Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pressure Must Be Put On China To Help With Burma

If there's any proof that L.A. Times foreign coverage is deteriorating under the stranglehold of the Tribune Co., it can be seen in this week's lack of coverage of the drama unfolding in Burma, where a valiant uprising by Buddhist monks supporting a return to democracy
is now threatened by a crackdown by the military junta that has abused the people of that country for 45 years.

Several deaths are being reported today from Rangoon, where monks demonstrating in the face of a broad curfew, are said to have been beaten by armed units of the junta. The London Times, the New York Times, CNN and Time magazine's Web site all cited eyewitness reports from Rangoon saying as many as seven were killed and 100 monks injured when security forces moved in. Yet, despite a curfew and a ban on assemblies of more than five persons, the marches went on, with as many as 10,000 participating in both Rangoon and Mandalay. There were also reports that the heroic leader of Burma's democracy movement, the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been moved from house arrest to prison.

(Early Thursday, Rangoon time, the New York Times reported that large groups of security personnel loyal to the junta had stormed at least two Buddhist monasteries, beating scores of monks and arresting scores of others. Also, for the first time, a Western newspaper correspondent, was reporting direct from Rangoon. Kenneth Denby, in the London Times, wrote of the first sounds of gunfire coming in the Rangoon streets).

The situation in the next few days will be critical. If the security forces are not able to restore order, and if pictures of their brutality toward demonstrators continue to circulate, Burma may be perceived to be in a revolutionary situation. Under those circumstances, rifts may develop in the junta, and even some of the security forces might shift allegiance to the monks leading the demonstrations. This has happened in other revolutions; it may well happen in Burma.

The New York Times, the London Times and the Washington Post have all given prominent coverage, often on Page 1, to recent events in Burma, either from Bangkok or London. Foreign correspondents are not permitted in Burma by the junta, but with the new means of Internet communications, many accounts of the uprising continue to make their way out of that country. There were reports today that the junta had cut off some cell phones being used to send word of what was happening, but still it was getting out on satellite television and shortwave radio.

Seth Mydans, the outstanding New York Times correspondent, and Edward Cody of the Post both have long articles from Bangkok today. Both put stress on the key role of China in all this. China sells arms to the junta and supports it. It bears moral responsibility for what happens in Burma. Were it to abandon the junta, it would not long survive. But at a UN Security Council session on the crisis Wednesday afternoon, China blocked a resolution offered by the Western powers, against the crackdown.

By contrast, the L.A. Times no longer has a Bangkok correspondent, and its reporter in nearby Indonesia, Paul Watson, has not been in evidence this week. It may be he is on vacation or is otherwise no longer functioning in Southeast Asia.

Burma, a country of 47 million people, is, under the junta, another exponent of what might be called the Admadinejad argument, just made this week at the United Nations: No matter how backward and barbarian our evil dictatorship, the more civilized nations of the West should not try to interfere. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said just yesterday the development of nuclear technology by his country is now a "closed" matter and will proceed no matter what the rest of the world says or tries to do about it).

Neither Iran nor Burma, however, could long withstand international pressure were the big powers, Russia and China, and in Burma's case, particularly China, willing to join the West in standing up against what is happening, join meaningfully in Western sanctions, stop selling arms and technology to the thugs, and close off banking resources.

The West can do all these things, as the U.S., Britain and France, have been trying for years now in relation to both Iran and Burma. But without Russia and China, they cannot require on their own anything definitive to happen.

With China, though, due to next year's Beijing Olympics, an opportunity presents itself to influence the Chinese government to adopt a more constructive policy.

Already, in the Darfur genocide in the Sudan, suggestions of an adverse impact on the Olympics have induced China to grudgingly support the West to some extent in a move to rein in the murderous Sudanese government.

I'm not exactly advocating that we directly threaten to boycott the Beijing Olympics, as we did the Moscow Games in 1980. But I do think diplomatic pressure can be exerted, that in exchange for our full support of these Games, so important to the Chinese, the Chinese should start playing a more coercive role in Burma to rein in the junta.

There already have been some reports that the Chinese have been discouraging the military dictators from embarking on the kind of bloody crackdown on dissidents that it did in 1988, when 3,000 people were killed.

This time, a similar crackdown would cause much more furor. Pictures and accounts would inflame many people in the West, arousing their moral sensibilities, much as Bull Connor's use of police dogs against desegregation demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, did with outsiders in 1963.

It is even conceivable that if there is such a crackdown, and the Chinese were seen as not doing anything to stop it, sentiment would rise for boycotting the Olympics.

In any case, in this situation, we must employ the leverage we can. The British foreign secretary said in London yesterday that San Suu Kyi must be allowed to take power in Burma, since it is so clear she is the choice of the majority. Now, more effort should be exerted in that direction.

Lenin once famously declared that the road to London went through Beijing and Calcutta. He was talking about the thankfully-halted spread of Communism. But it is clear now that the road to a free government in Burma lies through Beijing, and we cannot be shy in trying to bring that about.

We live in an interdependent world, where developments in one country can reverberate in all the others. What is happening in Burma is important, and should not be ignored (certainly not, I might add, in the pages of the Los Angeles Times).


The London Times today has a story that former President Bill Clinton was able to get the magazine GQ to kill a story that reported infighting within Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign staff, by threatening the publication with lack of access.

If there is anything to this, it would not be surprising to see the story jump the Atlantic and be widely reported in the U.S. Campaign infighting is not uncommon, even the best campaigns have it. But if it becomes widely known that Clintons are putting on effective pressure to kill stories, if could certainly have an adverse effect on Mrs. Clinton's political fortunes.



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