Friday, September 11, 2009

IntelliBriefs: Burma a Thorny Territory for China

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    • By Michael Sainsbury
    • It's hard to believe that only 70 years ago, Burma was the rice bowl of Asia - a country that was for 100 years the biggest state in British India and the brightest facet in that shining jewel. Since the coup in 1962, the vast teak forests of central Burma have been stripped, denuding the land and causing its once mighty river, the Irrawaddy, to silt up; its infrastructure has collapsed; most of its universities have been shuttered; and unless they join the mercenaries, many young men end up serving in the army on subsistence wages for the junta's rapacious leaders.
    • And who is this for? Well, the booty is being split: China gets the goods and energy, Burma's generals get the money. Certainly, China is not alone in the rape of Burma. The Japanese were the first to prop up the regime in the 1960s and 70s, along with the South Koreans. Thailand sucks up vast quantities of its natural gas, its looming regional nemesis. And now India is also seeking out its own spoils.
    • Burma is also looking elsewhere. Many in the US and Europe are urging the lifting of economic sanctions, saying they have only isolated Burma and forced it into China's arms. A change in that policy would threaten China's position in Burma. And Burma is getting closer to North Korea, which has spooked China's military. The threat of Burma getting nuclear weapons is enough to cause panic as this would leave China with the problem of two of the world's most erratic regimes with nuclear arms to its north and south - North Korea and Burma.