[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
The BurmaNet News, October 4, 1997
- Subject: The BurmaNet News, October 4, 1997
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sat, 04 Oct 1997 00:17:00
------------------------ BurmaNet ------------------------
"Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"
The BurmaNet News: October 4, 1997
BKK POST: REGULATIONS MAY GROUND PROPOSED AIRLINE
MON NATIONAL RELIEF: SLORC'S OFFENSIVE AND PERSECUTION
ASIAN SURVEY: BURMA-CHINA RELATIONS -- PLAYING WITH FIRE
THE NATION: PTT TACKLES YADANA CLAIMS
THE NATION: A HELPING OF POLITICS AND NOODLES
BKK POST: REGULATIONS MAY GROUND PROPOSED REGIONAL AIRLINE
October 3, 1997
A proposed airline to serve Thailand, Burma and South Asia may not get off
the ground because of rigid national and international regulations,
according to an aviation expert.
Joseph Chesen, an air transport planning consultant at the International
Civil Aviation Organisation, raised his concerns with Kobsak Chutikul, the
Foreign Ministry's director-general of economic affairs, on Wednesday.
Mr Chesen had spent the previous month in Rangoon, New Delhi, Colombo, Dhaka
and Bangkok discussing the possibility of setting up the sub-regional
airline with various agencies.
Thailand initiated the project in June under the Bist-ec
(Bangladesh-India-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation) scheme.
According to Mr Kobsak, the ICAO expert said national airlines customarily
negotiate air rights Among themselves, and no country allows foreign
airlines to use its domestic routes.
If the special regional airline was set up, sponsoring countries should
allow it to carry domestic passengers in order to make a profit, Mr Chesen said.
Mr Chesen was concerned that infrastructure and facilities may be
inadequate, visa procedures too stringent and involved agencies fearful that
the Bist-ec airline would compete with and violate the rights of national
For security reasons, Burma, he noted, will not automatically grant visitors
visas on arrival. The airline would be obliged to fly visitors without visas
on to an alternate destination.
The proposed airline would be 50 percent privately-owned, with the balance
equally shared by the five nations.
Destinations would be selected on the basis of cultural and religious
attractions and viable tourism and economy. Prospects include Phuket,
Mandalay, Sri Lanka's capital Colombo, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Madras
and Calcutta in India.
Mr Kobsak agreed with Mr Chesen that it would be impossible for the airline
to survive unless it could also stop in other capitals to pick up more
passengers for regular flights to "non-commercial" cities.
Mr Chesen suggested the five countries' governments negotiate aviation
rights multilaterally and conduct further feasibility studies on routes and
passenger and cargo capacity.
Mr Kobsak said if international bidding proceeds, investors may be required
to help develop airports, hotels and taxi and bus services.
He said no private Thai airline company has thus far shown interest in
investing in the sub-regional line.
Mr Chesen is expected to complete his report by the end of this month ready
for a Bist-ec ministerial meeting in Bangkok in December.
MON NATIONAL RELIEF COMMITTEE: SLORC'S OFFENSIVE AND
Monthly Report of the Mon National Relief Committee August 1997
Since February, 1997, SLORC has launched a full-scale offensive against the
KNU, an armed opposition representing the Karen people. This military
offensive has forced many thousands of local villagers to flee their homes
and take refuge in the Thai/Burma border regions on both the Thai and
Burmese sides of the border. These victims of war have not received
international protection and assistance.
In March and April, SLORC reinforced its troops and logistics forces in
order to better pursue the KNU and to pressure them to enter cease-fire
talks or to surrender. The reinforced troops have tried to occupy all areas
where the KNU, and its military faction the KNLA, had been in control for
decades. More recently the offensive against the KNU/KNLA has intensified in
Kya In Seik Kyi township and such Three Pagoda Pass areas as Taung Zon,
Taung Dee, Khun Khan, Khae Wee, Shwe Lay Inn, Ta Wae Pauk and Ma Au.
The KNLA has been losing control of many areas and the villagers are left
behind with a helpless situation.
Once SLORC takes control, the Karen villagers are severely mistreated. They
are accused of having been rebel supporters whenever there has been fighting
around their villages. The males and younger villagers are arrested and
severely mistreated in an attempt to force them to reveal the whereabouts of
KNLA troops. A number of them have been killed by the Burmese troops.
A common tactic of SLORC forces is to seize control of all the food supplies in
a village. This has the effect of making the villagers dependent on the
for their supplies and offers the soldiers an opportunity to get food without
work. Also the SLORC forces almost always build an encampment in the
villages they have occupied. This allows them to keep a permanent offensive
In building the encampments, the soldiers rely primarily on forced labor. The
villagers farming activities and general movement are restricted. If unexcused
movement does take place the villagers are accused of contacting the KNLA .
Additionally the villagers are used by SLORC as porters in military operations.
The villagers from surrounding areas are forced by the soldiers to move into
areas where they have there encampments. Even in the rainy season the
fighting is on-going and the forced conscription of portering labor is
On July 28th, Burmese troops from the Three Pagoda Pass arrested about ten
Karen villagers from Taung Zon area and went back to Kya Inn Seik Kyi
following the Za Meet river. Because of the extreme flooding and dangerous
conditions, two boats with about 10 Burmese soldiers and some porters were
destroyed and nine Burmese soldiers with equipment drowned. When the rest
of the troops reached Kya Inn Seik Kyi they reported the incident to higher
authorities. As a result, a group of SLORC troops was sent to get the equipment
back from under the water. To accomplish this, they demanded 5 villagers from
each of the nearby villages. They would be used as human shields to discourage
attack while enroute and to help with the salvage operation once the river was
reached. Those village that could not provide individuals required to provide
payment of about 2000 Kyat per head.
As the operation got underway, it was attacked by KNLA troops in the area.
The villagers were accused of being rebel army supporters and some of them
were beaten severely. Once the river was reached, the villagers were forced
into the water to recover the arms. When they were unable to do so, they
were beaten by the soldiers.
Because of the restricted movement, the villagers are not able to carry out
normal farming activities. This leads to food shortages. In order for the
villagers try to get food and a safe place to live they are forced to
homes along with their farms, livestock, homes and other belongings. When
they flee it is very dangerous for them, particularly if they travel along the
Three Pagoda Pass area where SLORC is deploying a lot of forces. Some of the
villagers have been arrested by the soldiers and tortured by them.
Article 14 of the U. N. Declaration of Human Rights states that if you are
harmed, you have a right to go to another country and to ask it to protect you.
Unfortunately, when the refugees leave Burma to avoid being harmed as above,
they are not always given safe haven In Thailand. When they reach the border
areas, they are not readily accepted into the Thai refugee camps. The Thai
policy is that unless they hear fighting, the refugees will be refused. The
of the refugees that they are being badly mistreated by SLORC are, for the most
The refugees can stay in camps alongside the border on the Burmese side, but
they naturally feel that these camps are not safe. In the face of this lack of
viable options, some of the Karen have decided to stay in some Mon villages.
Compared with the Karen villages, the Mon areas are more stable and provide
a refuge to the recent arrivals. Many refugees flee further into Thailand in
search of income and do not settle in the Mon villages because they feel
long as they are in Burma, they are not safe.
The population movement from Burma into Thailand will continue until
conditions in Burma improve. The efforts of the government thus far have
done little to force the KNU/KNLA to surrender, but it has had the effect of
forcing thousands of local inhabitants to abandon their homes and harmonious
life. Ironically, those fleeing into the border region receive relatively
little protection and assistance from the international community.
Displaced Persons and Immigrants in the Border Region
The Thai government has said that the refugees entering Thailand are doing
so because of economic hardship in Burma. While it is true that economic
hardship does exist in Burma, that is not why the bulk of refugees are
fleeing. Economic hardship has been a reality in Burma for many years, yet
it was not until the abusive government illegally took over that the refugee
problem began to grow to the magnitude that it is today.
Well over 30,000 local villagers were detained by Burmese troops to be used
as forced laborers (porters) during the major offensive against the KNU.
Ransom was demanded from those families or villages that were unable to
provide workers. Forced labor is also used to build military encampments and
in the construction of the military railway and motorways.
These are the conditions that force the refugees to leave their homes and
flee to Thailand. In the Southern part of Burma the military is constructing
many railways and motorways . Local inhabitants have been forced to provide
labor for virtually all of these activities. While individuals are forced
into labor, they are not able to provide the farming end other economic
activities that are needed to provide for their families.
Additionally there is the practice of the Burmese of accusing villagers of
being rebel sympathizers. In the free-fire zones (black areas) the SLORC
forces have absolute power to kill or arrest anyone designated as a 'rebel
soldier' or 'rebel supporter'. Also they are directed to burn down any
village which is accused of being used as a rebel base. The fear that this
gives the local villagers is understandable. Naturally it results in large
numbers of refugees and a resultant influx into Thailand.
Using civilians as forced laborers and requiring them to accompany
combatants into battle violates all precepts of human rights. The population
inside Burma, especially the non-Burmese ethnic groups, fear, quite
literally, for their lives. Thus, they enter Thailand. When they are
rejected by Thai authorities at the border, they really have no option but
to continue deeper into Thailand seeking safety. They are then subject to
prosecution by Thai authorities for illegal immigration. They are also
ruthlessly exploited as laborers under threat of exposure. A number of
illegal Mon have been seriously injured at construction sites in job-related
accidents. They will not seek medical care for they have no money. The
construction company managers do nothing for them because they are illegal.
Even then only the single and young can easily enter Thailand for jobs on
construction sites, fishing industries and the like. People who flee with
their families have difficulties fleeing deep inside of Thailand and are
left to deal with the border authorities of both Thailand and Burma. Thus of
all the displaced persons, only a fraction are actually in refugee camps and
therefore safe from persecution from SLORC and prosecution from Thai
authorities for illegal immigration. These arrests result in twice weekly
deportation from the Kanchanaburi immigrant prison to the Halockhani Mon
Those who stay in the border are wholly reliant on Thai provided work. They
are working on plantations, furniture factories, border trading and
reforestation programs. The local Thai police regularly launch operations to
arrest these people and deport them into Burma. For example, the local
police departments of Sangkhlaburi and Thong Phar Phoom districts launched
an operation to arrest the immigrants.
While they face exploitation and arrest in Thailand, the refugees clearly
feel that they are better off risking that than they are in Burma, because
they continually flee again into Thailand. The consistent refusal of the
Thai authorities to provide safe haven and their ongoing reluctance to allow
international protection for Burmese refugees has escalated the numbers of
Burma's entry as a full member of ASEAN has not affected this situation at
all. Where does this leave the policy of so-called 'constructive
engagement'? Moreover, Amnesty International and Asia Watch and the Thai
newspapers regularly report that Thai authorities engage in the forced
repatriation of Mon and Karen refugees even into combat zones.
In view of this Thailand's membership on the Standing Committee of the
United Nations' High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) can only be
considered ironic by a Burmese facing terror on one side of the border and
arrest and indifference on the other.
Thailand has consistently refused to sign the convention on refugees or the
subsequently issued protocol on refugees. This refusal comes despite
numerous requests by the UNHCR to do so. One might reasonably ask what
they are doing on that committee if they haven't even signed its governing
documents. They should either sign the documents or leave the committee.
ASIAN SURVEY: BURMA-CHINA RELATIONS -- PLAYING WITH FIRE
Donald M. Seekins
A Monthly Review of Contemporary Asian Affairs
University of California Press
Vol XXXVII No 6, June 1997
The most significant qualitative policy change since 1988, and one that has
worried leaders in capitals throughout Asia, is Burma's move away from
nonalignment. By the mid-199Os, Rangoon's most important foreign relations
were with Beijing. In terms of economic and military as well as moral
support, Beijing provided SLORC with the means for regime survival. The
junta needed economic and military assistance from China in the late 1980s
and early 1990s when it was isolated and cash-hungry, but it has also played
the "China card" to prod other Asian nations?members of the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, and India?to pursue "constructive
engagement" by expanding trade and investment in Burma. Apart from the
profit motive, neighboring states' economic involvement in the country and
their desire to maintain friendly relations with SLORC constitute an attempt
to wean the junta away from dependence on Beijing. So far, SLORC's China
card strategy has worked fairly successfully. but close Rangoon-Beijing ties
could jeopardize Burma's security and independence in a changing
The Chinese Economic Presence in Upper Burma
Available data suggest that in the mid-1990s China was not the country with
the largest economic presence in Burma. According to the Economist
Intelligence Unit, Japan was the single largest national source of imports,
28.6% in 1992-93, while Southeast Asian nations, principally Thailand and
Singapore, provided 32.1% and China 17.6% in the same period. The most
important markets for Burmese exports were Singapore, Thailand, and India,
and China absorbed only 9.3% of exports. But these figures?obtained
principally from official Burmese sources?may understate the Chinese
presence in the national economy. A Thai source reported in 1995 that
Sino-Burmese two-way trade in 1994-95 amounted to US$1.2 billion, or 60%
of Burma's total traded China's share of total foreign investment is
significantly smaller than that of the ASEAN states, Japan, and Western
countries such as France and the United States, although Chinese investment
figures may also be underestimations.'
The Chinese economic presence is concentrated in the central and northern
part of the country?Upper Burma?and in the frontier region along the
Burma-China border adjoining Yunnan Province. Burmese or Overseas
Chinese entrepreneurs export low value-added natural resources to China in
exchange for Chinese manufactured goods. Because of the relative cheapness of
Chinese goods, any Burmese industry that managed to survive the years of Ne
Win's Stalinist-style socialism cannot compete with its Chinese counterparts.
Available statistics reveal the unbalanced nature of this trade. In the
1993-94 period, for example, China's major exports to Burma were beverages,
tobacco, textiles, garments, machinery, vehicles, and transport equipment.
The most important legal Burmese exports to China were food, wood, lumber,
pearls, and precious stones. Although Chinese machinery, vehicles, and
transport equipment can be utilized to upgrade Burma's industry and
infrastructure, most Chinese products, such as the large volume of beverage
and tobacco imports, were directed toward "passive" consumer markets in a
manner reminiscent of relations between a European metropole and an Asian
colony during the early 20th century.
Yunnan Province, with a population of 38 million people, has a comparatively
well-developed industrial sector because Chinese industry was geographically
decentralized during the Mao Zedong era to protect it from American or
Soviet aggression. According to the Far Eastern Economic Review, trade
between China's southwestern province and Upper Burma increased from about
US$15 million to US$800 million annually from the mid 1980s to the
mid-199Os. Beijing has given the towns of Wanding and Ruili on the
Burma-China border special open city status, and an area adjacent to Ruili
has also been designated a "special economic development zone" similar to
Shenzhen. The area has a Gold Rush atmosphere, with tall buildings, luxury
hotels, and shopping centers competing with discos, karaoke bars, and red
light districts for the tourist's attention. It is difficult to believe that
these areas have developed in what was a few years ago one of the most
remote and landlocked regions of Asia. On the Burmese side of the border,
the Chinese have given aid to rehabilitate the famous "Burma Road," which
supplied Chungking, the Kuomintang's wartime capital, before the 1942
Japanese occupation. A new Chinese-built bridge now spans the Shweli River,
which separates the two countries. According to May 1997 reports, China and
SLORC intend during the latter half of the year to sign an agreement to
develop a transport corridor from Kunming, Yunnan's capital, to Rangoon by
way of a road to Bhamo in northern Burma and the Irrawaddy River. The
Kunming-Rangoon route is only 1,300 kms long compared to the 5,800
kilometers between Kunming and Shanghai and would connect China's interior
to the Indian Ocean.
Chinese economic influence spreads south to Mandalay, Burma's second largest
city, which has enjoyed a real estate boom due to Chinese land purchases and
development. The commercial center of the old royal city has become a high-
priced "Chinatown" while local Burmese, too poor to afford rising property
prices, have been forced to move to the city's outskirts. According to one
observer, as many as 23,000 Chinese nationals settled in Mandalay in 1992,
and an additional 27,000 in 1993. Local resentment of immigrant Chinese is
potentially a serious problem, and it could lead to a replay of the
anti-Chinese riots of 1967. Given the generally suspicious and xenophobic
attitude of Burma's military leaders since 1962, it is surprising that SLORC
has looked the other way while thousands of Chinese buy Burmese identity
cards and enter the country possessing the same rights as Burmese nationals.
It has become a common occurrence that when a Burmese in the northern part
of the country dies, his or her demise is not reported to the authorities.
Instead, his/her identity card is sold to a go-between who then sells it to
a Chinese wishing to settle in Burma. Among other things, these "new"
Burmese are entitled to hold Burmese passports.
Authorities in Yunnan Province, with the encouragement of the Asian
Development Bank, have promoted the idea of a "Golden Quadrangle"
encompassing Yunnan, Upper Burma, northern Thailand, and Laos.
Development of this region, which is connected by the upper reaches of the
Mekong River, would energize local commerce and industry and could also,
through utilization of the transport corridor discussed above, link the
China to the Indian Ocean by way of Burmese ports. Given Burma's
undeveloped industry, emergence of the "Golden Quadrangle" might tighten
Chinese economic control over the country and harden the already dependent
economic relationship between Burma as an exporter of raw materials and
China as a provider of manufactured goods. On a state-to-state level, China has
supplied Burma with foreign aid for major infrastructure projects such as a
bridge connecting Rangoon to outlying districts and a new international
airport to be built near Pegu, 80 kms northeast of Rangoon. The aid freeze
by the West and Japan after 1988 gave China the opportunity to assume the
role of Burma's largest donor of official development assistance.
The Rangoon and Beijing regimes are pragmatic rather than ideological in
nature, and thus it might be more accurate to say that they share a common
worldview rather than similar ideologies. This worldview is a reflection of
a history of colonial or semi-colonial domination by the Western powers and
Japan. Since the establishment of the PRC, the Chinese leadership has been
united in its belief that the country's economic and technological
backwardness is due to a history of foreign exploitation. This was expressed
succinctly by Mao Zedong in September 1949: 'The Chinese have always been a
great, courageous and industrious nation. It is only in modern times that
they have fallen behind. And that was due entirely to oppression and
exploitation by foreign imperialism and domestic reactionary governments.''12
Burmese leaders have viewed the period of British colonial domination. from
the 19th century as the source of most of the country's contemporary
problems, ranging from poverty and underdevelopment to ethnic conflict. The
SLORC worldview, as expressed in the state-run newspaper, New Light of
Myanmar, and in publications such as The Conspiracy of Treasonous Minions
within the Myanmar Naing-ngan and Traitorous Cohorts Abroad, published in
1989 by the Ministry of Information, not only emphasizes the negative
aspects of British colonialism but constructs an international environment
full of foreign (chiefly Western) enemies yearning to re-enslave the Burmese
nation. Chief among "treasonous minions" is pro-democracy leader Daw Aung
San Suu Kyi, whose marriage to a British citizen and long residence abroad
are cited as evidence of her use by evil-minded foreigners to sunder the
The Beijing leadership and SLORC have made the defense of national
sovereignty and independence the foundation of their foreign policies. The
urgency of these priorities has promoted a siege mentality that combines
autocratic rule at home with extreme defensiveness abroad. In the 1950s
China's premier, Zhou Enlai, promoted the Five Principles of Peaceful
Coexistence as the basis for unity among the nonaligned or, as they were
later known, the Third World nations. Both Beijing and Rangoon have invoked
these principles?especially mutual respect of sovereignty and territorial
integrity and non-interference in internal affairs?in reacting to Western
countries' criticism of their policies, especially in the area of human
rights. Recent PLA publications emphasize that the threat to national
sovereignty must be understood as one aspect of the military threat posed to
China by foreign states.
In terms of both actions and words, SLORC and Beijing have reacted almost
identically to domestic opposition. SLORC's violent seizure of power in
September 1988 was matched less than a year later by the Tiananmen Incident
of June 1989 when the PLA killed over a thousand prodemocracy
demonstrators in the heart of Beijing. There is some speculation as to whether
China's leaders learned anything from the Burmese experience. According to
one observer, the "lesson" of September 18, 1988, might have been to strike
quickly and decisively before opposition forces have time to consolidated
Leaders in both countries found themselves in the unenviable position of
being global pariahs, with visible economic consequences in the form of
sanctions or threatened sanctions. They have attempted to fend off
international criticism by arguing the inappropriateness of Western-style
concepts of human rights and democracy to the Asian context.
Both regimes place a higher estimation on economic than political
development, believing prosperity can be achieved without the establishment
of an open, civil society of the kind found in Western and some Asian
countries. However, in both the Burmese and Chinese cases the claim that
"economics comes first" should be examined skeptically. As mentioned above,
the open economic policy in Burma after 1988 must be understood primarily in
power political terms?a device for generating revenues for the military and
building a stronger state. When Deng Xiaoping initiated liberalization
reforms in China in the late 1970s, he had similar motives. Elites in both
Burma and China have not viewed capitalism as either the right of
individuals to enrich themselves in a free market, or as the means of
creating a freer, more open, or even more affluent society. Rather, free
market activity has been tolerated as long as it contributes to the strength
and stability of the state.
Given a shared worldview, it is not surprising that there has been a great
deal of person-to-person diplomacy at the top levels. In October 1989
SLORC's First Secretary Khin Nyunt visited Beijing accompanied by General
Than Shwe and 24 other officials and in August 1991 the incumbent SLORC
chairman, Senior General Saw Maung, made an official visit to Beijing with
an entourage of 53 officials at the invitation of President Yang Shangkun,
who coincidentally had been one of the leaders who ordered the Tiananmen
Massacre. The five-day visit, the first made by Saw Maung to a foreign
country, conferred an aura of legitimacy on SLORC, which had extremely low
international prestige. Prime Minister Li Peng reciprocated by visiting
Rangoon in December 1994 with a 79-person entourage at the invitation of
Senior General Than Shwe who had succeeded Saw Maung as SLORC
chairman in 1992. Khin Nyunt, a major force behind SLORC's alignment with
China, made another visit to Beijing in September 1994, and in January 1996
Than Shwe made his first visit to China accompanied by some of the more
visible leaders of the martial law regime: Khin Nyunt, Foreign Minister U Ohn
Gyaw, and Economic Planning Minister David O. Abel. There is evidence,
however, that not all members of the tatmadaw were happy with the policies of
the "king who makes deals with the Chinese." In 1992 military intelligence
agents uncovered an assassination plot against Khin Nyunt among army
officers who believed he had sold his nation's independence to Beijing. 15
The Military Dimension and Reactions of Asian Countries
During the Ne Win era, the tatmadaw fought insurgents, including the BCP,
with relatively unsophisticated weapons, some of which were of World War
Two vintage. Aside from controlling restless urban populations, the armed
forces' mission was a simple one: to contain and if possible eliminate
guerrillas in the border areas. There was little if any concern with
improving military technology or projecting Burma's military strength beyond
its own borders. Neutralism and nonalignment in foreign policy meant not
only that Burma avoided security alliances with foreign states but that
security cooperation in any form, including technology transfer, was
minimized. Outside of a joint venture with a state-owned West German firm to
manufacture small arms and the receipt of helicopters and other aircraft for
use in narcotics eradication from the United States government, foreign
countries provided Burma with little military support. This situation
changed drastically after 1988. China has become the major source of
weapons, military training, and infrastructural support for the tatmadaw.
Burma's neighbors, who have grown increasingly concerned about the Chinese
presence, have reason to consider it?along with China's assertion of
sovereignty over the Spratly Islands that has brought it into conflict with
five other Asian nations?an expression of China's aspiration to Great Power
China's military presence in Burma has manifested itself in three ways:
first, the sale by Beijing of approximately US$1.4 billion worth of
relatively advanced weaponry to SLORC; second, Chinese assistance in the
construction of military facilities that could pave the way for a
significant Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean; and third, Chinese
pressure on ethnic minority insurgents in the China-Burma border area to
make peace with SLORC. In addition, high ranking Burmese and Chinese
officers have visited each others' countries to strengthen personal ties
between the tatmadaw and the PLA. For example, in June 1994 the commander
of China's Chengdu Military Region, General Li Jiulong, visited Burma to
promote military cooperation.
Following the October 1989 visit of Generals Khin Nyunt and Than Shwe to
Beijing, SLORC purchased as much as US$1 billion worth of weapons from
China, the largest arms deal in Burma's history. These weapons included
fighter aircraft, patrol boats, tanks, armored personnel carriers, missiles,
anti-aircraft guns and trucks. 16 The purchases were financed with low
interest loans and barter trade (natural resources for weapons). In the
early and mid-199Os, many of these weapons were conveyed over the
refurbished Burma Road. Many foreign observers believe that Chinese plans to
improve the road system of Upper Burma reflect security as well as
commercial concerns, that is, the desire to provide quick access for
supplies and men from landlocked Yunnan to the Indian Ocean." China also
constructed a small arms factory?manufacturing rifles, machine guns, and
ammunition?near Magwe in central Burma in 1993, and the following
November, SLORC concluded a second arms sale agreement with Beijing,
amounting approximately to US$400 million, that included the acquisition of
helicopters, armored vehicles, and additional missiles and patrol boats. 18
Chinese activities along the Burmese coast fronting the Andaman Sea and the
Bay of Bengal were a focus of great speculation in the mid-199Os. A Western
intelligence satellite in 1992 detected a 50-meter radar antenna on the Coco
Islands (Burmese territory) located just north of the Andaman Islands
(Indian territory). It is believed that Chinese technicians supervised its
construction. There is also evidence that the Chinese have assisted in
upgrading old Burmese naval installations at Sittwe (Akyab) in Rakhine
(Arakan) State and on Hainggyi Island in the estuary of the Irrawaddy River
near Bassein. Some sources believe that Beijing wishes to obtain access to
Ramree Island in Rakhine State and Zadetkyi Island off Tenasserim Division,
which is close to the Thai port town of Ranong.
Information on Sino-Burmese military cooperation in the Indian Ocean is
scanty, unreliable, and biased by those sources who have a stake in
defending the budgetary turf of the Indian armed forces. Scary images of
Chinese submarines gliding into bases along the Andaman Sea will not become
reality soon, given Beijing's continued lack of a modern, blue-water fleet.
Any Chinese military presence along Burma's coast, however, has wide-
ranging repercussions. First, the establishment or expansion of Sino-Burmese
installations in the Indian Ocean would constitute a direct challenge to
non negotiable claim to supremacy in this region. Second, the installations,
especially Zadetkyi Island in the south, are close to Indonesia (the
western tip of Sumatra and outlying islands such as Pulau Sabang), which has
long been suspicious of Chinese regional ambitions. Southeast Asian
countries, especially Indonesia, Vietnam, and to a lesser extent, Thailand
have grown receptive to the idea of strengthening economic and security ties
with India as a counterbalance to China. Third, these installations have the
potential of threatening free passage through the Strait of Malacca, the
principal sea link between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. The
industrialized East Asian countries?Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan?depend
upon the strait as a conduit for imports of oil and natural gas from the
Middle East. At the very least, the Chinese presence at the eastern end of
the Indian Ocean littoral, however modest it might be in the late 1990s,
adds an unwanted element of unpredictability to the natural resource
strategies of these resource-poor countries.
Chinese authorities have also been active in assisting SLORC to make
ceasefire agreements with border insurgents, especially the Kachin
Independence Organization, which had been one of the best-organized and
motivated rebel movements. Rebels who make peace with Rangoon have been
allowed to keep their arms and profit from the increasingly active trade
across the Burma-China border. This includes trade in opium and heroin,
which has expanded greatly since SLORC came to power. In the words of one
journalist, "the Burmese junta is grateful to China for enabling it to get a
better grip on its minorities." Because the Chinese presence in Burma and
potential presence in the Indian Ocean is a relatively new development, few
governments have formulated consistent and clearly articulated responses to
this new factor in regional security. The members of ASEAN have followed the
policy of "constructive engagement," which gives these countries some leverage
with SLORC in order to counterbalance Chinese influence. But relations
between Burma and its most important ASEAN neighbor, Thailand, were
troubled because of refugee problems and repeated tatmadaw-instigated border
incidents. There is evidence that some hardline elements within SLORC,
perhaps playing the "China card," no longer felt dependent on the support of
their eastern neighbor which has long been Burma's historical enemy but which
after 1988 became its fair weather friend. Japan's policy of "quiet
essentially constructive engagement, but sensitively tuned to the reactions
of Tokyo's allies in the West. Unlike Western countries, Japan has insisted
that its lines of communication remain open to SLORC and that a Japanese
economic presence?in the form of very limited foreign aid and private
investment?is needed to prevent Burma's isolation. Given the importance of
Tokyo-Beijing ties, Japanese diplomats are reluctant to suggest that SLORC's
playing the "China card" constitutes a threat to regional security. However,
Burma could become a problem for Japan-China relations in the future, given
Burma's closeness to trade routes vital to Japan.
India's response to the Chinese presence in Burma has been complex. In the
wake of the 1988 political crisis and SLORC's crackdown on pro-democracy
demonstrators, India was the only Asian country to express, through official
channels, criticism of SLORC and sympathy for the democracy movement. The
state-owned All-India Radio (AIR) broadcast strong criticism of the new
regime in its Burmese language programs, and the Indian government
welcomed Burmese student refugees with far greater hospitality than did
Thailand. By the mid-199Os, however, New Delhi initiated a more conciliatory
policy toward its eastern neighbor. In part, this was because it wanted SLORC's
cooperation in the suppression of ethnic rebels and the cross-border heroin
trade. But like Southeast Asian countries and Japan, New Delhi also feared
Beijing's growing influence over Burma and attempted a carrot rather than
stick method of enticing Rangoon away from Beijing. Burmese-language
programs with political content were no longer broadcast by AIR, high
officials from both countries met on a more frequent basis, and cross border
trade increased significantly.
Conclusion: Playing with Fire
SLORC's close relationship with the PRC has brought it dividends in the form
of trade and investment, arms, and moral support from a like-minded regime.
The "China card" has also encouraged greater economic involvement by other
Asian states wary of Beijing's regional ambitions. But the Asia-Pacific
region is entering a period of unpredictable changes. The reduction of U.S.
military forces seems inevitable, even if postponed by problems such as
North Korea and Asian misgivings about Japanese rearmament. New
powers?China, Japan, and India?are emerging to fill the vacuum. In this
context, the benefits of close ties to China may prove short term because
they may undermine Burma's independence and drag it into conflicts between
SLORC enjoys minimal support within its own borders and must turn to
foreign sources to obtain the means of enforcing law and order and to
compensate its major constituency, the tatmadaw. China has played a leading
role in providing that support. The junta has few dependable backers outside of
the armed forces and a small circle of relatives and well-placed
entrepreneurs who benefit directly from its largesse.
Because of lack of genuine popular support, SLORC faces a serious dilemma.
If it permits democratic reforms, conceding space to Daw Suu Kyi, the ethnic
minorities, and other oppositionists within the political system, the
immediate result is likely to be a decrease in the junta's control over the
system and the (remote) possibility of its being forced from power.
Democratization, however, would give SLORC more options internationally,
since not only China and ASEAN but Japan and the Western nations would be
willing to give it bilateral and multilateral economic assistance. The
alternative is continuation or intensification of the hard-line approach
that might preserve SLORC's monopoly of political power (barring the
unlikely event of a coup d'etat by rebel military officers) but would reduce
its foreign policy choices as the West and most likely Japan continue to
exercise sanctions or economic self-restraint.
In the long run, the hardline approach is the more risky of the two. While
SLORC is trying to achieve a balance in its relations with Beijing and the
ASEAN states, hardline policies are likely to result in increased conflict
and instability with negative consequences for economic growth. ASEAN
companies may find Burma less attractive than at present except for projects
involving extraction of natural resources such as gas and hydroelectric
power. This may be true even when Burma becomes an ASEAN member.
In fact, Burma's best options would either be a continuation of the strictest
neutrality or joining with ASEAN to balance both Chinese and Indian power in
the region. Solidarity with ASEAN, however, could work to Burma's benefit
only if the association were a union of equal and independent states that would
recognize Burma's special development needs and refrained from the economic
hegemonism that seems inherent in "constructive engagement."
Burma's predicament is complicated by the fact that China's options, like
SLORC's, are limited. By committing itself to the junta in the form of arms
sales and moral support after 1988, it has a large stake that probably would
be lost if a new, democratic regime assumed power. A government headed by
Daw Suu Kyi, even if it were nonaligned in the fashion of U Nu, would
certainly remain deeply suspicious of China. China's greatest fear, of being
encircled by unfriendly or potentially antagonistic states, could be played
out in the case of Burma as a post-SLORC Rangoon government promotes
closer ties with India, Vietnam, Japan, or even the United States, which
increasingly views as its global antagonist. Beijing's support of SLORC
could mean that SLORC's fall from power would constitute a sizeable defeat
for Chinese foreign policy.
Growing Chinese influence in Burma constitutes the junta's "playing with
fire" for at least three reasons. First, abandonment of Burma's traditional
neutrality may draw the country into conflicts between China and other Asian
countries by the beginning of the next century. Second, Chinese involvement
in, and even domination of the domestic economy, especially in Upper Burma,
may spark communal violence similar to the anti-Chinese riots of 1967, or
mob attacks on Burmese Muslims in 1997. Third, China's large-scale
contributions to SLORC's armed might, in the form of weapons, infrastructure
aid, and training, promote the ongoing militarization of Burmese society.
China's military support makes it easy for SLORC hardliners to use their
instrument of preference?brute force?to govern, but the militarization of
Burmese society will only lead to more violence and instability as the
generals turn away from non-violent alternatives that alone can bring the
country social peace and development.
Donald M. Seekins is Professor of Political Science and Southeast Asian
Studies in the College of International Studies, Meio College of
International Studies, Meio University, Nago, Okinawa Japan.
THE NATION: PTT TACKLES YADANA CLAIMS
October 3, 1997
THE Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) recently set up a working
committee to settle compensation-related disputes the company has with
villagers affected by its pipeline project in Kanchanaburi, a senior PTT
official said yesterday.
Songkiat Thansamrit said the panel would also help address complaints
stemming from construction work or general problems. "The committee's
establishment is expected to solve all problems in a more efficient manner,"
The committee is headed by the chief of Sai Yok district, where resistance
from locals is strongest, and comprises officials from relevant local
authorities, he said.
Songkiat, chief of PTA?s public relations division, said the panel
successfully achieved its first task a few weeks ago when a villager who was
an avid opponent of the project consented to pipes being laid in front of
her house after receiving compensation settled through a mediation process.
THE NATION: A HELPING OF POLITICS AND NOODLES AT BURMA
September 28, 1997
Philip J Cunningham can't quite get the noodles he wants, but finds plenty
more to occupy his attention in one of Japan's Burmese restaurants.
A handsome portrait of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi presides
over Nagani, a family-run restaurant also known as Burma Kitchen.
The pride of place given to the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner - released yet
still under virtual house arrest in Rangoon - makes it clear that Nagani is not
afraid to mix food with politics, a trying combination under the best of
Strains of Burmese folk songs beam out of Bose speakers and the bolts of
traditional Burmese fabric including Longyi (sarongs) and northern Thai
handicrafts add warmth to the modern grey decor.
Min Thu Swe, an earnest young man with a winning smile, came to Japan
about five years ago as a political refugee with his parents and siblings.
Although his family has not been accorded permanent status in Japan, Min has
"Japan is nice, people have been good to us, but we want to go back to Burma.
Coming here has made us realise just how poor, how pathetic our country really
is," he says. "My brother was active in the democracy movement in 1988. It
was too risky to stay there."
While the waiter is called away to take an order from a table of long-haired
Burmese youths drinking with Japanese friends, I struggle to decipher the menu
written in Burmese script and phonetic Japanese. The scent of fish frying in
with a hint of ginger and chilli peppers emanates from the kitchen.
I can't find khao soi, a coconut-based soup with crispy noodles that I
savour in the Burmese-style eateries of northern Thailand, but the mild-
mannered waiter assures me he can make something very close to the Shan
dish I have described.
He helpfully translates the menu, pointing out papaya salad, samosas, kopian
(harumaki, spring rolls) and chicken stew.
Sipping chilled tamarind juice, I note there are a number of colourful woven
shoulder bags pinned to the wall, a traditional item that came to symbolise the
student movement during the massive democracy demonstrations in the late'
More to the point is Nagani's "library' - a collection of underground books and
newsletters in Burmese with English language coffee-table books about the
country's history and the writings of Suu Kyi translated into Japanese.
Headlined stories in a dog-eared copy o f the Irrawaddy publication read:
is out of power", "SLORC's big brother is ASEAN", "35 activists sent to
I settle for a delicately flavoured shrimp and potato curry along with the made-
to-order noodle dish. Min Thu Swe's mother, who had been hidden until now in
the kitchen, comes out to see if everything is all right.
Her son stands a-respectful distance away until I invite him to tell me more
about his politics.
"The government doesn't own Burma the country belongs to the people. The
future is for all Burmese to decide," he says.
Trade and tourism are propping up an extremely unpopular regime, he
explains. Roads-leading to tourist resorts are built with conscripted labour;
many young people "disappear" each year; drug dealers are protected by the
government. He had just started telling me how the eastern border was like a
war zone when he gets a call from another table.
A compatriot student hands him a cassette tape, and a moment later the
subterranean Nagani reverberates with soulful Burmese ballads. The audio
quality is top notch, but why such a fancy sound system?
"This used to be a karaoke shop," the activist-turned-waiter explains with a
smile. Suddenly, all the little discrepancies make sense: the studio
chrome and vinyl decor, the bars, the tiny dance floor and the long wraparound
sofa that was undoubtedly built with crooning couples in mind.
Lunch specials offer enticing entrees ranging from cinnamon, clove and raisin
biriyani scented with bay leaf to Burmese fried rice, mild Indian-style curries
and spicy seafood dishes - all including soup and drink for bargain prices.
"We are not as active as before," Min says, referring to the morning-to-
midnight hours his family keeps with no days off. "But we support the
activists." Min tells of the "merit-making" blood drive to honour Suu Kyi's
birthday, and the complimentary Nagani dinner for all the volunteers. T-shirts
emblazoned with "We are prisoners in our country", one of which is displayed
in the shop, were sold out in a recent fund-raising drive.
Suu Kyi's famous quote, "Fear is a habit, I am not afraid", is on display. It
becomes abundantly clear that this fine family eatery takes as much pride in
principles as it does with its food.
- THE JAPAN TIMES