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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.
- Here's the Democratic Voice of Burma, which is not surprisingly critical of the visit.
- General Than Shwe is also known by the ominous nickname the Bulldog.
- Read more about the world's only imprisoned Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.
[Image: A small temple beneath the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya, c. 1810. England]