Saturday, November 13, 2010

When will it be so?

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released today.

After years of imprisonment and house arrest, she has finally been freed by the military junta. (At least for now.) A daunting situation faces her and her countrymen, who are still ruled by a repressive dictatorship that canceled the results of the last truly free election in 1990.

It's moments like this when I wish China would be a force for good in the world and do the right thing.

Support Suu Kyi, the elected leader of Burma, with a popular mandate and immense following. Support Suu Kyi, who is moderate and humble, patient and kind, who is willing to do what is good for the people of her nation. Support Suu Kyi, and not the junta, who continue to enrich themselves, while leaving most of society in abject poverty and at risk of malnutrition; who crush dissent with an iron hand; who throw ordinary people in jail over the slightest opposition.

The article talks about the jubilation of crowds all over Burma at Suu Kyi's release, and the warnings Western nations have issued to the dictatorial leaders that foreign governments are paying attention. But one senses the junta will pay little heed to such statements. What leverage do these countries have? The West has been happily ignored for the past several years -- when the crackdown on monks occurred in 2007, when aid was delayed or outright refused in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

It comes down to this: who cares about the West and its admonitions? Whatever the posture of Western governments or the UN, the regime, flush with money from natural gas, can choose to deal with regional neighbors instead.

China, Thailand and India -- three countries who now have the leverage to make a difference. China has been one of the largest sellers of weapons to Burma/Myanmar, and a major investor in oil and gas pipelines, as well as numerous other infrastructure projects. Beijing provides both financial support to the regime and diplomatic cover in the international arena: "Sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty ... Non-interference ... Internal affairs, internal affairs, internal affairs."

That China has been gaining influence in Myanmar is a major reason the other two countries have felt the need to compete for the junta's favor and drop their moral qualms. If China were to choose virtue over indifferent, amoral interest; if it were to care about people and principles; then others would have to follow suit -- no more excuses.*

The world would be a very different place.


*Some might argue that it is up to democratic India and Thailand to take the lead on this issue, and I don't dispute their responsibility. But my point is that structurally, if India and Thailand consign themselves to the role of "concerned outsiders," as they did for a while (and the West continues to do), the situation won't change. China could simply step into that vacuum, while further enabling the military junta.

This is why China makes a difference: it is the primary -- sometimes even exclusive -- counterweight to the West for many of these pariah regimes. If the country took a stand, then given the balance of power in the world today, this could decisively shift outcomes, and change minds for the better.

Influencing governments can still be done in a sensitive way, not in a shrill or combative voice. And surely this sentiment is idealistic -- I know that China is not this way now. But it isn't wrong to dream if it can inform of us of how and why things are in their current state and show ways they could be improved. And so the wish is for China to be, out-and-out, a positive force in the world.

Perhaps it is because I believe too much in China's ethical tradition, and its potential to be relevant in our world. And yes, I am laying on China an additional moral responsibility, asking for a higher standard. (The only other country I have that expectation for is the United States.) But I don't think that's unfair; we can ask of ourselves that which we do not yet expect of others. In fact, we ought to. Leading by moral example is the only way forward.


No comments: