by Julia Carabas
The recent events in Myanmar, also know as Burma, have left many wondering whether this time around the cries of the people will be heard. What started in August as protests against recent increases in the price of fuel turned into violent interventions by the government, a militaristic force that has portrayed its secretive and repressive regime many time before. This time, however, things seem to be getting worse and the people of Burma are losing faith. With monks being attacked on the streets, reportedly killed, and currently under lockdown in their monasteries, the so called “crackdowns” of the junta, officially named the State Peace and Development Council (how ironic), have made even the most stern protesters disperse at the sight of soldiers arriving. It is quite heartbreaking to see that people who have been fighting in this pro-democracy movement for years are losing hope and asking (again, like many times before) for outside intervention.
The outside intervention is, once more, taking its time. It is true that the international community seems to be more concerned this time around about what’s happening in Burma, but when worries and promises don’t turn into action, the cries for help seem to be in vain. Responses of the Indian and Chinese governments, which are not only closest to the region, but also very involved with the country’s economy, have been vague and low-key, perhaps the biggest disappointment. As the rest of the world seems to assume a much stronger position against the violent attacks of the Burmese government on protesters, China and India remain behind. Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian Foreign Minister, has recently stated that the government wishes and hopes that conflicts will be resolved peacefully, by means of communication, and that no additional intervention would be necessary. Along with China’s long-lasting strategy of preventing any possible pressure put on Myanmar’s leaders, human rights activists and many others who want democracy applied more thoroughly in the region have been, to say the least, displeased. If it is possible to assume leadership, especially considering the influence of both China and India in South Asia, one cannot help but ask why isn’t anyone doing anything that goes further than words?
The question is anything but simple. It is not only about the all-too-obvious strategic interests that China and India are keeping in mind; at this point, one has to take into consideration that the faceless Burmese leaders are gaining more and more power, and with that power comes the increased inability of any outsiders to intervene. Recent efforts of the United Nations to send Ibrahim Gambari as a special envoy to Myanmar have barely succeeded, and even with the UN representative there in an attempt to ask for actual change from the government, soldiers were reportedly taking over Yangon (formerly Rangoon, the country’s capital) and few people were seen in the streets. With so much oppression and brutal attacks going on in the region, the UN representative may have little luck without being openly backed up by the two forces that have the most influence in the region – China and India.
A recent New York Times report titled “China Braces for Prospect of Changes in Myanmar” mentions that China has finally made public calls for peace and stability in the region. It seems like the Chinese government is showing signs of opposition towards Myanmar’s militaristic leaders, but appearance is highly deceiving. Many critics argue that, yes, China would happily embrace a democratic government in Myanmar, but that is not what it wishes at this point. There are too many ties between the countries, and it appears that China would rather have the junta uphold stability than support a turnaround which would probably affect those ties. Myanmar is one of China’s leading raw materials suppliers, and the detail is made a bit too obvious by the government. The same phenomenon is happening in India. Ever since the mid 1990’s, when the Indian pro-democracy support in Burma stopped, the government has slowly developed stronger ties with the junta, one of the reasons being a desire from the part of India to offset China’s influence in the region. It seems deeply wrong for the rest of the world, but the strong desire of these emerging countries to gain influence in South Asia and counter each other’s actions have done nothing to alleviate the suffering in Myanmar. Despite the many connections between the people of the three countries, and also because of them, both China and India seem to prefer not to intervene.
Nonetheless, neither country can be openly accused. They are, after all, protecting national interests, and even if there is a contradiction of methods, the crisis in Burma cannot be blamed on anyone else but the country’s government. Yes, there should be much more involvement from the international community, and those close to the region should, perhaps, take leadership and react to the violence. The recent criticism and the lasting efforts of human rights activists appear to finally persuade even countries like China to react more sternly towards the Burmese leaders. But when faced with a force that seems to have no conscience and no sympathy for its own citizens, and tries by all means to sustain itself against the pro-democracy movement, what methods are to be used by those who truly want change?