Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Myanmar: Indian and Chinese Dilemmas
B. Raman, director of the Institute for Topical Studies, writes:
Rightly or wrongly, the international community is convinced that only China and India, which have been following a policy of active engagement with the junta, despite its ruthless suppression of its people, are in a position to moderate the behaviour of the Junta. But neither country is currently inclined to do so.
Their policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries is cited as the ostensible reason for their reluctance to exercise pressure on the junta. A more important reason is their perception of the importance of Myanmar for their respective national security. Interest in Myanmar's oil and gas reserves for meeting their growing energy requirements is one reason.
For India, another reason is the likely benefits of Myanmar's co-operation in dealing with the insurgencies in the North-East. An additional reason for China is Myanmar as a gateway to the Indian Ocean and as a potential energy route for reducing its dependence on the Malacca Strait for the movement of its energy supplies from West Asia and Africa. While pursuing their respective economic and security interests, the two countries have been keeping a wary eye on each other in order to see that one does not make a strategic headway at the expense of the other.
What is interesting is that Raman concludes that "India and China should enter into mutual consultations as to how the two, working together and with the international community, could bring about an end of the repressive policies of the junta. Given the kind of junta Myanmar has, their initiative may fail, but that is not a valid argument for not trying."
There is an ongoing debate now in India about what should be done about Myanmar. A leading human rights lawyer, Nandita Haksar, was quoted by the BBC, ""We cannot have democracy at home and support military tyrants in the neighbourhood. India must do all it can for the restoration of democracy in Burma."
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, however, has noted: "We have strategic and economic interests to protect in Burma. It is up to the Burmese people to struggle for democracy, it is their issue."
Meanwhile, there are reports that China is making contigency plans if the junta should fall, while also seeing whether they can induce the ruling group to make reforms. It is telling that Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said that, "As a friendly neighboring country of Myanmar, China hopes to see stability and economic development.''
The West has little leverage over developments. It is really going to be how China and India react to developments on the ground in Myanmar that will have a more decisive impact.