There’s a reason nobody is talking about a military “regime change” in Burma, but it’s not the reason David Warren writes about here. Warren says,

The Burmese regime could hardly survive a direct military strike. … But this would require a West assured of its own ideals and principles, generous and willing to make sacrifices for them; a West not debilitated by layer upon layer of “politically-correct” self-doubt. And that simply isn’t on the table.

Actually, son, there are two reasons no one is going to invade Burma to overthrow the junta. The first reason is that Burma shares a 2,000 kilometer border with China, and there are two things to keep in mind about China:

1. China has the largest standing army in the world.

2. China is holding a big honking chunk of U.S. debt. Wikipedia:

The country holding the most U.S. debt is Japan which held $612.3 billion at the end of the first quarter of 2007. The People’s Republic of China holds the second most U.S. debt, ending the first quarter of 2007 with over $1.2 trillion in total foreign reserves, of which about $420.2 billion are U.S. Treasury securities.[

The West is not dithering because of some political neurosis, presenting as “layer upon layer of ‘politically-correct’ self-doubt.” The West is hamstrung regarding Burma because the West is afraid of what China might do.

In the event of an armed invasion of Burma by western forces to effect “regime change,” I don’t know that China would counterattack. But China could hurt us in a lot of other ways.

Recently Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote at The Telegraph (August 8, 2007):

The Chinese government has begun a concerted campaign of economic threats against the United States, hinting that it may liquidate its vast holding of US treasuries if Washington imposes trade sanctions to force a yuan revaluation.

Two officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning – for the first time – that Beijing may use its $1.33 trillion (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress.

Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies.

Described as China’s “nuclear option” in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is already breaking down through historic support levels.

It would also cause a spike in US bond yields, hammering the US housing market and perhaps tipping the economy into recession. It is estimated that China holds over $900bn in a mix of US bonds.

In effect, the Chinese are underwriting Bush’s tax cuts. And I believe China has more leverage over us than we have over them.

There’s a fascinating analysis by Lindsey Hilsum called “Why Burma was crushed” at The New Statesman.

As Burmese pro-democracy activists are rounded up, the west looks to China to intervene. We are failing to see the seismic changes that authoritarian capitalism is bringing the world.

In Beijing you might never have known about the saffron revolution that started with a bang and ended with a whimper in Burma. No pictures of chanting monks on state-controlled television, no anguished politicians saying “something must be done”. Yet the consensus in Washington and European capitals was that only China could resolve the crisis.

Over the past year, there have been similar cries about Darfur and North Korea. Suddenly China has become what the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright once called her own country – “the essential nation”. It is not just China’s new diplomatic reach, born of economic muscle, that is drawing international attention, but also its system of “authoritarian capitalism”, which is increasingly seen as a counterweight to liberal democracy. …

… Western leaders dream of a Burma reinvented in their image – with a little lustre from association with the revered opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi rubbing off on them. But China is still ruled by the Communist Party that shot and mowed down protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and which suppresses Buddhist monks in Tibet.

Authoritarian capitalism, not liberal democracy, has made China successful. The Beijing government’s ideal would be for the Burmese generals to allow limited political participation, so that stability could be assured and China’s supply of timber, gemstones, oil and natural gas guaranteed.

And there’s a bigger picture to consider.

Western leaders continue to assert that capitalism inevitably brings democracy in its wake. “As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed,” said Bush in 2005. “As the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well.” The US president cited South Korea and Taiwan as examples. “The economic wealth that South Korea created at home helped nurture a thriving middle class that eventually demanded free elections and a democratic government that would be accountable to the people,” he said.

But, as the scholars Azar Gat and James Mann have pointed out, China – unlike smaller east Asian countries – is not under the US military umbrella. It is forging its own path and it is not the one that Bush predicted. As the Communist Party of China prepares for its 17th Congress this month, scores of popular websites have been closed. Meetings of Aids activists have been banned and environmental campaigners have been jailed. Human rights campaigners say that far from more freedom being allowed in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the space for dissent is narrowing. …

… China is no longer alone. Russia’s retreat from democracy at a time when high oil prices are boosting the economy suggests that an alternative axis is coming into being. China and Russia parted ideological course in 1960, but today, once again, they share a vision.

The Russian economist Sergei Karaganov, dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs of the State University in Moscow, describes this as a “new era of confrontation”, with China and Russia on one side and the US and EU on the other. “In an environment characterised by acute competition, the fight for the lofty values of democracy will almost inevitably acquire the character of geopolitical confrontation,” he says. “This will impede the probable process of liberalisation in the countries of the new ‘authoritarian’ capitalism – in particular, in Russia.”

The other reason no one will take military action in Burma has to do with U.S. business interests. Amy Goodman wrote in yesterday’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The Bush administration is making headlines with its strong language against the Burmese regime. President Bush declared increased sanctions in his U.N. General Assembly speech. First lady Laura Bush has come out with perhaps the strongest statements. Explaining she has a cousin who is a Burma activist, Laura Bush said, “The deplorable acts of violence being perpetrated against Buddhist monks and peaceful Burmese demonstrators shame the military regime.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said, “The United States is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty that is taking place.” Keeping an international focus is essential, but should not distract from one of the most powerful supporters of the junta, one that is much closer to home. Rice knows it well: Chevron.

Fueling the military junta that has ruled for decades are Burma’s natural-gas reserves, controlled by the Burmese regime in partnership with the U.S. multinational oil giant Chevron, the French oil company Total and a Thai oil firm. Offshore natural-gas facilities deliver their extracted gas to Thailand through Burma’s Yadana pipeline. The pipeline was built with slave labor, forced into servitude by the Burmese military.

The original pipeline partner, Unocal, was sued by EarthRights International for the use of slave labor. As soon as the suit was settled out of court, Chevron bought Unocal.

Chevron’s role in propping up the brutal regime in Burma is clear. According to Marco Simons, U.S. legal director at EarthRights International: “Sanctions haven’t worked because gas is the lifeline of the regime. Before Yadana went online, Burma’s regime was facing severe shortages of currency. It’s really Yadana and gas projects that kept the military regime afloat to buy arms and ammunition and pay its soldiers.”

The U.S. government has had sanctions in place against Burma since 1997. A loophole exists, though, for companies grandfathered in. Unocal’s exemption from the Burmese sanctions has been passed on to its new owner, Chevron.

Rice served on the Chevron board of directors for a decade. She even had a Chevron oil tanker named after her. While she served on the board, Chevron was sued for involvement in the killing of non-violent protesters in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. As in Burma, Nigerians suffer political repression and pollution where oil and gas are extracted, and live in dire poverty. The protests in Burma were actually triggered by a government-imposed increase in fuel prices.

So, the West flaps about, issuing statements and maybe sending an envoy or two. Please note I don’t believe an armed invasion is the only option or even the most desirable option. But I believe the West is too compromised to exercise any option.

See also:

Monks Are Silenced, and for Now, Internet Is, Too

Monks flee crackdown as reports of brutality emerge

23 thoughts on “Compromised

  1. Pingback: Mike the Mad Biologist

  2. Good old UNOCAL…….
    Google UNOCAL Hamid Karzai, UNOCAL Nebraska,
    Afghanistan Nebraska, Afghanistan natural gas, Afghanistan pipeline. Its all linked, and you’re right about the China/Burma connection, the new “great game” is in play, the new super power of the Shanghai cooperative is emerging , will soon flex its muscles, and the world will tremble.
    I didn’t have a term to describe the mutation of the world’s largest states into the world’s largest manufacturer and energy supplier, but “authoritan capitalist” is certainly what best describes it.
    From waht I’ve read about Condi Rice, she was a major player in getting UNOCAL/Chevron into the oil fields of the Central Asian Republics, especially Kazakhstan.
    More fun can be had with Google with the words Gasprom, Yukos Israel, and Caucasus pipeline.Burma opium Afghanistan.
    Having fun with Google………….

  3. Doesn’t this give credence to the suspicion that our middle east adventurism is a gift, for the benefit of corporations, and that when Bush waxes on about delivering freedom and democracy that he’s pandering for support?

    At a superficial level, I suppose this works for some and justifies our manifest destiny and even taking some oil at below market prices while we’re on our “goodwill mission”. The administration can say we are acting for the most palatable reasons…the reasons that maintain the myth of our collective goodness and how exceptional we are. No wonder conservatives get so angry when someone suggests otherwise — their fraud is exposed. And what do you know but “phony soldiers” then rise from this kind of self-serving righteousness.

    It is so transparent. It is past time that we rejoin the rest of the world.

  4. #8 (MNPundit) …and by the same logic we are a threat to ourselves in the administrations abandonement of fiscal responsibility, budget deficits and profligate credit binging.

    And from this we somehow get that China is the threat for exercising the type of rights ascribed to any corporation? Isn’t that kind of like blaming a businesses customers when the business folds because the customers decided not to buy anymore?

    If we must parse blame why wouldn’t the first thing that roles off our tongues be a list of the neglectful exposures and insecurities that those we elected allowed to accumulate?

    That would be accepting responsibility, I suppose. I’ve never been through a 12-step program but isn’t that something that always has to happen before one is able to move forward and begin to fix things?

  5. #8 And add to Maha’s post the actual size of ‘the largest military in the world’ – 230,000,000 (that’s just the army) – and messing with China does seem a tad unwise. (With that size army, we’d better hope that there are no Chinese clones of George and Dick in the Peking wings.)

  6. #9 (Pat) — “Threat” does not mean “fault”. China has, through perfectly legal and, to the extent that the concept applies, moral means managed to get into a position where they could hurt us very badly if they felt like it.

    And, China’s goals and interests and our goals and interests are not the same. Not by a long shot.

    So, recognizing that China is a threat would imply that we should do what we can to minimize that threat … by improving our own behavior.


  7. US fiscal irresponsibility and financial mismanagement ( not to mention Americans’ greed for excessive amounts of cheap stuff) got China the upper hand.

    Do you think the US is a AAA credit anymore?

  8. #11 Ian, I agree. I intended to emphasize our neglect and responsibility (fault) but not at the expense of the gravity. Thanks for pointing that out…I wasn’t entirely clear.

    Whatever one might think about Clinton he was very clear in his biography to point out that his goal had been not only to keep America strong but also to prepare for a day when we were no longer the preeminent power. For this the extreme right pronounced him (and this idea) feckless, but what have they got other than smoke and mirrors, more bubbles, unilateral occupations, and the assurance of future sources of energy by force?

    The irony is that this behavior repudiates the free market principles they espouse. Jeez, talking about feckless. It also bears mentioning that internationally this is seen as thinly-veiled hypocrisy. We’ve only been successful in deluding ourselves.

    They are hardly making us safer in this way, are they?

  9. The primary reason why the Bush Administration isn’t talking about regime change is because they really don’t give a shit for Burma. It would be nice to think that there are practical restraints aside from not really caring, but the Decider’s only restraint is his own selfish desires. All the fancy rhetoric of deposing tyrants, freedom being on the march, and advancing democracy was just a covering to delude the American public in supporting the neo-con agenda of invading Iraq. Just sweet sounding lies.
    To myself I say..You’re making a mistake to think Bush cares. He has already shown his disingenuous character and his moral detachment to humanity. Don’t be taken in by crediting him with even an ounce of human decency.

    Oh yeah..It’s like the bible says…”He’s a liar because his father is a liar”

  10. The great fallacy in the economics of the past 20 years was that capitalism would create a democratic government and a free society. So everyone jumped on board because they stood to make lots of money byshipping all manufacturing to China while telling and deluding themselves and everyone else that this was good politically, economically etc etc. Now we see that some countries with alot of power do not have the ‘best’ interests of others at heart.

  11. Burma regime change? Sorry no Oil. Sorry no brown terrorist looking people. Burma: sorry no OIL.
    If Burma really wants to be invaded they better scare Israel, or the phony Christ like pukes in the USA that pretend to love Israel. Maybe if they pray to the east, and act Islamic, then we will invade, occupy, waste all the money and save them. Burma might be better off without us?

  12. Thats a great post!.

    The Soviet Union eventually collapsed due to sanctions and lack of trade with the West. They were not given the opportunity to introduce capitalism to their society like China. Burma would probably collapse under sanctions too, but they have oil and gas and partners willing to develop the necessary infrastructure to exploit it, so denying them capitalism by using sanctions against them is not effective, at all. It just hurts the people there, and besides, they have an alternative source of investment in China if and when China one day needs a source of cheap labour.

    The point being made that Capitalism inevitably brings Democracy was false and that China has authoritarian capitalism. and does not resemble liberal democracy, or any form of democracy.

    Many associate Capitalism with Democracy, and it is of course an essential component, not realizing that Democracy has another component that is equally important. The missing component is the working class. . A Democratic government balances the interests of the working class and the capitalists. China does not do this, except with foreign companies as an instrument way to get more dollars.

    When capitalists have all the power and is the main influence over government , you have Fascism. When authoratarian government has all the power, and there is no Capitalism, thats Totalitarian Communism. If you stretch out a piece of rope, consider that Fascism is on the extreme right end, Communism is on the extreme left end, and Democracy is at the center, then you might think the introduction of Capitalism to a Communist government brings it closer to Democracy, and that there is a huge divide between Communism and Fascism. There, but for the capitalists, not much for the working class which is left behind.

    This can be seen by taking the 2 ends of the rope and bringing them together. What you have now is Totalitarian Communism and Fascism at one end, and Democracy at the other end. What Communism and Fascism have in common is they have no representation of the working class in government. So China may very well have simply formed a hybrid between Fascism and Communism, or what you call Authoritarian Capitalism, but have not moved closer to Democracy at all. I have argued for 20 years that feeding the monster that China might become before they move closer to Democracy was basically just grooming our replacement as a super power, the government of China would not get weaker, it would get stronger. Sure enough, thats what is happening. Those dollars flowing in are building a huge military that is going to be used against us one day over dwindling resources.

    The US today, as a result of our China policy is somewhere between a Democracy and Fascism, inching closer to the right end of the rope year by year, since the working class has ceased to be an equal partner in our Democracy with the Capitalists gaining more clout day by day while they move the jobs away. The Capitalists have a mistress in China and the working class has been cheated, helped out by our governments free trade polices, you can call the government the capitalists pimp.

    To be fair, China did not trigger this, it started before China opened up with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. China just accelerated the process with the Clinton-Bush Dynasty’s help.

    Economic growth and increasing prosperity among the people make China a friendlier government to the people so long as it lasts, since the people are essential to the Capitalists, but when economic times become hard, as they will when the US economy collapses, which it must, they will simply revert to their nastier selves.

    With France shifting to the right, the Russians retreating from Democracy, as is the US, China poised to be the next Super Power, but not a Democratic power, then we may see dark days ahead for Democracy. The working class is toast in America.

  13. Burma regime change? Sorry no Oil. Sorry no brown terrorist looking people. Burma: sorry no OIL.

    Actually Burma does have oil and considerable natural gas.

  14. Cruise missile attack of Naypyidaw does hold some aesthetic appeal, especially as a test of decapitation as policy. However, one should not experiment with entire societies, or even with their fantasy emerald cities, as what is bad can in fact get worse.

    I don’t buy even for Iraq or Iran let alone Burma, the oil argument. If the administration were so rational as to cost its policies on basis of strategic and economic values of piplines and what flows in them, one would be assured that mess such as in Iraq would never have occurred. They’re crazier than that and that’s the problem.

  15. #20,
    I don’t think crazy is the proper term, more like “more savage than that”, although a sociopath is crazy (in a sense), we have so many sociopaths around, that form of behavior is becoming the norm.
    The object of the cabal is not to grab and sell the natural resources for a profit. The object is to create conflict, profit from selling things that go with war (arms, military support services, security, engineering/construction services) then gaining CONTROL of the contry AND resources after the fact( then profit from rebuilding the country!).It’s a big picture “thing”.
    This is why I’m not holding my breath about withdrawing troops from Iraq no matter which party wins in the next election.
    The current administration has demonstrated how to spend money like a drunken sailor, but they don’t care because the money flows from the U.S. treasury into their hands, so it’s not like it’s being squandered.The wheels in Washington are lubricated by the greasemen of big business.This ain’t no Shangri-La, nobody knows no Shangri-La.(so goes the song)

  16. Pingback: The Mahablog » Legacies

  17. Be careful when someone mention the “success of the authoritative capitalism”! This phenomenon has NOT been proven yet.

    If one is more careful about the current economic development in China. One should realize that the growth in China is NOT sustainable. The crash of the Chinese economy is almost a sure thing. This crash will not only cause instability in China and its neighboring region, but also create unprecedented drag to the world economy.

    Western capitalists have some how decided, without any good strategy, to rely on China for supplying cheap productivity. People some how has forgotten, China does not have the political stabilizing tool, democracy, for handling an economic crisis.

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