January 15, 2008

The Golden Triangle, Burmese Oil, the Dalai Lama in Blood, and Chinese Tourists

triangles.jpgThe Burmese government is involved in multiple fights with rebel groups in areas all around the country. This is where the child soldiers come in, forced into fighting by both sides. Burma leads the world in the number of child soldiers active within its borders. And then there's the opium.

The Burmese government claims to be fighting opium production in the Golden Triangle. According to rebel leader Col. Yawd Ser, who battles government troops in that area, the Burmese government gets money from the U.S. for that purpose, pockets it, then turns around and grows more opium.

"Everybody is involved in this trade in one way or another," said Xavier Bouan, a U.N. illicit-crop monitor based in Rangoon. "Insurgents, militia, government, cease-fire groups; for all of them, in a region where the economy is slowing down, it's one of the only ways to survive and get cash," he said.

The Burmese army periodically undertakes scorched-earth offensives, destroys Shan villages [the Shan are a minority ethnic croup that makes up about 9% of Burma's population], and forces farmers to do hard labor for no compensation. Because many army battalions are forced to fend for themselves in finding food and supplies, crop theft and forced labor is not uncommon in the nation's restive areas.

Some observers see army participation in the opium business as another way to earn money to purchase supplies. And military officers are known to encourage farmers to grow opium, manufacture methamphetamine and cut down teak forests, according to drug experts and human rights activists.

Burma's opium production is of course a drop in the global bucket -- more than 90% of the world's opium is produced by Afghanistan. So back when Bush sorta maybe wanted to invade Burma, or at least send in a couple dozen cruise missiles, that could have done good things for the Burmese poppy farmers, and maybe brought down the price of our local dope.

(Who knew the Golden Triangle was so small? See pic, including Bermuda Triangle for reference. Maps not to scale! Burma, according to the handy CIA World Factbook, is slightly smaller than Texas.)

And oil -- China's working on a pipeline through Burma that some say will enrich the junta. Of course it will -- who else would it enrich, other than the oil companies? (As a side note, even if the U.S. somehow manages to break its dependence on foreign oil, which is unlikely, our doing so won't cause oil-exporting governments to collapse or even feel the hurt -- there are plenty of other customers in line behind us. So we should be mindful we'll be doing it for some other reason, just as not buying plastic toys from China -- oh wait, plastic toys from China are petroleum products.)

Manmohan Singh is the first Indian Prime Minister in five years to visit China. Meanwhile, a doctor in Bhopal is painting with his blood (using syringes as brushes) to spread awareness about the Dalai Lama:

Dr Yadav wants the Indian government to give the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, to the Dalai Lama. He also wants the Olympic Games in China to be held in August be boycotted and Tibet declared ‘Heaven of Peace’.

Dr Yadav has been painting personalities with his own blood for about a decade.

As the doctor went about his work, thousands of people in support of this cause, raised slogans like ‘Free Tibet-Save India’ and ‘Chinese leaders murdabad’ [Death to Chinese leaders.]
“I read about the sufferings of the Tibetans from a magazine and decided to launch this campaign of drawing pictures with my own blood,” he said.

And back in China, Tibetans are forced through who knows what kind of coercion to seign petitions saying the Dalai Lama is not welcome there. So who is welcome in Tibet? Tourists, of course:

Four million tourists visited the thinly populated Himalayan region of 2.8 million people in 2007, China's state news agency Xinhua reported yesterday.

"This is the first time that the number of tourist arrivals exceeded the total population," said Matt Whitticase, of the Free Tibet Campaign. "Tourism is obviously a pillar of China's western development strategy but it is putting unacceptable strains on Tibet's fragile environment."

Despite the construction of airports and a rail link from the capital, Lhasa, to Xining in neighbouring Qinghai province, Tibet's tourist sector ran 775 tour buses to cope with the influx, Xinhua said. The rail link, which opened in 2006, cuts across nearly 1,250 miles of rugged plateaus and high-altitude permafrost and carries more than 1.5 million tourists into Tibet a year, as well as around three-quarters of total freight in and out of the region.

Last year, a third civil airport was built in Nyingchi, and a fourth is planned in Nagari, which will be the highest in the world.

Local authorities said that tourism would generate about 4.8bn yuan (£340m) for the whole of 2007, up 73% from the previous year, but that is a fraction of the potential. The number of tourists is still less than a 10th of those visiting the province of Yunnan on Tibet's southern border, officials say.

Less than a 10th? Gulp. Remember the xenophobia Japanese tourists inspired in the 80s on our fair-haired shores? Tourism, the world's biggest industry by far, is relatively new to China. It grows out of wealth, of course. The Chinese are still exploring their own country. But when they come to the West, even though they'll be spending money and admiring our country, watch anti-Chinese sentiment rocket upwards, and it won't be principled opposition to Chinese government policy, but something deeper and darker in the national psyche.

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Gerald Ford's picture

Shhh, be careful Phillip. That might give conservatives in congress a reason not to enact measures to curb global warming. ;)

Philip Ryan's picture

A Google image search turns up some interesting variations on the size of the Golden Triangle, but I didn't see any that were much bigger than this one. If it is shrinking so much, then maybe the WOD is a success! Or else global warming is messing with the growing areas, as with wine in France. . .

O Peeum's picture

Who drew the lines around the so called Golden Triangle on the map you posted? The opium poppy cultivation area is presently larger than the area shown in the triangle ... and in the past it was MUCH larger ...