Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Good Government, Disaster Reactions and Legitimacy

The tragic disasters in Burma* and China give us a chance to observe a number of differences among developing countries.

The cyclone that hit Burma recently now looks to have claimed at least 70,000 lives (Katrina killed just under 2,000). What is worse is that the Burmese government has actively hindered international relief efforts. Where Bush and his cronies in FEMA merely bungled the job, at least they tried within the limits of their competence. These butchers in Rangoon however, are going out of their way to prevent anyone else from giving aid. The result is human tragedy on a scale that reminds us of the 2004 tsunami.

The massive earthquake in China presents us with a picture of a government that gets the political significance of these events. The Chinese government immediately sent in the army and has made a big public show of exerting maximum effort. The death toll there is approaching 30,000. The Chinese people will be comparing this disaster (and their government's response) to the 1976 Tangshan earthquake which probably killed somewhere between a quarter and half a million people depending on which Chinese government claim you look at.

So here is the political aspect of this. The Burmese government may have finally reached a point where they will no longer be tolerated by the international community. Even China (their protector in such matters) will be hard pressed to justify their continued grip on power as this plays out.

In contrast the Chinese government dealing with a disaster with comparable potential to kill mass numbers of people is making a big show of trying to help. And this in a region of the country (Sechuan) recently embroiled in ethnic conflict and insurrection. Not only are they doing what they can (i.e. sending in thousands of soldiers and relief workers) but they are making sure that they are SEEN to be doing so. I must say, I am cautiously impressed with the Chinese government reaction. I say "cautiously" because we cannot be sure we are getting whole story just yet. It may come to light that the government failed to do all it could or used the quake to their advantage in dealing with the Tibet situation (Tibet neighbors Sechuan and much of what is now Sechuan, used to be part of Tibet).

* I note with interest that the international media has gone back to calling the country "Burma" instead of "Myanmar." Myanmar is the name insisted upon by the military oligarchy that rules that country. I would like to think that this change back to Burma is a coordinated effort to humiliate the thugs in Rangoon.


Bell Curve said...

I would like to think that this change back to Burma is a coordinated effort to humiliate the thugs in Rangoon.

And of course, the capital is not longer Rangoon, but Nay Pyi Taw. These guys came in and totally changed everything.

History Buff said...

I did listen to an interview on Morning Edition with Admiral Timothy Keating and they asked him when he tried to bring aid into Burma what he called the country, and he said he was trying to be diplomatic so he called it Myanmar.

I don't really know much about the name change, was Burma the name given to it by the English? And was Myanmar ever a name associated with the country in the past (i.e. Bombay to Mombai)?

Raised By Republicans said...

Hell, they're lucky the British didn't just call it Mais (that's Siam backwards - a little map humor).

According to wikipedia:
"Within the Burmese language, Myanmar is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama or Bamar (from which "Burma" derives) is the oral, colloquial name. In spoken Burmese, the distinction is less clear than the English transliteration suggests.

The renaming proved to be politically controversial.[8] Opposition groups continue to use the name "Burma", since they do not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country in English."

Pombat said...

Part of me wonders if the Chinese response is, at least in part, due to seeing what happened in Burma, and wanting to avoid any (more) pre-Olympic Games bad publicity. Then I realise that I don't particularly care exactly why they're doing what they're (seem to be) doing aidwise, as long as they keep doing it.

As for the military junta in Burma, I've been thinking for a long time that they need to go - any leadership that will gun down peacefully protesting monks *has* to go - hopefully now the international bodies with the power to do something about them will be forced to do so. Although the country's likely to be in a horrendous mess once they've been removed, so either way it's not going to be pretty, and the people there have a long hard struggle ahead of them. I wonder if any of the monks fancy leading?

History Buff said...

Isn't this one of the same arguements Bush used to go into Iraq?

Raised By Republicans said...

History Buff,

Good point. That is one of the justifications Bush gave for invading Iraq - I think it was reason number 3 or 4.

One thing that we should learn from Iraq is that even the most detached, tyrannical dictatorship has a fair amount of domestic support. As scary as it might seem there are probably enough people with enough guns (and money from the opium trade) who like this bunch of generals.

Let's say that China allows the UN to go into Burma and execute a regime change. What happens next? I suspect we'd find ourselve embroiled in a civil war in the jungles of SE Asia with nationalists, democrats, communists and opium dealers all rolling around in the muck trying kill each other - with us smack in the middle.

But it's not going to happen anyway, because the US military is over stretched already between Iraq and Afghanistan and no other country is capable of attempting such a thing.

USWest said...

OK, I am trying to recreate a comment that I thought I posted yesterday and somehow, I don't see today.

1: I am glad RBR posted on this because I have been thinking along the same lines. The comparison between the responses is marked.

But: China didn't start out being open. NPR reporters that visited the site of the damaged school where 900 children were buried on the first day were turned away. A few days later, they were allowed to stay and report. Also, NPR has noted that not all areas appear to be getting the help they need. In fairness, though, it is harder for aid to get to some places, and you can't be in all places at the same time. Also, people in distress often think that their issues are the most important because they don't know that the village next door is in even worse shape and they are desperate for help.

Then on Friday, NPR reported that they were surprised at the freedom they had to report. Will this remain? Or will it wane later? I suspect that China doesn't want to appear bad right before the summer Olympics and they are hoping to brush Tibet under the carpet. China is going to capitalize on global sympathy to help better PR. They didn't have such a good torch run, you know.

Also,I would point out that natural disasters can open up governments that are normally closed. That is what the junta in Burma is worried about.

They are getting getting really nasty. They stopped a French navel vassal full of aid supplies in international waters yesterday and claimed that the French, by sending a navy ship, had committed an act of war. Go figure.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Another tragic thing about Burma is that the USA has done nothing to pressure the military junta there for years.

As for China, I think the government there initially reacted as it always does: cover up any problem. But then they realized that world sympathy for China was way better than all this angst over Tibet and the Olympics. In fact, it knocked Tibet/Olympics right off the media, probably for good. The Chinese will no doubt dedicate the games, in part, to the dead, and try to cajole world leaders to come to opening ceremonies to honor them.

So the PRC is learning PR.

Pombat said...

"But it's not going to happen anyway, because the US military is over stretched already between Iraq and Afghanistan and no other country is capable of attempting such a thing."

Plus Burma doesn't have any oil...

(actually it does have some, but the infrastructure is ridiculously poor)

Raised By Republicans said...

"Plus Burma doesn't have any oil..."