ROVING EYE Buddha vs the barrel of a
gun By Pepe Escobar
Somewhere in imponderable nirvana, the
Buddha may be exhibiting the faintest of smiles.
Or is he? What a heavenly sight - the discreet,
barefooted, crimson- and maroon-clad Buddhist
monks of Myanmar, formerly Burma, able to affirm
publicly their supreme moral authority and
righteousness, supported by an exhausted, abused
population, against the ravages of a pitiless,
pitiful, 45-year-old military junta.
the Buddha, whose infinite wisdom also includes knowledge
about energy wars, would say
that as everything is impermanent, the crackdown
will come. The question is how.
fail to be intensely moved by the exhilarating
images of the "crimson revolution" - thousands of
monks chanting "democracy, democracy" or reciting
the Metta Sutta - the Buddha sermon on
loving kindness, while civilian demonstrators, on
a practical level, also call for the release of
hundreds of political prisoners and a reduction in
the price of fuel (raised 500% last month, the
root cause of the protests).
Human Rights Commission has reported how the
monks, in a pre-rally ceremony on Monday, have
solemnly refused to accept donations from anyone
junta-connected, people they have dubbed "pitiless
soldier kings". This very serious act amounts to
nothing less than a Buddhist form of
But fear now looms. The
1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy icon
Aung San Suu Kyi - lovingly referred to all over
the country as The Lady - has been transferred
from her lakeside home on University Avenue in
Yangon to sinister Insein prison, according to a
Reuters report. The junta has imposed a
dusk-till-dawn curfew in Yangon and Mandalay.
Anti-riot troops in full battle gear now
surround the six biggest monasteries in Yangon.
Monks run the risk of at least being attacked with
tear gas - some reports indicate this has already
happened. Internet access (there's only one
state-owned provider) has been cut off. Activists
- and even some monks - have been arrested. During
the 1988 protest movement - Myanmar's predecessor
of China's Tiananmen - the regime is said to have
killed more than 3,000 unarmed people.
Bush's Burmese day The mystery
of why US President George W Bush took center
stage at the United Nations General Assembly in
New York on Tuesday but did not promote the next
neo-con war on Iran was solved when it became
evident that the job has fallen to his new
European poodle, French President Nicolas Sarkozy,
who in his speech once again assumed the
inevitability of an Iranian nuclear bomb.
Bush instead announced new economic
sanctions against the junta in Myanmar and urged
the world to apply "diplomatic leverage to help
the Burmese people regain their freedom". Here is
Bush engaging in another "liberation from tyranny
and violence", this time in Asia, while trying to
start yet another war, as usual, in the Middle
The connection is clear: the Bush
conception of "human rights" means "oil and gas".
Bush also claimed at the UN that Lebanon,
Afghanistan and Iraq had "asked for our help".
Given the precedents, even the isolated people in
Myanmar should be afraid, very afraid.
Myanmar has been in effect off the radar
of the international community for years. Why this
new, sudden, Bush administration interest in
regime change in Myanmar? If the US and the West
are so obsessed with "human rights", why not put
pressure on the ghastly practices of the House of
Saud? Or the barely disguised repression under the
glitz in Persian Gulf petromonarchies? Or the
bloody Islam Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan?
A vast drug-money-laundering operation,
plus full Asian cooperation - to the tune of
billions of dollars - helped the Myanmar junta to
build its new capital, Naypyidaw, in the middle of
the jungle, almost 350 kilometers north of Yangon,
in essence using slave labor. The 10-country
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which
Myanmar is a member, has been very lenient, to say
the least, with the unsavory generals, in the name
of a policy of "non-interference". Thailand - for
complex historical reasons - would rather co-exist
with a weak neighbor. India coddles the generals
to get natural-gas deals - like a recent agreement
to invest US$150 million in gas exploitation in
the west of the country.
dragon But Myanmar is above all a key
strategic pawn for China. Not only as a captive
market for civilian goods in addition to weapons,
but as a pawn to keep India in check and assure
China of key strategic access to the Indian Ocean.
Just like Britain - which twice invaded Burma, as
Myanmar was known until 1989 - China's utmost
interest is natural resources. Oil and gas, of
course, but also gems and timber: the
once-pristine forests at the Myanmar-China border
have been practically wiped out. According to the
rights group Global Witness, Myanmar exported no
less than $350 million in timber to China in 2005
alone, and the bulk of it was illegal.
According to EarthRights International, a
crucial project of Chinese multinationals
established in Myanmar has been the construction
of a 2,380-kilometer oil-and-gas pipeline from the
Arakan coast to Yunnan province in China. China
needs this pipeline and a vital port in Myanmar
for its growing energy imports from the Middle
East, Africa and Venezuela.
China are also intimately linked by a $1.5
billion, high-tech electronic-warfare pet project
of the junta's leader, psychological-warfare
specialist General Than Shwe, 74, very much
appreciated in Beijing. It deals with surveillance
of ethnic-minority guerrillas in Myanmar - the
Karen, the Chan, the Wa, among others. It deals
with surveillance of strategic competitor India.
And it deals with surveillance of all naval
traffic in the Indian Ocean, US warships included,
not to mention the crucial Strait of Malacca.
Precious information on the matter can be found in
Australian Desmond Ball's book Burma's Military
Secrets (White Lotus Press, Bangkok).
US sanctions are just for internal
American consumption; they will have absolutely no
impact. For starters, Myanmar is not under a
military embargo. A really different story, for
instance, would be the Bush administration telling
the Chinese to drop the junta, otherwise no US
athletes will be seen at the Beijing Summer
Olympics next year. London bookies wouldn't even
start a bet on it. The French for their part now
say they fear a terrible crackdown - but in fact
they fear what happens to substantial oil business
by French energy giant Total. The European Union
should have a unified position, but for the moment
that is hazier than sunrise at the sublime
Shwedagon Pagoda in the heart of Yangon.
Sleepless in Beijing This year
China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution
condemning the junta's human-rights record. It's
virtually impossible that the collective
leadership in Beijing will let one of its
neighbors, a key pawn in the 21st-century energy
wars, be swamped by non-violent Buddhists and
pro-democracy students - as this would constitute
a daring precedent for the aspirations of
Tibetans, the Uighurs in Xinjiang and, most of
all, Falungong militants all over China, the
embryo of a true rainbow-revolution push defying
the monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party.
So this seems to be the trillion-yuan
question: Will Chinese President Hu Jintao
sanction a Tiananmen remix - with Buddhist
subtitles - less than one year before the Olympics
that will signal to the whole world the renewed
power and glory of the Middle Kingdom? If only the
Buddha would contemplate direct intervention.