Posted by: Frederik Balfour on May 7, 2008
For decades the military junta of Myanmar has spurned much of the international community, deliberately pursuing an isolationist policy that is second only to North Korea’s. But in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which has left more than 60,000 Burmese dead, the country’s government is clearly ill-equipped to handle the emergency and is begrudgingly accepting outside assistance. So far India and Thailand have come forward with supplies brought in by air or ship. Myanmar has rejected an offer by the U.S. to send it its navy, and so far no other countries have been allowed to provide much needed airlift capacity as the worst afflicted areas are not accessible by any other means.
An alert reader pointed out to me that China has also offered $1 million in aid to Myanmar. But’s it’s a pity Hu Jintao is in Japan. Whenever there has been a disaster in his own country, President Hu always makes a point of being on site, visiting collapsed coal mines or areas afflicted by snow storms. At least Hu could whisper some friendly advice to his buddy General Than Shwe to come out of his bunker in Nay Pyi Daw and turn the disaster into a PR opportunity to show that he really does care about the little people. And here’s some advice from me: drop the whole idea of the referendum still slated for May 12 and focus all the government’s energy on the relief effort.
Some hope this could be a turning point for the country. As Joshua Kurlantzick of the New Republic points out, natural disasters have been followed by political reconciliation. This happened in Aceh in the aftermath of the tsunami. Could this happen in Burma? I agree with Kurlantzick this is highly unlikely. The National League for Democracy party led by Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is a paper tiger, largely because the junta has systematically de-fanged it through brutal oppression. The only possibility for real change inside Burma can come from within the military. Supremo General Than Shwe is almost single handedly responsible for the country’s economic mismanagement, and less senior military officers might welcome a stronger embrace of market principles.