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Home > News > Columnists > Francois Gautier

Burma and Tibet: The world's double standards

October 16, 2007

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The Westernised world, led by the United States, had come down hard on Burma, today known as Myanmar, for its human rights abuse. And rightly so: Burma, once called the `jewel of Asia', is in dire straits. Its military government, which has plundered resources and kept this magnificent nation in poverty, ruthlessly clamped down on the peaceful monks manifesting for greater freedom recently and are still keeping Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, under house arrest. Sanctions are called for, immense pressure is exerted upon Burma and even China, that clever manipulator of nations, is brought upon to influence the Burma generals.

At the same time, terrible things are happening in Tibet, on a more violent and deadly scale. Tensions have increased in the Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) area of eastern Tibet, the present-day Sichuan province, with the execution of a Tibetan prisoner that may be linked to the political crackdown following a protest in support of the Dalai Lama [Images] by nomad Runggye Adak in August. According to reports from Amnesty International, there have been further detentions of Tibetans, including a young art teacher, a local nomad who expressed support for Runggye Adak and the Dalai Lama, and a senior monk respected for his commitment to Tibetan education in the Lithang area.

There is also an increased and intimidatory military presence in the two neighbouring counties of Lithang and Kardze, both in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (in the Tibetan area of Kham). International Campaign for Tibet also notes that there is an intensified political campaign that requires Tibetan monks, nuns, laypeople and children to denounce the Dalai Lama. "The stepping up of this anti-Dalai Lama campaign in the region coincides with a period when the Dalai Lama himself is increasingly received by world leaders and respected for his leadership on peace and non-violence," says Kate Saunders, spokesperson for ICT. Witness the hysterical Chinese reaction to the Dalai Lama receiving the US Congress's highest civilian award on October 17.

Yet, the whole world keeps mum. Including India of course, although Tibet has always acted as a natural buffer between her and China, which often has had hegemonic tendencies. In spite of the fact that Tibet has taken and assimilated so much of Indian culture, without mentioning that the Dalai Lama embodies the best qualities of compassion and ahimsa. Why does the West keep quiet? Well, for one, it does so much business with China -- the US and the European Union have (unwisely) invested their shirts there -- that if anything happens to China, it will shake the very foundations of the West. Then of course, Burma is a small Buddhist country and it cannot retaliate if anything is done to it and cancel its orders of Airbuses or Boeings like China might. And lastly, India, which should dictate terms, as it can exert an influence on Burma (it has the economic and military leverage to do so) and does need to contain China in that region, because of its strategic location, is strangely mum.

In journalism, you have to read between the lines, or look for what is hidden. There are also many things which are left unsaid. Firstly, there is a lot of oil and gas at stake in Burma. Secondly, as we said above, Burma is very strategically placed in terms of maritime access to the Far East and from the Far East, westwards -- and both China and the US are eying it (India as usual is getting bypassed, because of inertia, indifference and a lack of a forceful will, although Burma falls within her natural sphere of influence). Then there is the Christian element. As in South Korea, the Philippines or Taiwan, the American armies of missionaries are impatiently waiting at the doors of Burma to get in that stronghold of Buddhism.

Burmans, of Tibetan ethnic origin, form 68 per cent of the population of 57 million. But there are other important, distinct ethnic groups: the largely Christian Karen, for instance, which has always had a lot of support from the West and Christian lobbies in the US. What would happen if the Karens were allowed independence as they wish ? Well, as pointed out by award-winning author and broadcaster Eric S Margolis, the largest, Shan, with their Shan State Army, who are ethnically close to neighbouring Thailand and are in cahoots with the Thai military, would do the same. They might be followed by each major ethnic group, which has its own army and finances itself through smuggling timber, jewels, arms, and drugs. "The only force holding Myanmar together is the military and secret police," says Margolis.

As for Tibet, who cares: The Chinese have killed, directly or indirectly, a million Tibetans since they invaded it in the early '50s. They have wiped out one of the most peaceful, one of the most lovable cultures in the world. And they are quietly waiting for that wonderful icon of human courage and dignity, the Dalai Lama, to die, so that they can 'find' a puppet Dalai Lama and finish Tibet for ever. So the moral of the story is that it is a world upside down, where not everything that appears evident and true is necessarily noble.


Francois Gautier




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