Sunday, October 21, 2007

What in the world is going on?

By Carol Gee

Connecting India and China via Burma, "Stillwell's World War II Road" -- The Financial Times of London carried this fascinating story that brings back memories for those of us retirees old enough to remember World War II, or for history buffs. It is headlined, "Ghost road to boost India-China trade." To quote:

Overgrown and disused for much of the last 60 years, a ghost road that connects India to China via Burma will soon reappear on maps of the region.

Dismissed by Winston Churchill as a “laborious task, unlikely to be finished until the need for it has passed”, the construction of the road claimed the lives of 1,100 US servicemen and many more local labourers during the second world war.

My childhood world seemed lost and far off the beaten path -- The words in the story above remind me of an unsettling experience I had a few years ago, as my two sisters and I tried to find our former childhood homes "in the wilds" of Wyoming. Road improvements had bypassed the locations we remembered. We finally found the original old road in much the same condition as the Burma road, little used, disintegrating and full of potholes. The still standing houses were now the homes of others, of course, but far off the beaten path.

"Burma" isolated by the world and noticed in Canada -- The name Michael Stickings still uses here at The Reaction is Burma instead of Myanmar. It is also off the beaten path. Seen as a pariah nation, repressive and dangerous to its own citizens, it has finally caught the attention of our current president, OCP. According to Michael's Reaction post yesterday, "The Pressure on Burma" was increased when OCP announced heightened sanctions. To quote:

What else is he to do, short of military action? One hopes that the pressure on India and China is forceful. One hope that the sanctions will weaken the totalitarian regime in Burma.

And yet -- Will India and China give in to American pressure (given, among other things, Bush's weakness) Will they back out of, and away from, a country in which they both have substantial investments? Japan and the EU are siding with the U.S., but, ultimately, China, India, and Burma's other regional neighbours are the ones who will have to step up if the regime is not just to cease its present round of brutality but to fall entirely. And will an enhanced sanctions regime even work?

Welcome to Friedman's flat world. The question of sanctions is one resisted by both India and China, for similar reasons involving the marketplace, it seems, rather than human rights. The China Daily website reports with this headline, "China-ASEAN trade speeds up". To quote from the China trade story:

China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have seen fast growth in bilateral trade with the volume being expected to reach 190 billion U.S. dollars this year.

. . . China's average tariff on ASEAN countries' goods was slashed from 9.9 percent to 5.8 percent now and will continue to drop to 2.4 percent in 2009, and finally in 2010, which is the scheduled time for the establishment of the free trade zone, 93 percent of products from ASEAN countries will be tariff-free.

By 2010, China will establish free trade zone with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, while Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar can enjoy five more years of transition.

Looking at the map of this interconnected part of the world, the United States should probably not hold its breath waiting for Burma's neighbors to handle the problem. Additionally, voices inside India appear to have no illusions about the issue. DNA - Daily News and Analysis, a website from India carried an editorial regarding India's relations with Burma. The story begins:

Myanmar will never defy China — New Delhi must understand this

Nobody should be surprised that the public protests against Myanmar’s military junta demanding civil liberties, spearheaded by students and novice monks, has been crushed.

. . . An illusion persists in New Delhi that Myanmar wishes to balance India against China and thereby acquire leverage with both Asian giants. This is not true. China has historically exercised much more leverage than India on Myanmar, as its largest trading partner, major source of military equipment, diplomatic link to the outside world, using its veto in the Security Council to prevent its castigation by that body.

. . . Four other verities inform that policy: India’s need for Myanmar’s oil and gas reserves, to gain road access and connectivity into Southeast Asia, to secure cooperation for effectively pursuing India’s counterinsurgency operations in the Northeast and to counter the Chinese influence.

What has India to offer Myanmar? Trade and technology transfers? Development assistance? With a closed Soviet-style economy, the junta has little desire for them, but is suspicious of efforts to enter its North Korea-type society. These compulsions and vulnerabilities have guided Indian policy to refrain from adopting any definitive stand on the crisis in Myanmar, which amounts to support of its military leadership.

Memories of World War II have also been sharpened for millions of us who watched Ken Burns' "The War." Writing this post has taken me far back in time as well as far around the world to Southeast Asia. Remembering World War II is bittersweet for a Japanese retiree in the news recently. Headlined,"WWII postcard delivered to Japanese man 64 years later" it is another fascinating story, this time from the China Daily (10/20/07). To quote:

A postcard that a Japanese soldier mailed from a Southeast Asian battlefront during World War II has reached a recipient in Japan 64 years later, a university whose student helped deliver it said Saturday.

Shizuo Nagano, an 80-year-old retiree in Japan's southwestern prefecture (state) of Kochi, received the card Friday -- by way of places including Nagasaki, Arizona and Hawaii -- said a statement from Mukogawa Women's University.

Nagano's former colleague at a retail store, Nobuchika Yamashita mailed the card in 1943 from Burma, now called Myanmar, a year before Yamashita died at war at age 23, the university statement said.

Small World Story -- To bring us back to today in the United States, I conclude with this link to India's story related to the recent election of Bobby Jindal as Governor of Louisiana. From DNA, I found this charming little story headlined, "Jindal's Ancestral Village Celebrates his victory." To quote:

CHANDIGARH: Celebrations erupted in Bobby Jindal's ancestral Khanpura village on Sunday over his election as Governor of the US state of Louisiana with locals distributing sweets and performing 'bhangra'.

. . . "We are really proud that Bobby has finally made it and won the Governor's race. It's a great honour not just for our family, but Punjab and the nation as well as the son of this soil has achieved something really big," Bobby's 37-year-old cousin Gulshan Jindal told over phone from Malerkotla.

He said the entire Khanpura village, from where he said Bobby's father Amar Chand migrated to the US nearly four decades back, had erupted in joy on hearing the news.

My links above to web sites around the world remind me again of how easy it is to find answers to my original question -- "What in the world is going on?"

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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