North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Friday, December 2, 2011

Burma at a crossroads

Western attention has focused, briefly, today on the visit to Burma by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Burma, formally called The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, is a large South Asia country of nearly 60 million people, governed by a military clique that has long been associated with a record of brutality, corruption and amassed wealth.

Burma and its neighbors

A recent relaxing of oppressive rule, along with an election that brought in at least the appearance of civilian governance, the US' top diplomat calculated that the time was ripe to provide support for democratic forces in the country (and doing so in a non-confrontational manner).

Thus a visit with the message to the Burma President Thein Sein to continue to move on the path of a more democratic and honest government, probably a few carrots of aid and trade to sweeten the advice, and then a high profile embrace of Burma's most famous political prisoner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Mrs Clinton paid tribute to the Kyi's “fearlessness in the face of intimidation and her serenity through decades of isolation.”

Secretary of State Clinton, and Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi in a high profile embrace, laden with unspoken support for Kyi's vision for Burma.

For Aung San Suu Kyi's part in her public comments, she said “If we go forward together, I’m confident there will be no turning back from the road to democracy,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the U.S. secretary of state, “We are not on that road yet, but we hope to get there as soon as possible with our friends.”

As a bit of geopolitical background, we can read from a recent Foreign Policy Journal article, "Burma is a fascinating case study. It remains an authoritarian regime whose military tutelage is now disguised by a civilian veneer. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is free, but hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars. The armed forces continue to make war and commit terrible human rights abuses against ethnic groups in the country's borderlands. Burma's rulers have no intention of ceding power to their political opponents -- but they do appear to be moderating at least the fa├žade of their control over society through an incremental process of political reform. Why?

One theory is that the generals fear undue dependence on China, which now exercises inordinate influence over parts of Burmese territory and significant sectors of its economy. Critics argue that Western sanctions pushed Burma into China's arms. The more accurate judgment may be that Western sanctions have worked, encouraging the Burmese regime to create some distance from China's embrace by releasing political prisoners, allowing the opposition to operate more freely, and meeting other Western demands so as to overcome obstacles to closer relations with countries other than China."

For the past two decades, Burmese monks have often led resistance to the military rule - a loosening of confrontation has occurred in the past year.

A fascinating scene showing the veneer of modernity in Burma's cities.

The country's religious framework is strongly Buddhist - the Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most revered in the nation

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