Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Burma, China, India and all that

It almost seems mandatory, given the press coverage of the Obama visit, to say something about it. However, rather than talk of Michelle Obama's Koli dance, I would like to speak about something that I have talked of before -- the military dictatorship in Burma. When I first wrote about it, some commentors asked why I was passing up on China -- equally a dictatorship, if not a military one, albeit with a far better record of governance (sans democracy) and economic growth for its population. (Well, I didn't quite ignore the issue but wrote a post on it but that is not the point here). I would like to quote President Obama too on this, in his speech to the Indian Parliament
Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community — especially leaders like the United States and India — to condemn it. If I can be frank, in international fora, India has often avoided these issues. But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It’s staying true to our democratic principles. It’s giving meaning to the human rights that we say are universal.
Nicolas Kristof, one of the few Op-Ed columnists of the New York Times worth reading, comments on this on his blog. Since this is not part of his usual Op-Ed column, it hasn't found much exposure. I quote from the end of his piece
The truth is that the world needs developing countries as leaders on political and humanitarian issues, and India would be a natural. The U.S. and other developed countries can’t play that role, because we’re regarded as heavy-handed imperialists with secret agendas. China can’t play that role because it’s too authoritarian and is regarded with growing suspicion in Southeast Asia. Brazil can play it to some degree, and should, and so can South Africa. But India would be a natural leader as the conscience of the developing world, and it would be hugely important if it would speak out more forcefully about abuses in countries like Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe. Given its experience and place in the world, India has credibility and moral and political capital, and it should use them.
I don't know how much credibility and moral capital we have, but if we do, we should indeed use it rather than pussyfooting on these issues. However, the question that was posed to me in my earlier post remains and is applicable equally to President Obama and Nicolas Kristof -- why is China getting a free pass in the comity of nations, despite its autocratic political system? The answer does not need a rocket scientist -- its the money, stupid. Nobody can afford to ignore China's economic might, but if we are going to bring in moral and political arguments, there is no excuse for letting China off the hook.

Update:See also Shashi Tharoor's article in the Times of India.


Arun said...

Well, Obama is looking for a partner in the United States' next quest of war. He is talking about democracy etc, and the need to support it in other sovereign nations, but what about the United States' support for Saudi Arabia? Obama was talking about the possibility of a deal with Taliban in case they accept to agree with the constitution - especially in the case of rights of women in Afganistan; but think of it - Saudi Arabia has the worst discriminatory laws for women and is USA's best friend! USA is mad at Iran for not being democratic, its mad at democracy in Palestine for electing Hamas, but it has no problems with Saudi and has had no problems with dictators elsewhere (even at the cost of assassinations of popular leaders).

And India did play a better role in International arena during the Nehru era, footing for justice like never before and never after, much to the USA's chagrin. And if India (or any other country - like Brazil & Turkey started doing now) starts to have a stronger moral voice, the USA will be the first one that'll be attacked (Iraq, Iran, elsewhere). So USA is merely looking for a partner in crime.

About Kristof; I normally comment in his facebook page (where you can see so many Americans crying in pity for women in Afganistan), the dude is just an ignorant American all pity and condescending about brown and black world, buying the establishment's theory about imperialism and doing some Orientalist background work to support invasions ;) Look at his carefully select countries that violates human rights - Burma, Sudan, Zimbabwe! What about the country that went to a war for no reason and killed about a million and spent a trillion, and inside which thousands of native Indians live in the most inhuman conditions? The country where women cannot drive and must, must, wear a burkha, where the number of women stoned to death for "adultery" is far more than that of men (it takes two to "adulter")? And does Kristof know about Kashmir, North East, Nandigram, Orissa, Gujarat etc?


vbalki said...

I think the problem with India speaking out more than it currently does (on human rights violation elsewhwhere) is two-fold:

1. In the days of Nehruvian delusions of grandeur, India acquired quite a reputation for sermonising gratuitously. Our enemies giggled while our friends couldn't believe anybody could be that naive and indifferent to realpolitik. I think we (based on our performance---or rather, antics---in the UN, etc.) were essentially regarded as pipsqueaks at best and pinpricks at worst.

2. Today, there is simply too much glass frontage (read documented inequity) in our own house for us to be throwing stones.

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