Author Archives: Ian Martin

Twilight over Burma

“History repeats itself first as tragedy then as farce,” according to Marx.

The 1962 coup in Burma was followed by five decades of harsh military rule. There is little farcical about the 1 February coup when in the weeks passing many unarmed protesters have been killed including many children. The situation in Myanmar gives rise to grave concern. Fitch Solutions is projecting a “conservative” 20% contraction for the 2020-21 fiscal year in Myanmar. It said this month the rising death toll combined with increased social instability means “all areas of GDP by expenditure are set to collapse.”

The garment sector is at a halt with many factories in Yangon being burnt down by a wave of anti-Chinese feeling. People are angry at the complicit support of China over the military take over. The military has been switching off the internet in order to prevent people from finding out what is going on and to organise protests. Also, to prevent news from reaching the outside world. Many journalists have been arrested, some still remain in detention, and news organisations have had their licenses withdrawn. Closing down the internet for periods of the day comes at an economic cost. The fragile banking system is already teetering with depositors limited to how much they can draw from their accounts. Exporters cannot reach their customers.

The Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, still has access to its funds from gems, jade, and oil and gas. Its business interests operating in a mafia like way which isolates it from the economic collapse. The ordinary Burmese have no such isolation with many now considering fleeing to India and Thailand. An influx of refugees shows the problems to Thailand of having an unstable Myanmar on its borders. The resistance has now shifted from the main cities to the Shan states in NW Myanmar. Police stations have been attacked. Another area of traditional resistance is on the Indian border with an equal influx of refugees. A massive humanitarian disaster is on the cards.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Safe way?

The Home Office’ s proposals to change the Asylum law is disturbing. They don’t reflect an understanding of the hardship and difficulties that refugees face. Desperate people resort to desperate actions risking their lives to find a better life.

It is very difficult for these people to come directly to Britain. No visitor visa, no way of boarding a plane. It is unlikely those in conflict zones can obtain a visa anyway. They will have to cross borders and journey across countries to reach Britain.

The measures proposed to send them back are not based on any humanitarianism but a simple desire to keep foreigners out of Brexit Britain. Indeed, there is no legal basis for the EU to accept those that have crossed their territories and I doubt if the EU is in any hurry to make such an agreement. Britain in fact has a smaller number of people seeking asylum than other western European countries.

In these last few years, I have got to know some Pakistani Christian refugees who have fled to Bangkok. They faced a situation where Christians were being murdered and being driven out of their homes. The level of intolerance led to heavy discrimination making life extremely difficult. I knew of someone who tried to set up a Unitarian church. He faced death threats and eventually his employer told him he would not employ him any longer as he didn’t want the company to have any trouble.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 3 Comments

Blessed are the peacemakers

The news that this government wishes to increase the number of nuclear warheads is not welcome news. It sends out the wrong message. Global Britain, it seems, is a regression to the past of imperialism and jingoism. It is not the way to win friends and influence in the world. Nuclear weapons are terrible weapons that should never be used. The horrors that were inflicted on Japan were enough.

There is a need to prevent nuclear proliferation. Do Pakistan and India need the bomb? The unstable nature of Kashmir means an endless source of conflict that could well escalate. What hope is there for North Korea and Iran not to acquire these weapons. Britain was part of the agreement to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Brexit Britain strikes again, no longer willing to be part of an international order that promotes peace.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 24 Comments

Burmese Days

The election is more important than COVID-19.

Not the words of Donald Trump but the words of the State Counsellor of Burma, Aung San Su Kyi. Yes, I know the name of the country was changed by the State Law and Order Restoration Council-SLORC but Burma is still Burma in the eyes of many.

The election will be held on November 8th with various challenges. There are of course security challenges. Conflict zones in the border areas where voting is suspended and COVID-19. This election will have suspensions in Rakhine state with no vote taking place in a number of townships due to the fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military. Of course, very few of the Rohinyas that remain in that area will be eligible to vote as they are without national identity cards. Many of the displaced people in other parts of Burma face a similar problem as they lack documentation.

COVID-19 is another major problem. Burma has seen increasing number of infections and fully implementing prevention measures at the polling stations is going to be difficult. The question of postponing the election was raised but the Union Election Commission (UEC) is proceeding as scheduled, a decision supported by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Posted in Europe / International | Tagged and | 3 Comments

Under China’s Shadow

The new “cold war” in the far east, in reaction to China’s economic power and military build-up, is set to cause the United States to strengthen its military presence in the region. There is speculation that Britain’s new aircraft carrier HMS Elizabeth is going to be permanently based in the far east. It certainly will make its maiden voyage through the South China Sea. But what of the nations in the SE Asian area?

Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines certainly reject China’s claims to all of the South China Sea. Indeed, the 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling at The Hague sided with the Philippines and rejected China’s “nine-dash line” maritime claims. However, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries as a block are unlikely to side with the United States. Trade with China now exceeds that of the EU in the ASEAN region and the countries look to China to revitalize their economies especially in the wake of the fallout from covid-19.

While China seeks to resolve disputes through its Code of Conduct with ASEAN, this document suffers limitations. Its geographical scope remains undefined. Does it include all of the South China Sea or only parts of it?

Second, its legal status has not been defined. Unless it is binding it will be ineffective.

Third, the applicability of international norms remains doubtful. As mentioned, China has ignored the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s Ruling. The Code of Conduct needs an effective monitoring mechanism for enforcing international law and norms. China must not seek to impose its will unjustly on others. It has fired on Vietnamese fishing vessels and in the past, China has asked Vietnam to stop oil drilling with a Spanish company and threatened war if the Philippines tried to enforce the Court of Arbitration ruling or drilled oil in the disputed areas. Indeed, China seeks to exclude foreign oil companies from the South China Sea.

Fourth, there is no agreement on the dispute mechanism.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments
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