China: Myanmar's Heartless Ally
It was the lowest of the low for a regime that had already scraped the delta bottom with its bloody crackdown on peaceful democracy protesters last fall: As more than a million of its residents remained homeless and up to 100,000 were dead from Cyclone Nargis, the Myanmar government pushed ahead with its constitutional referendum over the weekend.
"Those who value the national well-being should go and vote 'yes,'" state-run TV declared, not pausing to mention the thousands dead and missing from the storm -- or the international aid that would fill the junta's tummies or just rot before it ever saw a cyclone victim. Or, as was done with boxes of relief from Thailand, the name of one of the junta's generals was written over the actual country of origin and handed out (to none of those in the hard-hit regions, mind you) in a macabre P.R. blitz.
The referendum, called by Myanmar's iron-fisted military rulers a "road map to democracy," guarantees 25 percent of all parliamentary seats to the military and reserves the right to "emergency" military takeover of the sham government. It also, tellingly, bans pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- the newest Congressional Gold Medal recipient -- from ever holding public office, once again disregarding her National League for Democracy party's win in 1990.
So while the Burmese opposition are preoccupied with trying to survive, pick up the pieces, and, in the case of the Buddhist monks who led the pro-democracy marches and survived, shelter the homeless and move debris with their bare hands, it's the perfect time for the junta to fix -- er, win -- the vote. And in their corner is also the fact that a beaten-down populace barely knows what they're voting for in this "democracy" farce.
They've learned from their PRC mentors, no doubt.
As Myanmar held shipments of aid and refused to let foreign aid workers past the gates, the junta's friend and protector has refused to heed international calls to step in and pressure the regime to make sure its people get fed, water sources become potable, rotting bodies get cleared from streets, etc.
"By blocking international relief efforts, the Burmese government is showing utter contempt for millions of its own people," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a Saturday statement. "China and Burma's other friends should lead international efforts, including at the U.N. Security Council, to persuade or compel Burma to accept the international aid that cyclone survivors so badly need.
"China should do everything in its power to get sufficient aid into Burma or it will share responsibility for the deaths of tens of thousands of people."
Like the PRC powers that be even care. China's response to Myanmar letting its cyclone victims wither away is the same as when Myanmar was mowing down monks and shooting Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai through the heart: It has no business telling a sovereign nation what to do.
See no evil, hear no evil makes them just as evil.
In fact, on Thursday China blocked an effort by France to explore invoking "responsibility to protect" provisions at the Security Council, accusing proponents of helping people of tainting the disaster with politics. (Ironically, Indonesia -- which relied on so much international aid after the devastating 2005 tsunami -- joined China in voicing opposition to France's effort, yet the country lacks China's veto powers at the Security Council.)
Meanwhile, Burmese die as international ships packed with aid wait at the ready.
The Burmese people are now sitting ducks for the next storm: Another cyclone, possibly; epidemic illness, definitely. An outbreak of disease that would be caused by fetid water supplies, rotting corpses disposed of in those water sources, and unhygienic conditions in makeshift refugee camps.
Though you probably won't find much concern from China on that front, either. The current outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease began killing dozens of kids in March, but the public wasn't notified until a month later. (The World Health Organization absolved China of blame in this, racing to add that the outbreak wouldn't affect China's prized Olympic Games -- even as the disease raced into Beijing.)
As Burmese were pushed into exercising their "patriotic duty" by voting for the sham constitution -- with a two-week voting extension in regions hardest hit by the cyclone (how generous!) -- China still has yet to prove that it has any sense of humanitarian duty that supersedes its twisted loyalties to the world's most nefarious regimes.
Bridget Johnson is a columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News.