July 25, 2010

Burmese junta leader to tour Indian Buddhist sites

General Than Shwe, the leader of the Burmese junta, is on a goodwill visit to India to visit Buddhist sites. Than Shwe's "government" is a corrupt, incompetent, and criminal regime perhaps best known in the West for imprisoning Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of the country.

In the past India has criticized the junta and advocated for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi, but more recently China's growing interest and support for Burma has pushed India to try and counterbalance Chinese influence. Though the visit is officially said to be religious in nature, India will likely try to establish more trade ties with the outlaw regime. The two countries were both British colonies until the late 1940s, but after independence trade between the nations dwindled.

China has enjoyed good relations with the Burmese junta, sending it military support and funds, but Beijing has been frustrated by the chaos of recent border skirmishes in the relatively uncontrolled areas along Burma's northern border. Burma, while "undeveloped" by Chinese standards, is extremely rich in natural resources. This benign neglect of resources is sure to increase the country's bargaining power as scarcity of resources becomes the worldwide norm.

Interesting, Buddhism's role as a kind of lingua franca for South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, has made it both common ground and a battleground between India as China as they vie for influence in the region.

[Image: A small temple beneath the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya, c. 1810. England]

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Malaysia also helps financing the Burmese Junta « San Oo Aun's picture

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[...] and central Asia and are the elephants in the room at ASEAN discussions. The two countries are vying for influence with Burma’s junta, and along with Pakistan have active territorial disputes in Kashmir. [...]

KnowThankYou's picture

This "goodwill visit" is likely a small economic summit. India and Burma are neighbors that share a border almost 1000 miles long and share many things culturally; it would be difficult for India to isolate the Myanmar government in the way isolationists would like. Several years ago India began an economic program called "Look East" that is meant to develop trade with countries in the ASEAN trading block, of which Burma is a member. After several years of increasing trade with Burma, India was able to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the ASEAN group last year. We must also consider that Burma has significant natural gas resources, and as India's economy grows they likely hope to assist Myanmar with development of this energy resource. While the General is in India on this goodwill visit he is expected to put the final touches on a deal in which the giant Indian corporation Tata will build an automobile manufacturing plant in Myanmar.

The Indian and Burmese governments are just like our own: money makes their world go 'round too, and they will also pose for photos in pretty places to imply there is some meaning behind the money.

The Indian government has been widely criticized for hosting the general; we can only hope that bringing him to Buddhist sites is an effort to show him that religion, freedom of expression, and peace can indeed co-exist with the two things he seems to crave: political power and economic power.

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