies of Chinese-made formula milk powder, biscuits and dry noodles had run out. Suppliers were reluctant to travel to the Kokang area, he said.

"No one dares to go to the border, because we are still receiving information that the situation in that area is still not good,” said a Mingala market trader. “So, there are no new imports. We are buying supplies from other local traders from Muse and Mandalay. I am sure prices will rise.”

In Mandalay, a trader said 70 percent of the consumer goods in local markets came from China.

"We still have some consumer goods in storage to last the next two or three months,” he said. “But we don't know when we can get fresh supplies. So, we have to sell things very carefully."

The trader also thought prices were bound to rise.

Some traders with long experience of market conditions fear that the Kokang conflict could have long-term effects on the Burmese economy.

One Mandalay trader said the Kokang crisis was being followed with concern by Burmese-born Chinese.

"If the Wa group gets involved in this conflict, it will get much worse,” he said. “My relatives in Lashio live in fear, because Burmese government troops are collecting people at night and forcing them to be army porters. Half the population in Lashio are Kokang and Wa.”

The trader said government forces in Northern Shan State are selectively conscripting only Chinese, Kokang and Wa people as porters to be used in the front line.

Meanwhile, the state-run newspaper Myanma Alin reported on Thursday that the Kokang area is now peaceful and stable. The refugees who fled into neighboring China are returning and 14,253 had so far crossed back into Burma, the newspaper said.

Myanma Alin also reported that the authorities are selling chicken and fish cheaply to residents of Laogai, the Kokang capital. Local stores, shops and market are open for business as usual.

The newspaper said government troops were digging new drains and working on other municipal projects for Laogai.

Burma Newscasts - Kokang Crisis Disrupts Border Trade
Friday, September 11, 2009

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The Junta’s Twin August Offensives

The Irrawaddy News

After more than four decades of rule, the Burmese military government is confronting the two main centers of domestic opposition to its power in a bid to increase security and prolong military rule before the elections next year.

Having effectively kept pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi out of the elections by sentencing her to a further 18 months of house arrest, the military regime’s forces broke the ceasefire with ethnic groups by seizing the Kokang capital of Laogai on August 24.

Since the military regime’s attack, instability has been reverberating through Kachin State, Shan State and the towns along the Sino-Burmese border in China’s Yunnan Province.

Other ceasefire groups in northern and northeastern Burma, such as the United Wa State Army, the Kachin Independence Army and the eastern Shan State-based National Democratic Alliance Army have been building up defenses against a potential attack by regime troops.

“The [Burmese] government would like to assert more authority over the ethnic minorities in the highlands, leading to the problems of the past few days,” said Michael Charney, a Burma expert from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, in an email to the The Irrawaddy. The ceasefire agreements between the ethnic groups and the junta left potentially volatile situations in place, he said.

According to journalists and political observers in Rangoon, the junta is not yet ready to promulgate the election law, though the elections are scheduled to be held in 2010. With only three months remaining this year, time is running out.

If the junta wants to hold elections under the 2008 constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution, it has to demonstrate that there is only one commander-in-chief and that the regime’s army is the only armed force in Burma, observer’s say.

“We can see that by sentencing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on August 11, the military regime made sure there would be no worthy political challenger in the 2010 elections. After removing her from the picture, the generals turned on their other main enemies,” said Chan Tun, a veteran politician from Rangoon.

The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi, and the Wa, Kokang and Mongla ethnic ceasefire groups have called for the constitution to be reviewed before the elections.

In 2005, Wa, Kokang and the Mongla delegates to the National Convention called for full autonomy and separation from Shan State, as well as guarantees that their armed militias would remain under their control.

At the end of the fourteen-year-long national convention process in 2007, however, the junta ignored all their demands when the handpicked Constitution Drafting Committee finalized the constitution.

“After the junta ignored their demands at the national convention, the ethnic groups knew a showdown had to come soon,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former communist who observes Burma military affairs from China’s Yunnan Province.

“But ceasefire groups, particularly the Kokang, failed to prepare properly, which is why Laogai fell to regime troops so easily,” he said.

The junta generals, meanwhile, must be wondering whether the simultaneous offensives against urban political opposition and ethnic ceasefire groups have been wise.

“I wonder why the regime is risking conflict with the ethnic militias now. They may want to get control before the elections—but the junta could destabilize the whole country,” said Mikeal Gravers, a Burma expert from Aarhus University, Denmark.

Charney said the Burmese junta will face many similar problems in the coming year, because the generals want ethnic and political stability in order to hold elections and conclude the domestic problems that are bringing so much international attention.

Burma Newscasts - The Junta’s Twin August Offensives
Friday, September 11, 2009

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Webb to hold congressional hearing on Burma

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - US senator Jim Webb announced on Thursday that he will hold a congressional hearing on the impact and effectiveness of United States policy on Burma, according to a statement released by his office.

“Senator Webb intends a comprehensive hearing to examine Burma’s current economic and political situation and to seek testimony regarding that country’s long history of internal turmoil and ethnic conflicts,” the statement said.

The announcement came after Webb’s two week long visit to five Southeast Asian nations including Burma, where he became the first US official to visit the military-ruled country in a decade.

During his visit, Webb met the Burmese military supremo Sn. Gen Than Shwe, and was allowed a rare meeting with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He also obtained the release of the American, John William Yettaw, who was sentenced to seven years in prison with labour, for intruding into the house of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in early May.

Webb, who is the chair of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, is a strong advocate for lifting US sanctions against the Burmese generals.

During his Southeast Asian trip Webb also told leaders of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam that they and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should join together in calling on the Burmese junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and allow her to fully participate in the 2010 elections.

“The hearing will evaluate the effectiveness of U.S. policy towards Burma, with a focus on U.S.-imposed economic sanctions that have not been matched by other countries, will discuss what role the United States can and should play in promoting democratic reform in Burma, and hear testimony on how to frame a new direction for U.S.-Burma relations,” the statement said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said the US should wrap up its policy review on Burma immediately and urged it to take the initiative to make the US policy of Diplomacy, Sanctions and Humanitarian aid more meaningful.

HRW, in a report, said delays in announcing its policy could encourage the Burmese generals to think that the US is weakening on its commitment to human rights and pluralism.

The HRW, however, said the US should reconsider generalized sanctions as it hurts the common people and phase it out at an appropriate time but carefully implement targeted sanctions on the military generals of Burma.

Burma Newscasts - Webb to hold congressional hearing on Burma

READ MORE---> Webb to hold congressional hearing on Burma...

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