(by Nicholas Wapshott, NYSun.com) – After Burma’s military junta yesterday shot dead eight pro-democracy protesters, including five unarmed monks, a growing chorus of Western voices is beginning to question whether the Chinese government’s failure to restrain its Burmese client state should result in a boycott of the Beijing Olympics next summer.
In an unprecedented personal intervention, first lady Laura Bush urged the Burmese regime to give up power peacefully and allow the elected leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to govern the country. “I want to encourage the generals to start the reconciliation, move aside, and let a democracy build,” Mrs. Bush said yesterday on the Voice of America.
In one of the strongest condemnations of the Burmese junta, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican of California, warned in Congress that unless the military dictators showed restraint, they would be treated as war criminals. “If you slaughter the monks and those calling for democracy, when your regime falls, and it will fall, you will be pursued to every corner of the globe like the Nazi criminals before you,” he said in the House on Tuesday evening.
After a private briefing from Burma experts in the State Department, Mrs. Bush let slip that it was thought the Chinese communist leaders may be pressing their allies in Rangoon to show restraint. “We hear, but it’s not substantiated, that China is urging the regime not to react in a brutal and violent way against the protesters. I hope that’s the case,” she said, before calling on the Chinese government to use all its influence to prevent a massacre.
There was little evidence, however, that the Burmese dictators were in any mood to give ground on the ninth day of widespread protests led by thousands of saffron-robed Buddhist monks. At least five monks were killed yesterday, Zin Linn, the information minister for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, the country’s government in exile in Washington, told the Associated Press.
Dissatisfaction is growing among American and European lawmakers with the Chinese leadership, which for decades has financed and armed the Burmese regime. Burmese exports to China, mainly timber and gems, have soared in recent months and China has built oil and gas pipelines between the two countries.
Mr. Rohrabacher firmly laid blame for the violence at China’s door. “I urge all Burmese soldiers, do not kill your own people for the greed and corruption of those who have sold out your country to the Chinese. You are not a state of Beijing.”
Those already advocating the boycotting of the Beijing Olympics in August next year because of the Chinese government’s indifference toward the genocide in Darfur and China’s poor human rights record, believe the violence in Burma will add fuel to their arguments.
America and the European Union already have sanctions in place against the Burmese regime, and China’s insistence that Burma should not be subject to U.N. Security Council pressure only serves to encourage a more direct approach.
Three weeks ago, President Bush accepted an invitation from the Chinese government to visit the Olympics with Mrs. Bush. The prospect of the first lady attending the event in the light of China’s inaction seemed increasingly remote last night.
“I hope that both China and India, who have sway with Than Shwe [the junta leader] and with the other generals, because of their trade and their economic partnerships, will speak out and urge the generals to now really start to reconcile, to build a democracy, to free the political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and give their country a chance to build,” she said.
Mrs. Bush was joined by a 1997 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jody Williams, who told The New York Sun yesterday: “China is the most important military and economic backer of the Burmese military dictatorship. Just as it has been pressured to end its unwavering support for the murderous Sudanese government, it must be pressured on its unsavory relationship with this repressive regime.
“There have already been calls for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics – some going so far as to name them the ‘Genocide Olympics’ because of China’s involvement with Khartoum. “I think that call should be broadened to include all of China’s direct and indirect violations of human rights. China cannot be allowed to stand silently on the sidelines as the Burmese military begins its crackdown on the nonviolent demonstrators.
“Now most definitely is the time to test if the Olympic slogan ‘One World, One Dream’ applies to the people of Burma. Or those of Darfur. Or those of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Or those of Tibet. Or, in fact, if it applies to the peoples of China itself.”
“The principal criticism of China’s role as host of the Olympics is its violation of the human rights of its own citizens,” the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican of Florida, told the Sun. “Beijing’s support for repressive regimes in Burma, Iran, Sudan, and elsewhere only serves to underscore its continuing denial of basic freedoms to the Chinese people.”
Last night, Burma moved to the front of the debate among presidential candidates. “I strongly condemn the brutal actions” of the Burmese regime. “The U.S. should work with the international community to bring an end to these abusive actions violating basic human rights. I applaud the courage of the Buddhist monks who have risked their lives in pursuit of democracy and freedom,” Senator Dodd, a Democrat of Connecticut who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination, told the Sun.
Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.
1. Define junta.
2. Why is China viewed as partially responsible for the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters in Burma by the ruling junta?
3. a) What has first lady Laura Bush urged the Burmese government to do?
b) What has she called on the Chinese government to do?
4. For what reasons were some people in the West already discussing a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games?
5. What action has China urged the U.N. not to take against Burma?
6. Re-read the statements made by human rights advocate Jody Williams in paragraphs 12-14. What direct and indirect violations does she accuse the Chinese government of perpetrating?
7. Burma is a very poor country because of the repressive government. Last month, the government doubled the price of gas. The people who were protesting were not just a group complaining about a price they didn’t want to pay. When prices doubled most Burmese could not afford to buy gas. Those taking the bus to work could no longer afford to travel by bus. To gain a better understanding of the lack of wealth in Burma, compare the population there with the number of telephones and cell phones in use in the country, as well as internet users. Then compare the population of the U.S. with the number of telephones and cell phones in use in the country, as well as internet users.
(Find the answers at the CIA World Factbook website cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html. Choose the country, then look in the “Communications” category.)
After occupation by the Japanese during World War II, Burma achieved independence from Great Britain in 1948. The military has ruled since 1962, when the army overthrew an elected government that had been buffeted by an economic crisis and a raft of ethnic insurgencies. During the next 26 years, General Ne Win’s military rule helped impoverish what had been one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest countries.
The present junta, led by General Than Shwe, dramatically asserted its power in 1988, when the army opened fire on peaceful, student-led, pro-democracy protesters, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
Last month, Burmese citizens angry over the government’s decision to double the price of fuel, began staging peaceful protests against the high prices. Buddhist monks are also involved and have spearheaded the largest challenge to the military junta since the failed uprising in 1988.
(To read the complete background on the repressive Burmese government, go to FreedomHouse.org.)
Follow the situation in Burma daily at: NYSun.com, WashingtonTimes.com, FoxNews.com and CNN.com. Also, read additional reports at news.yahoo.com, usatoday.com
For information on repression of religious minorities in Burma, go the the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom website at uscirf.gov/countries/countriesconcerns/countries/burma.html
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.