Friday, May 09, 2008

Fools Rush In...

To Seek Geopolitical Advantage from Myanmar’s Crisis

For the impassioned interventionist, Myanmar has it all: a corrupt and despotic junta, a gallant pro-democracy princess, and brave, battling monks. Now it’s got a colossal humanitarian crisis that throws the failures and flaws of the detested regime into sharp relief.

One thing it doesn’t have: a government so callous and shortsighted it will refuse international aid in order to preserve its own rule.

However, this is a line that the United States and its allies are pushing, apparently in an effort to delegitimize and weaken the Myanmar regime and maybe tally up a regime change success on the cheap, courtesy of an unprecedented natural disaster.

As a result, we may sacrifice an important source of credibility and leverage in Asia—America’s perceived willingness to provide apolitical disaster relief—and open the door for China to supplant us in this key role.

A casual Western reader could be forgiven for believing that the Myanmar regime is refusing to accept international aid in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

From Reuters:

In Myanmar, desperate survivors cried out for food, water and other supplies nearly a week after 100,000 people were feared killed by Cyclone Nargis as it roared across the farms and villages of the low-lying Irrawaddy delta region.

"We're outraged by the slowness of the response of the government of Burma (Myanmar) to welcome and accept assistance," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters.

"It's clear that the government's ability to deal with the situation, which is catastrophic, is limited."

France’s Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, suggested that the UN Security Council invoke a “responsibility to protect” (designed for cases of genocide) to override Myanmar sovereignty and enable relief operations inside the country without the government’s permission.

Asia Times’ Southeast Asia editor Shawn Crispin (who bills himself as “Asia Hand”...hmmm) completely jumped the shark in my opinion with a piece entitled “The case for invading Myanmar”:

Should the junta continue to resist foreign assistance while social and public health conditions deteriorate in clear view of global news audiences, the moral case for a UN-approved, US-led humanitarian intervention will grow... the deteriorating situation presents a unique opportunity for Bush to burnish his foreign policy legacy... it is almost sure-fire that Myanmar's desperate population would warmly welcome a US-led humanitarian intervention, considering that its own government is now withholding emergency supplies... Now, Cyclone Nagris and the government's woeful response to the disaster have suddenly made that once paranoid delusion into a strong pre-emptive possibility, one that Bush's lame-duck presidency desperately needs.

Easy, tiger.

A more balanced view of Myanmar affairs -and one that doesn't fit with the narrative of criminal dysfunction by the Myanmar regime-- might be gained by looking across the tarmac at Yongon International Airport.

YANGON, May 7 (Xinhua) -- A special big aircraft carrying 500,000 U.S. dollars' worth of relief materials from China arrived at the Yangon International Airport Wednesday afternoon as part of China's one million dollars' emergency relief aid to cyclone-devastated Myanmar.

The 60-ton relief supplies, carried by a Boeing 747-400 aircraft, include compressed food, tents and blankets.

May 7 is two days before “the first big aid flights” (according to AP) arrived. The China mission was a development that the Western press apparently missed.

China subsequently pledged an additional $4.25 million in aid, making them the largest pledged donor as well as the largest provider of actual aid to date, as far as I can tell.

The Western response?

Well, as of May 9, if you type “China aid Myanmar” into Google, the first hit you get, from ABC News :

“Is China’s Aid to Myanmar a PR Stunt?”

Actually, politics is all over the issue of Myanmar relief, and most of it is coming from the Western countries.

In an interesting coincidence, President Bush happened to be awarding a medal to Aung San Suu Kyi and used the opportunity to throw a few rocks at the government we’re supposedly negotiating with in the midst of a titanic humanitarian disaster:

President Bush spoke at a ceremony where he signed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi.

"This is a fitting tribute to a courageous woman who speaks for freedom for all the people of Burma and who speaks in such a way that she's a powerful voice, in contrast to the junta that currently rules the country," Bush said.

Returning to the troubles of the UN and the Western governments in getting their aid into Myanmar.

Per the Independent:

"We will not just bring our supplies to an airport, dump it and take off," said [The World Food Programme's regional director Anthony Banbury]. "This is one reason why there is a hold up now, because we are going to bring in not just supplies but a lot of capacity to go with them to make sure the supplies get to the people."

In other words, the UN, the US, and some Western governments have made delivery of their aid contingent upon getting visas for their teams of experts to accompany the aid and supervise its distribution.

Reasons given range from “the Myanmar government is overwhelmed” to “otherwise the aid will go to feed the army instead of the people” (which some will recognize as a reprise of the accusations that North Korea diverts food aid to feed its army while its people starve). [Western insistence on letting the aid teams in probably has something to do with an unwillingness to see Myanmar negotiate large quantities of unconditional assistance, gain an undeserved economic and political windfall, and thereby strengthen its regime—CH, 5/9/08]

The aid kabuki theater continued, with the United States pledging $3 million in aid, but not to the Myanmar government. Instead, it was put in the hands of the USAID team waiting in Thailand for permission to enter:

The White House said Tuesday the U.S. will send more than $3 million to help victims of the devastating cyclone in Myanmar, up from an initial emergency contribution of $250,000.
The additional commitment of funds, announced by press secretary Dana Perino, came as Myanmar continued to resist entry for a U.S. disaster assessment team. The Bush administration said permission for such a team to enter the Southeast Asian nation and look at the damage would allow quicker and larger aid contributions.

In the meantime, the decision was made to funnel $3 million more to the disaster-stricken zone. Perino said the money would be allocated by a USAID disaster response team that is currently positioned in Thailand.[emph. added]

In a USAID press conference, some reporter was able to get to the nub of the issue, despite Director of Foreign Disaster Assistance jefe Ky Luu’s dogged attempts to tap-dance around the issue of tying aid to access:

QUESTION: I’m sorry, one more question. Well, why not just give everything through the UN and allow the UN to distribute everything? Why does it have to go through U.S. transport planes or U.S. assets? Why not give everything to the UN and have them -- you know -- through the World Food Program, through all their agencies, seeing as how their planes are being allowed in now?

MR. LUU: Well, not all their planes are being allowed in.

QUESTION: Well, there are several at this point.

MR. LUU: They have received, what we’ve been told, permission for four flights and for food. They are similarly situated, as are our other colleagues, in terms of being able to bring in staff. As I said here, the UNDAC team, they were only allowed to grant visas for four staff, so – the point being is if there’s a large infrastructure that we can support, we will look at that option. But the point is that it shouldn’t be narrowed in scope. Everybody has to become involved and we hope and urge that the regime will allow the access to take place as soon as possible.

The Jakarta Post picked up on another report indicating that it seemed more important for the United States to get its people rather than its food and supplies into Myanmar:

While directly pushing Myanmar to admit international disaster relief, the United States has asked Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan, India, China and others to use "any leverage" they may have with Myanmar to allow relief teams into the country, AFP reported.

It’s easier to say “Myanmar is dragging its feet on aid” than “Myanmar desperately wants the aid but we are withholding it until we get what we want”, but that’s what’s happening:

And that leads to scenes like this:

The U.N. World Food Program said two planeloads of supplies containing enough high-energy biscuits to feed 95,000 people were seized Friday, prompting the world body to say it was suspending aid flights.

Later, WFP chief spokeswoman Nancy Roman said the flights would resume on Saturday while negotiations continued for the release of the supplies.

Myanmar's government acknowledged taking control of the shipments and said it plans to distribute the aid itself to the affected areas.

Compare and contrast:

Three Red Cross aid flights loaded with shelter kits and other emergency supplies landed in Myanmar Friday without incident.

"We are not experiencing any problems getting in (unlike) the United Nations," Danish Red Cross spokesman Hans Beck Gregersen said.

The International Red Cross is apparently a trusted and established channel for channel for distributing aid into Myanmar.

Canwest reported:

While many relief groups continue to face delays in helping the cause, Red Cross groups have been able to access some victims and distribute aid to some areas.

Michael Annear, Southeast Asia Regional Disaster Management Co-ordinator for the International Red Cross, said the organization did deal with some hassle in starting its operations, but things are improving.

"Initially, there was some slight delay (on obtaining visas)," Annear said during a conference call Thursday, "(but) we've been quite successful in developing a system with the Myanmar embassies in other countries and also working from within the Myanmar Red Cross, who is working closely with the government to get approval for individuals to come in."

The personnel from the International Red Cross would be in addition to the Myanmar Red Cross, which has about 27,000 local volunteers working to help victims since the cyclone hit last Saturday.

The organization has a permanent delegation of workers in Yangon, with external experts also coming in to help. More technical delegates are expected to arrive Friday and through the weekend.

Annear says the familiarity local Red Cross volunteers have with the area and its culture are an asset in distributing materials - purchased locally - to the most vulnerable regions.

The Chinese Red Cross is also working with the Myanmar Red Cross Society to funnel aid into Myanmar.

In the case of supplies, it would seem to be the right thing to flood Yongyon airport with supplies on a dump-and-go basis and hope that the Burmese regime has strong enough instincts for compassion and self-preservation and the Red Cross has enough access and capability to push the food and equipment out to the afflicted areas.

The Burmese regime may be more corrupt and inept than most, but totalitarian regimes tend to be rather good at disaster relief, when the security mechanisms for monitoring and control can shift to humanitarian outreach. Its performance in this unprecedented national crisis will be a key test of whether it can continue to cling to power.

When one looks at the Western response in detail, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Western governments are exploiting the suffering to dramatize the weaknesses of the Burmese regime and undermine its legitimacy and rule—and that the Western media is enamored of the narrative that the United States can stand in judgment of the rest of the world on disaster relief *cough* Katrina and humanitarian intervention *cough* Iraq to the point of self-delusion.

That’s not a narrative that Myanmar’s Asian neighbors are particularly interested in.

One could draw the conclusion that, in the matter of Cyclone Nargis, self-serving outrage is a monopoly of the Western powers, but meaningful assistance is not.

While reporting the high-profile complaints of the UN, Europe, and the United States, the Independent noted in passing:

Navy ships from India and planes from Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Laos and Bangladesh have arrived in recent days with medicine, candles, instant noodles, raincoats and other relief supplies.

From Bangkok, Canwest acknowledged that aid was arriving, and reported the self-inflicted difficulties faced by the Western countries:

Only "friendly" governments such as China, India and Thailand have been allowed to help so far, and even they have been limited to delivering supplies and leaving.

This kind of "drop-off assistance" does not sit well with many Western governments, however. After years of ignoring calls for reform and sloughing off punishing sanctions, most governments do not trust the Myanmar generals to distribute the aid on offer, rather than stockpile it for themselves and the military.

The Western-powers versus Asia dynamic played itself out in an interesting way in the UN Security Council.

The French representative dutifully followed up on Bernard Kouchner’s “responsibility to protect” scheme by floating the idea of Security Council intervention in an e-mail.

China, Russia, Vietnam, South Africe, and Indonesia publicly slapped it down.

Indonesia, one might recall, was a major beneficiary of foreign assistance in Aceh following the devastating 2004 tsunami and might be considered sympathetic to the idea of accelerated and forcible humanitarian access.

But it drew the opposite conclusion, according to Xinhua:

Based on Indonesia's past experiences in dealing with disasters, especially the 2004 deadly tsunami, [Indonesia’s UN ambassador] Natalegawa said that most probably the aid delivery efforts were hampered by conditions in the field. "It's quite possible that the obstacles hampering the relief assistance delivery are not caused by political things, but by the complexity of conditions in the field," he said.

Indonesia went on to state:

"We think there are other better forums to discuss the humanitarian dimension of the Myanmar situation," Indonesian Ambassador Marty Natalegawa told reporters ahead of a Security Council meeting."There is a already a readiness on the part of Myanmar to open itself to assistance," he said. "The last thing we would want is to give a political spin to the technical realities and the situation on the ground."

The Chinese went public with their displeasure, and even the chief UN aid guy was cool to the idea.

Beijing's deputy permanent representative, Ambassador Liu Zhenmin, made it clear that China, which has veto powers on the council, opposed any involvement of the U.N. Security Council.

"The current issue of Myanmar is a natural disaster," he said. "It's not an issue for the Security Council. It might be a good issue for other forums of the U.N."

Liu said the council should not politicize the issue and should "let the humanitarian assistance go on."

U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes has indicated that the French approach would not be helpful and could be seen by some as confrontation.

Western diplomats acknowledged that it would be difficult to persuade skeptics on the council about the need for getting the council involved. Council diplomats said Washington was among the most supportive of the French idea.

One might say that the West overreached, scored an own goal, gave up the moral high ground, picked up a stone to throw and instead dropped it on its own foot, or (insert suitable metaphor here) by pushing Kouchner’s over-the-top proposal.

One might also say that the people of Myanmar would have been better served by a prompt release of aid that erred on the side of compassion and trust, instead of wasting time at the UN Security Council on futile jibber-jabber concerning the fantasy of forcible humanitarian intervention or haggling over the access of our experts.

Instead, intensive diplomatic efforts could have been devoted to negotiating a genuine, life-saving measure: permitting US helicopter crews to fly humanitarian missions to cut-off villages.

Asian disaster relief is, interestingly, an important role for the United States military, in particular the U.S. Navy.

Since we are technically at peace with all of the states in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans—at least until the next war—the Navy needs an excuse to keep steaming around there, making port calls, and making the case for a sustained US military presence out there.

One mission the US Navy has claimed is humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural disasters, most conspicuously and successfully demonstrated in the case of the case of the 2004 tsunami.

The Navy has a ship in the area, the Essex, that could provide 19 helicopters with cargo lift capability, and it would be nice to see them deployed to get supplies to people desperately clinging to life in the flooded Irrawaddy delta.

Unfortunately, USAID’s Ky Luu, got a little carried away and proposed that the US military drop supplies without permission of the Myanmar government.

Secretary of Defense Gates, who seems to be the sole voice of reason in the Bush administration these days, quashed the idea, stating:

"I cannot image us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government."

Presumably, Secretary Gates drew the conclusion that nothing would discredit the humanitarian mission of the US military in Asia quicker than unapproved operations.

Nobody’s going to welcome the 7th Fleet in the region if they are worried about helicopters full of Marines buzzing across the horizon to “rescue” some pro-US rebel group from an attack by government forces on the pretext of a rainstorm.

Even under the most favorable of circumstances, a deal on US forces flying missions into Myanmar would probably be unachievable.

But, given the unnecessary and quite possibly cynically deliberate two-step on admission of US and UN aid workers, it’s impossible, and many people may die as a result.

In the wake of the disaster and the politicized Western posturing, I think that there will be an assessment that an effective, non-US disaster relief capability needs to be present in the region—from Indonesia, India, or China.

The Chinese may be quick to jump on the opportunity.

As the AP pointed out:

China is a relative newcomer to major international disaster relief operations and its armed forces, despite their vast size, have limited capacity for quickly delivering supplies beyond its borders.

Beijing may decide it needs something like the Essex sailing around in the Pacific with helicopters on deck, ready to offer disaster relief both to its close and unpopular allies like Burma and any state that wants to avail itself of the resource—and not only for humanitarian reasons or to provide more opportunities for the display of Chinese soft-power benevolence.

A Chinese disaster relief capability would also deny the United States another pretext for a significant military presence in the west Pacific and Indian Ocean, and give the Chinese military forces humanitarian cover for development of their blue-water and regional force-projection capabilities.

And, when the Western posturing on Myanmar is recalled, Asian states might be willing to swallow their suspicions of Chinese military reach and accept Beijing instead of the United States as a primary provider of regional disaster relief.

That’s not good for us.

Even if the Myanmar regime collapses as a result of the post-cyclone chaos, that win may not be enough to compensate for the loss of US standing and prestige in the region.


James B. said...

Sure, the big, bad West (led by the United States) is doing whatever they can to take advantage of the situation and undermine the government of Burma. The military junta wants international aid, has asked (begged) for it and we in the West say otherwise to further our own imperialist goals. Sure, and we're also responsible for the coming famine in North Korea, the instability on that penninsula, the tsunami that hit the region in 2004, and the food crisis that is hitting parts of the world. And least we forget, the problems revolving around the Olympic torch rally are all OUR fault as well! Yes, it's ALL the fault of the Americans and their Western brethren. Maybe it IS time that China and India stepped up to the plate, since we imperialists in the West are so self-centered and evil. PLEASE. Whatever it is you're smoking, you need to share with the rest of us.

James B.
A Typical White Western Imperialist

Helena Cobban said...

Check out what I blogged on this subject earlier this week, here and here.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your insightful analysis of the recent debacle about getting aid to Burma.

Given that the Bush administration has squandered a great deal of American authority in the past 8 years, this leaves the door open for another power to take a global role. Judging from its actions, that is exactly what the Chinese government is planning to do. If this were to happen, it would only benefit the world community to have more than one strong nation committed to maintaining global order.

I find this current situation analogous to the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997 when the Thai bhat liquidated overnight. Many Thai were expecting an American financial bailout which never came. At that time Beijing was the only government that openly committed itself to maintaining its own currency to prevent future damage. That soured many Thai on American-Thailand relations. It's worth noting that China-Thailand relations have improved dramatically since.

China's soft power offensive will be interesting to see as times goes on. Again, thank you for your analysis; it was very well done and provided much insight into the situation.

Unknown said...

huh. the blog title is "China Matters"? of course it does and of course this blog says what China wants you to say.

You are right that totalitarian governments could be better at distributing aid cause they are so good at controlling everything and everyone. (read CNN Dan Rivers' story on how they are using their resources to track a journalist down rather than focus on the disaster relief effort) They have accomplished great feats of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of unwilling citizens to their staged demonstrations for support. What kind of government needs to force their citizens to demonstrate their support? Isn't that the most laughable and pathetic attempt to delude themselves that people actually want their rule?

But to get to my point, the government had the resources and demonstrated ability to mobilize people in the villages on the path of the cyclone BEFORE it hit. Did they bother? No.

Why? because they would rather get people killed than ask its underlings to take a break from getting ready for rigging the outcome of the fake referendum.

You think everyone should JUST trust that Burmese government will do the right thing and distribute the supplies people drop off at the airport, at the border to the real victims of the disaster. Yeah, right. what do you know about corruption? 80% of the material will be 'lost' or 'misplaced' on its way to the victim in the hands of military, police and 'USDA' members. But don't worry. those same supplies will reappear in the black market 2 days later and sure, the public will get them eventually - only after paying the exorbitant prices on the black market.

I have seen UNICEF supplies being sold in the black market. I have seen bandages with red cross logos being sold in the medicine supplies shops. In Yangon, no one even blinks when someone is selling stolen goods that are clearly coming from some NGO or UN organization. It's part of life under a corrupt system.

let's see if you are the lone survivor with no money, you are pretty much screwed if every organization agrees to leave their donations in the hands of Burmese government.

I am a Burmese citizen . I know what I am talking about because I have lived with this situation under this government. I saw a soldier shooting into the crowd in 1988. I was just a kid and I didn't really understand what was happening at the time.

I am not a blind supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi or just hating the Burmese government because the US media tells me to. Nor I am some westerner with no real perspective who hasn't seen the other side of the story. I have seen the other side of the story and it's actually worse than the side the world can see.

nanheyangrouchuan said...

What is so sad and pathetic about this thread is that the author calls Xinhua's opinions "a more balanced view". Isn't it Beijing that props up this government? And North Korea? Good track record.

Apparently the junta took the time to place the names of top generals on all of the aid packages so the victims would know from whom the aid is, ahem, coming from.

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military regime distributed international aid Saturday but plastered the boxes with the names of top generals in an apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise.

The United Nations sent in three more planes and several trucks loaded with aid, though the junta took over its first two shipments. The government agreed to let a U.S. cargo plane bring in supplies Monday, but foreign disaster experts still were being barred entry.

Despite international appeals to postpone a referendum on a controversial proposed constitution, voting began Saturday in all but the hardest hit parts of the country. With voters going to the polls, state-run television continuously ran images of top generals including junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, handing out boxes of aid at elaborate ceremonies.

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.

"It is not going to areas where it is most in need," he said in London.

State media say 23,335 people died and 37,019 are missing from Cyclone Nargis, which submerged entire villages in the Irrawaddy delta. International aid organizations say the death toll could climb to more than 100,000 as conditions worsen.

The U.N. estimated that 1.5 million to 2 million people have been severely affected and has voiced concern about the disposal of bodies.

With phone lines down, roads blocked and electricity networks destroyed, it is nearly impossible to reach isolated areas in the delta, complicated by the lack of experienced international aid workers and equipment.

The junta has refused to grant access to foreign experts, saying it will only accept donations from foreign charities and governments, and then will deliver the aid on its own.

Despite such obstacles, the U.N. refugee agency sent its first aid convoy by land into Myanmar on Saturday and began airlifting a 110 tons of shelter supplies from its warehouse in Dubai, it said.

Two trucks carrying more than 20 tons of tents and plastic sheets for some 10,000 cyclone victims crossed into the country from northwestern Thailand, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

"This convoy marks a positive step in an aid effort so far marked by challenges and constraints," said Raymond Hall, UNHCRs Representative in Thailand. "We hope it opens up a possible corridor to allow more international aid to reach the cyclone victims."

A total of 23 international agencies were providing aid to people in the devastated areas, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

But a large number of organizations still were awaiting government clearance for more aid shipments, staff and transport.

"It's a race against the clock," Byrs said. "If the humanitarian aid does not get into the country on a larger scale, there's the risk of a second catastrophe," she said, adding that people could die from hunger and diseases.

Health experts have warned there was a great risk of diarrhea and cholera spreading because of the lack of clean drinking water and sanitation.

Farmaner suggested that aid be delivered to the country, also known as Burma, even if the regime does not give its permission.

"We have had a week to convince the regime to behave reasonably, and they are still blocking aid," he said. "So the international community needs to wake up and take bolder steps."

However, aid providers are unlikely to pursue unilateral deliveries like airdrops because of the diplomatic firestorm that it could set off.

So far, relief workers have reached 220,000 cyclone victims, only a small fraction of the number of people affected, the Red Cross said Friday. Three Red Cross aid flights loaded with shelter kits and other emergency supplies landed Friday without incident.

The international Red Cross sent 31 tons of relief goods from Geneva Friday evening, including pumps, generators, water tanks and other water treatment equipment, as well as basic health care for about 10,000 people and surgery material, according to spokesman Marcal Izard.

The shipment was designated for those in labor camps and prisons, he said. He said the agency planned to distribute the aid in coordination with the Myanmar Red Cross, which is the leading relief agency in Myanmar.

The government seized two planeloads of high-energy biscuits — enough to feed 95,000 people — sent by the U.N. World Food Program. Despite the seizure, the WFP was sending three more planes Saturday from Dubai, Cambodia and Italy, even though those could be confiscated, too.

"We are working around the clock with the authorities to ensure the kind of access that we need to ensure it goes to people that need it most," WFP spokesman Marcus Prior said in Bangkok, Thailand.

Richard Horsey, a spokesman for U.N. humanitarian operations, said an international presence is needed in Myanmar to look at the logistics of getting boats, helicopters and trucks into the delta area.

"That's a critical bottleneck that must be overcome at this point," he said in Bangkok.

Heavy rain forecast in the next week was certain to exacerbate the misery. Diplomats and aid groups warned the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illnesses and said thousands of children may have been orphaned.

Survivors from one of the worst-affected areas, near the town of Bogalay, were among those fighting hunger, illness and wrenching loneliness.

"All my 28 family members have died," said Thein Myint, a 68-year-old fisherman who wept while describing how the cyclone swept away the rest of his family. "I am the only survivor."

Officials have said only one out of 10 people who are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger have received some kind of aid since the cyclone hit May 3.

The government's abilities are limited. It has only a few dozen helicopters, most of which are small and old. It also has about 15 transport planes, primarily small jets unable to carry hundreds of tons of supplies.

"Not only don't they have the capacity to deliver assistance, they don't have experience," said Farmaner, the British aid worker. "It's already too late for many people. Every day of delays is costing thousands of lives."

Levitator ﹝浮客﹞ said...

China Hand,

I am a regular reader of your blog and an admirer too. But you’ve lost me completely with this post.

I do not question your argument that Western countries are pushing their own agendas in the whole disaster relief operation, even though you really sound like Xinhua and all those other PRC mouthpieces when you lump “the West” together in one gob. For good measure, you add the UN into this gob, implying in the process that all those officials from the World Food Program and other UN relief organizations are entirely dancing to the tune of “the West” and their sense of urgency has no basis whatsoever in professional judgment.

You said:

“One might also say that the people of Myanmar would have been better served by a prompt release of aid that erred on the side of compassion and trust.”

Here you are ignoring the fact that it’s merely a standard UN procedure to have UN staff monitor relief work to make sure the goods are distributed to the needy. You scorn at those who say the Burmese military is not equipped to cope with a disaster of this scale. And then you turn around and say the delays are caused by the collapse of infrastructure. Well, if the Burmese military does not have the resources to overcome the infrastructure collapse, it is not equipped to do the job, period. China and India may send all the goods they feel charitable to send, but they do not have any large airlift capability, and when the US offers to help with its capability you are saying they are pushing their own agendas. Well, who doesn’t. But in bending over backwards to attack “the West” you sound like an apologist for the abominable military junta with something like:

"One thing it doesn’t have: a government so callous and shortsighted it will refuse international aid in order to preserve its own rule."

Setting aside the appalling record of the military government in “serving” its own people, you completely ignored the referendum issue and the very likely possibility that the military’s foot-dragging and sidelining of the relief work has very much to do with the referendum. Coming a week before the referendum, the storm turned out to be inconvenient nuisance, so they just don’t want foreigners to mess up their farce of self-legitimization. What say you?

nanheyangrouchuan said...

This blogger is not only an unashamed panda licker but a complete totalitarian lover.

Next thing this guy is going to tell us that that Kim Jong Il is a misunderstood man who cares deeply for his people and is backed into a corner by "The West" and its "agenda".

What a boob.

Unknown said...

How boring that the usual amerikan ass lickers and low level pentagon mis-informationists choose to blitz a thoughtful blog with their hackneyed propaganda.
Particularly since most wouldn't know Myanmar from a hole in the ground. As someone who does and who wants to see a successful humanitarian intervention for all Myanmar's people and not just the Burmans who USuk have been pandering to for years in a transparent attempt to get their sticky paws on Myanmar's huge hydrocarbon reserves, I am confident that this humanitarian intervention is best handled by Myanmars neighbours, China Thailand even Indonesia. Those nations have no interest this disaster spilling out into their territory and will ensure that supplies are distributed to Myanmar's people no matter their ethnicity.

Asad said...

When the earthquake happened in Iran, foreign workers were all over the place. Now Iran gave everyone visas and they were allowed to work in Iran without a problem, US Aid was given alongside those of other countries.

So why didn't the West which is far more anti-iran than anti-burma do the same thing with the Iran aid ?

To me that puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Burmese government. The government doesn't want people to be thankful to foreign aid, if they are thankful for the aid what else might they ask the West for ? That's the main reason they are holding up the aid.

testtube said...

In the case of supplies, it would seem to be the right thing to flood Yongyon airport with supplies on a dump-and-go basis and hope that the Burmese regime has strong enough instincts for compassion and self-preservation and the Red Cross has enough access and capability to push the food and equipment out to the afflicted areas.

You gotta be kidding me. The point now is that the Burmese regime is horrifically underequipped for such a disaster. They have barely sent any helicopters out (and they only have 40 in all, most of which in bad condition) and their trucks are prone to breakdowns. The Red Cross is trying its best but it doesn't have that kind of equipment either. Furthermore, only Red Cross workers already in Burma are allowed to help; foreign Red Cross workers have been banned, leading to an acute shortage of manpower.

The US Navy has ships waiting offshore fully equipped with state-of-the-art helicopters, amphibious vehicles, etc. During the 2004 tsunami they were the main source of relief in Aceh. They had flights dropping off supplies in Banda Aceh every hour. This could be happening right now in Burma if not for the junta's selfishness. Are all those evil Western journalists and NGOs lying when they report that vast regions of the Irrawaddy delta have still received no aid whatosever because the junta does not have the resources to access them? Does it not count as withholding humanitarian aid when US helicopters could easily, quickly reach those areas but the junta won't let them?

Unknown said...

The Burmese government's failure to respond quickly to the disaster is definitely evident this time. However, people shouldn't be so quick to deny that US government's over eagerness to help is not motivated by some geopolitical agenda. Sending the navy in? Forcing air drops? Given the indifferent attitude of US government to other crisis and genocide and ongoing wars, this dramatic outcry of caringness is very suspicious. When did the neo-cons ever cared about humanitarian causes? said...

Thanks for the refreshing and more thoughtful point of view. Irony is a difficult skill and James b. doesn't pull it off with what is a straw man argument.

I suggest he ponder the US administration's response to offers of assistance in the Katrina disaster [for which there is no excuse] before attempting the superior attitude.

Indeed, I look forward to China Matters thoughts comparing the two taking into account race and class and competence of the US. As an American I find it's self touting exceptionalism and triumphalism puerile and self-satirizing.

You strike just the right tone of skepticism towards all. The East didn't invade the West for 150 years trying to dismember it and dominate it and it is fair to keep that fear of Western subversion in mind. How many European governments have been overthrown by Asian forces?

nanheyangrouchuan said...

"Sending the navy in? Forcing air drops? Given the indifferent attitude of US government to other crisis and genocide and ongoing wars"

So who else besides any navy is going to bring supplies in? The Indians and Thais aren't even being allowed in. And it is the UN that is talking forced air drops, not the US. Who else is indifferent towards genocide and ongoing wars? The entire world, which has turned its back on the Sudanese, North Koreans, Burmese, etc, etc.

As for Katrina, that was an all around f*&k up on the US's part, but then again the US military is not allowed to take action unless asked by a state's governor. That is part of what the civil war was about.

"I look forward to China Matters thoughts comparing the two taking into account race and class and competence of the US."

The competence of the US certainly isn't perfect but then compared to China we are truly angels.

"The East didn't invade the West for 150 years trying to dismember it and dominate it and it is fair to keep that fear of Western subversion in mind. How many European governments have been overthrown by Asian forces?"

Oh, please, the Qing government had its population addicted to heroin long before the Europeans showed up, they just did a better job at production and distributing it.

And considering the arms and drugs that the PLA has pumped into the US for the pas 25 years, I'd say that we are tit for tat. said...

He, or she, has identified the problem. It's theological. The U.S. are "angels" compared to the Chinese. Let's leave God and his minions out of it. And ask the American Indians about the angel part. Enough of them were made angels by the angelic Americans. You might ask the Mexicans also about wars of aggression to acquire territory.

Rather typical American arrogance. "We know best." Any mistakes aren't "our"fault [the governors didn't ask thus the military couldn't act].

I suspect you are in error regarding the Opium War also. But that's hardly an excuse for interfering in the internal affairs of another country unless you are willing to have other states interfere in yours. But Americans do so think they are superior. I'm not sure I'd let them in either. It's not like they pulled off the occupation of Iraq very competently. Perhaps the Americans should just send food, stay out of the way and hope for the best rather than conditioning aid and then being holier than thou when the conditions are declined. that's not really aid, that's intervention.

Rocking Offkey said...

The object should be first and foremost to get the aids to people's hand, not to argue over who steals the credit, or play politics. There's other times for that. my guide to how to blame it on China

nanheyangrouchuan said...

"But that's hardly an excuse for interfering in the internal affairs of another country unless you are willing to have other states interfere in yours."

All states interfere in each others' internal affairs. How about China sending tanks and bombers to the Sudan? Aren't 500,000 dead black Sudanese enough?

"And ask the American Indians about the angel part. Enough of them were made angels by the angelic Americans. You might ask the Mexicans also about wars of aggression to acquire territory."

The UK/French/Spanish/Dutch and then US were dead wrong about how they treated American natives. But as opposed to the rest of the world, Australia and the US have and are continuing to make genuine amends. Oh, those atrocities are in our history books. How about China's history books?

As for the Mexicans, the SW US was never their "native territory", they inherited that land from the Spanish empire.

As for Myanmar, the military is keeping the food for itself and distributing rotten food, this is first hand reporting from refugees and embedded reporters. Just another NK and the leadership deserves to die.
Or are hundreds of thousands of people being starved by their government an "internal affair"?

china is a bad, bad country and the proof is in its two offspring, NK and Mynamar.

Unknown said...

**Sure, the big, bad West (led by the United States) is doing whatever they can to take advantage of the situation and undermine the government of Burma. The military junta wants international aid, has asked (begged) for it and we in the West say otherwise to further our own imperialist goals. Sure, and we're also responsible for the coming famine in North Korea, the instability on that penninsula, the tsunami that hit the region in 2004, and the food crisis that is hitting parts of the world. And least we forget, the problems revolving around the Olympic torch rally are all OUR fault James B.
A Typical White Western Imperialist**

any five yr old could see it coming

you just cant help being an asshole eh ?

Unknown said...


how many women and children have your buddies killed today?