Friday, September 28, 2007

China's inaction in face of Burmese protests signals what is to come

The protests in Burma continue, with the Shwe military government giving little indication that it will bow to international pressure and back down in the face tens of thousands of religiously-led, democratic oppositional forces. Instead, the government has increased its martial presence, with armed soldiers on the steps of pagodas as the sun came up this morning.

President Bush has harshly censured the regime:
"We feel admiration and compassion for the monks and peaceful protesters calling for democracy... Every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand up for people suffering under a brutal military regime like the one that has ruled Burma for too long."
He added a little bite to his words by imposing economic and travel sanctions on some of the regime's top officials. China does not feel obligated to rid the world of tyranny, however. It blocked UN hand-wringing directed at Burma last January, and has been reluctant to share Bush's stance on the situation:
At a press conference in Beijing Thursday, Jiang Yu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, "We hope all parties continue to exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue." But when asked whether Beijing condemned the killings of protestors in Rangoon, Jiang declined to answer directly. She also criticized the foreign press for "exaggerating and hyperbolizing" allegations that China had failed to play a constructive role in resolving the conflict.
As the US continues to weaken on the international stage in the face of persistent trade deficits, the threat of inflation and recession, senescence, demographic decline, and the rapid growth of eastern nations, the torch of Human Rights Crusader will not be passed to Beijing. Instead, it will be extinguished. The PRC is not interested in dictating the social mores of other nations:
China has become the leading state sponsor of common thugs, from Burma to Sudan to Zimbabwe. It has positioned itself as a great power without the pesky complication of conscience, willing to court and support any dictator who supplies a tribute of natural resources.
Historian Toby Huff argues that the idea of conscience, tracing its roots back to the Paul of Tarsus and becoming institutionalized as a virtue in Western Europe from the medieval age onwards, is a critical ingredient in the development of a social structure that allows for scientific investigation and technological progress to flourish.

The Chinese government does not seem to agree, with little use for the Occidental understanding of conscience.

It is inaccurate to conflate the idea of conscience with morality in general. Confucian cultures place more weight on societal stability than on individual liberty than Western cultures do (which is part of the reason conservative Americans are more intrigued by Eastern philosophies than leftists tend to be). The idea of increasing the disruption of a sovereign nation's political order on behalf of those who are causing the disruption is not a moral imperative. If anything, refusing to get involved is.

Furthermore, China has a vigorous trade relationship with Burma. While Burmese exports to China are negligible, goods from China represent more than one-third of Burma's total imports, making the PRC Burma's leading supplier by far. Much of what comes from China goes to arm the military junta. Similar relationships exist with African and Muslim countries.

With so much outside pressure, Shwe may be forced to make concessions to the democratic opposition, whose leader he has infamously kept in perpetual detention and whose spokesmen he had arrested earlier this week. Specifically, his regime may be forced to cut lavish spending on itself to reverse the massive fuel-price increase it just levied on the population. China, feeling similar pressure, will likely take a harder line against the regime ahead of the bi-decadal appointing of the politburo and the 2008 Olympics.

But with more than one-sixth of the world's population, GDP and military spending that are set to pass the US to become the world's largest within the next five years, a high IQ, increasingly educated, and prideful Han population, the days in which China will feel obligated to shift course due to the exhortations of Western nations (even today, that really only applies to the US, as European influence has long-since waned) and their human rights NGOs are numbered.

By simultaneously invading, inviting, and becoming indebted to so much of the world, the US is ushering that day along with haste. Better for the US to re-evaluate the overextended commitments it already has piled up than to make gestures suggesting yet another one on behalf of monks in Rangoon. In the words of John Quincy Adams:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America's] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
That we might again adopt this thinking, to ensure such an example will remain standing strong as the world's epicenter shifts to the East.

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