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Don't bet on Burma's disaster prompting political reform

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.

Reader Comments


May 7, 2008 9:46 AM

It is dangerous for a developing country to receive aids from US. There are always alot of strings attached. Becareful,US could take the chance to bite you. Indonisians should remember this clearly.

Also, US's aids always inlcude expensive junks from US, such as used clothes, expired foods and drugs.

The author doesn't know that China just provide US$1 million supplies to the country in the natural disaster?

The author apparently forgot that China even provided at least US$1 million aids to US in Katrina. But I clearly remember that US provided US$25,000 to China when China was in a huge flooding in 1991 when thousands lost their lives and millions lost their housing. Sorry, US always mention human rights though. I am not complaining the number of the aids from US. But the difference between US aids and China aids are different.

Frederik Balfour

May 7, 2008 10:06 AM

An alert reader pointed out to me that China has offered $1 million in aid to Myanmar. I have amended this blog to reflect that.


May 7, 2008 12:23 PM

The US$1 million from Chinese gov is the first batch of the assitance.

China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) also donated US$0.5 million.
Chinese Red Cross also donated some.

Chinese web portals are calling for donations.

Chinese can always be counted on if our naeighbours have natural disasters. That's what we should do. But we Chinese seldom make noise as US does.

Anyhow, I just hope western countries don't take the chance to make politicla gains. Let the country concentrades on the disaster relief work.

Thanks the author for making changes about China. But this shows how important it is to understand Chinese language if you work on Chinese topics.


May 8, 2008 2:16 AM

What make the author think those generals will listen to Hu if not even their closest buddies, the thais and western oil companies can persuade them to open?


May 8, 2008 8:51 AM

Chinese government just anounced second batch of assistance. The amount is 30 million RMB or more than US$ 4.2 million at today's exchange rate. We don't have any strings attached as usual.
Donation compains are going on in many place in China.

That's our moral standard. We don't take the chance of others' natural disasters. Help them sincercely if you really want to help them. Crocodile tears are not needed.


May 8, 2008 9:46 AM

Not again ! But it is again, China.

Mr Frederik Balfour, is there anything today that has nothing or less to do with China in your mind ?

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