Of Raw Deals and the Rule of Law
covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, December 03, 2023

Of Raw Deals and the Rule of Law

By THE IRRAWADDY Monday, October 10, 2011


The Chinese state-owned company contracted to build the controversial Myitsone hydropower dam in Kachin State has protested loudly against a decision by Burmese President Thein Sein to suspend work on the project, warning that the action could have legal consequences.

In an interview with the state-run China Daily last Monday, Lu Qizhou, president of the China Power Investment Corporation, called the decision “bewildering,” noting that in February of this year, Thein Sein had urged the company to speed up its work on the project.

What he didn't mention, of course, was that at the time, Thein Sein was merely the figurehead prime minister of a widely reviled military junta deeply beholden to China for its hold on power. Now, six months into his term as president of a new quasi-civilian government, he is trying to recast himself as a reformist leader, and not just the latest face of military oppression in Burma.

While many still have their doubts about how far Thein Sein’s government is willing to go in breaking with the past, his announcement that he would respond to the will of the people and halt work on the dam, at least for the remainder of his term in office, was welcomed as a sign that perhaps Burma is finally moving in the right direction after all.

What made the decision all the more remarkable is the fact that it could seriously jeopardize relations with China, a country that has used its international clout to shield Burma’s military rulers from the consequences of ruling with an iron fist.

It is richly ironic, then, that China now feels that it is being unfairly treated by the very people that it has aided in committing a long list of crimes against their own citizens—not only indirectly, by giving them diplomatic cover and the economic means to ride out decades of punitive sanctions, but also directly, by supplying them with weapons of mass oppression.

China says that its foreign policy is based on “win-win” arrangements that fully respect the sovereignty of other countries. Its thinking, however, appears to be based on the notion that governments, no matter how illegitimate, should be regarded as monolithic embodiments of this sovereignty—much as the Chinese Communist Party arrogates to itself the right to speak for China’s interests in perpetuity.

But China’s preoccupation with the “stability” of states is at odds with the reality of a world that often seems to be in constant turmoil. To the extent that it does recognize that there are governments that have a tenuous claim to power at best, it seems to regard this as a situation to be exploited, rather than as a problem to be corrected.

Propping up reprehensible regimes, particularly those with control over natural resources, has become a cornerstone of Chinese foreign policy. Its practice of embracing pariah regimes to cut deals highly favorable to China’s interests, but not to those of local people, can best be described as amoral opportunism at its worst.

Of course, China does not confine itself to dealing with dictators. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of a country that doesn't have trade ties with the world's emerging economic superpower. This fact alone has enabled it to exert its influence in ways that belie its claims that it never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries.

In Africa, for instance, Beijing threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Zambia, a resource-rich nation that has received some US $3 billion in Chinese investment over the past three years, if it elected Michael Sata, an outspoken critic of China's outsized role in the country's economy, as president. But China's threat, and its strong backing of the pro-Chinese incumbent, backfired last month when Sata—who described Chinese investors as “infesters”—became the first opposition leader in 20 years to win the presidency.

China was similarly wrong-footed in Libya, where state-controlled Chinese arms manufacturers  offered to sell more than $200 million in weapons and ammunition to Muammar Gaddafi in the months leading up to the collapse of his regime, in violation of UN sanctions.

None of this is to suggest that China can't play an important role in responsibly helping other countries to develop their resources or maintain political stability.

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Venus Wrote:
China invaded and sucked Myanmar people's bloods by giving commission under the table to those influential betrayals under the table in exchanging low quality Chinese imports. Irrawaddy is the blood of Myanmar people. Stop being a notorious Vampire.

chris jericho Wrote:
"In Africa, for instance, Beijing threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Zambia .... if it elected Michael Sata, an outspoken critic of China's outsized role in the country's economy, as president. "

Is this a fact or some fabrication to make it fit with your biased editorial? from what I read, China seemed to favor the incumbent in the election because it did not have experience working with the opposition candidate while relations under the current administration was going smoothly.

And this is what I found: “But look more closely. Sata's initial steps after the election confirm the importance of the relationship with Beijing”
at http://www.chinaafricarealstory.com/2011/10/michael-sata-and-china-in-zambia.html.

As a newspaper founded by pro-democracy activists, I would expect the Irrawaddy to present truths and to uphold journalistic integrity, not to shout out some twisted facts like mainstream media in the west. Or is it what you are thriving to become?

Tin Maung Shwe Wrote:
I heartily welcome the irrawaddy's editorial.
please continue your section about like this subjects.

Fred Wrote:
A few years ago Burma’s leaders foolishly intertwined Burma’s affairs too tightly with China’s. Thein Sein was staring at Burma becoming another Tibet in a few generations. He didn’t reverse the trend, but the dam’s postponement is helping Burma stay independent.

Burma’s government also hadn’t anticipated the extent to which the ethnic wars, fought largely to protect China’s investments, would start unifying the UNFC. With China’s help, the Wa were isolated from the KIA, which was supposed to get the UNFC to fall apart. But then the Shan started helping. And all of Burma could rally around the dam, and were starting to do so. So its construction was halted.

Now maybe the armies can stop killing each other and we can start sorting out and re-negotiating the issues. But Thein Sein has to tread lightly with this, staring at both China and Burma’s old leaders. The mess can be fixed if it’s done firmly, but delicately.

Wolfgang , Hong Kong Wrote:
EXCELLENT and much needed Comment , Thank You IRRAWADDY Editor !

Moe Aung Wrote:
China of course is following in the footsteps of a more illustrious example like the US but done in the name of the Communist Party and not owning up to its new post-Mao capitalist neocolonialist nature albeit still based on totalitarian nominally communist one party rule.

It doesn't have a fleet of aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean though its Two Oceans policy is not a secret. It probably knows the Burmese generals are ultimately not to be trusted in their uneasy patron client relationship, the Kokang Incident being a recent example. Their options however are limited as regards a strategic outlet to the Bay of Bengal, so they are bound to make the most out of a bad situation for them that affects part of their potential energy resources, and not likely to put the Shwe Gas project in jeopardy because of the current upset over the Myitsone dam.

For each side the stakes are high enough to proceed with tact and caution since both know it's in their own interests to remain on good terms.

Wallace Hla Wrote:
Instead of crying over spilt milk like a child, Lu Qizhou should concentrate, focus and do some research on their protégés in Burma. It's obvious that Thein Sein's visit to India plays a major role in stopping the Myitsone project. Maybe Burma's other big brother neighbor has much more tantalizing candy to offer. Lu should also bear in mind the recent praise showered on Burma by O'Bama's administration and their hint to India to play a more positive role regarding Burma. While Thein Sein's in India his foreign minister is paying a surprise visit to China. Lu and the rest of the world has to wait and see until the last of the jigsaw pieces are assembled.

tocharian Wrote:
Excellent editorial!

In this day and age where citizens all over the world demand transparent politics and freedom of opinion (not to mention Wikileaks!) the Chinese style of foreign policy based on Orwellian double-speak will back-fire upon them. Besides China will have to pay more attention to environmental and human rights issues in developing countries. This is the 21st century!

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