domingo, 17 de mayo de 2009

Joan Smith: It's time India spoke up for Suu Kyi- habla la activista india

It looks as though a frustrating cycle of human-rights violations, international condemnation and Burmese governmental indifference is set to be repeated. We have been here before, and the unpleasant truth is that the West has limited influence with the Burmese generals, having done its worst (short of military invasion) quite some time ago. Economic boycotts are in place and many Western companies have already withdrawn from Burma. China protects the junta at the UN, and its interests in the country are so extensive that Burma is well on the way to becoming a Chinese client state.

While Burma is a pariah state in the West, it is the centre of a fiercely fought contest for influence among Asian countries. Rich in natural resources, its human-rights record

comes a very poor second when energy-hungry Asian economies are thinking about the gas and oil they desperately need. China is foremost among them, and Burma-China bilateral trade exceeds $1.5bn (£990m); two years ago, an NGO reported that 26 Chinese multinationals had been allowed to get involved in 62 hydro, oil, gas and mining projects in Burma. In return, China has poured resources into the country, providing easy loans – the Burmese junta is strapped for cash, perhaps even heading for bankruptcy because of its mismanagement of the economy – along with political support and weapons.

This is bad news for Suu Kyi's supporters, who know that the Chinese leadership cares as little about human rights as the junta's generals. Pro-democracy campaigners have watched Western leaders turn a blind eye to China's dreadful education-through-labour camps, and no one seriously expects China to get tough with its useful trading partner. But Burma has another neighbour which is in a very different position.

This weekend, as the people of India reflect on a long-drawn-out general election campaign, which ended yesterday, the fate of Suu Kyi might not be at the front of their minds. But India's cosy relationship with the Burmese junta is starting to symbolise the contradictions that threaten to undermine the country's moral status as the world's largest democracy. In theory, Indian governments support Suu Kyi's pro-democracy campaign, conscious of her longstanding personal ties with the country; Suu Kyi lived in New Delhi when her mother was posted to India as a diplomat. In the 1990s she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, despite being under house arrest and unable to travel to receive it.

Such considerations have not dissuaded Indian governments from investing heavily in Burma. Bilateral trade between the two countries grew to $650m by 2006 and India's sights are firmly fixed on a share of Burma's abundant energy resources. It was beaten by China in the race for a contract to build a pipeline to Burma's gas fields, but the Indian army has done most of the work on the so-called Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road, which is a major commercial transport route. All of this should be borne in mind when Indian politicians make feeble statements in support of pro-democracy campaigners in Burma.