Friday, October 5, 2007

Myanmar sets conditions for meeting Suu Kyi / Sanctions Analysis / Lack of Human Rights Discourse in China

from AP

Hoping to deflect outrage over images of soldiers gunning down protesters, Myanmar's hard-line leader announced Thursday he is willing to talk with detained democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi -- but only if she stops calling for international sanctions.

Senior General Than Shwe also insists Suu Kyi give up urging her countrymen to confront the military regime, state television and radio said in reporting on the conditions set by the junta leader during a meeting this week with a special U.N. envoy.

The surprise move is aimed at staving off the possibility of economic sanctions and keeping Myanmar's bountiful natural resources on world markets, while also pleasing giant neighbor China, which worries the unrest could cause problems for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The rest of the report at CNN HERE.

A fellow NGO worker told me that a Burma specialist at her school noted that some say that Aung San Suu Ki was wrong when she called for sanctions against Burma 19 years ago. Had the US and other countries not imposed sanctions on Myanmar, Myanmar could have achieved economic progress akin to that achieved by Viet Nam or China, giving increased purchasing power to the
general population.

However, this is a slippery slope, as it puts economic rights over political, social, and civil ones. As the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) included both civil and political rights ("first" generation human rights) and economic, social, and cultural rights ("second" generation rights), it could not secure international consensus necessary to become a binding resolution. In particular, a deep rift divided capitalist countries like the US, which favored civil and political rights, and communist nations which favored economic, social and cultural rights. So the UN had to develop separate covenants for civil and political rights the 1966 UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and one for economic (and social) rights, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The argument for sanctions is that there is no way to guarantee that after granting economic rights, political and civil rights will be attained. Asian totalitarian regimes have prioritized economic rights before political ones as an excuse to put off democracy and human rights: China, North Korea, Indonesia, Viet Nam, and of course, Burma, are excellent examples. The only exception is Singapore.

Political and civil development lay the foundation for vibrant economy that gives opportunities for people in every sector of society to break out of poverty, attain new educational opportunities, grow socially, and participate in politics. "Second generation" rights cannot fully be realized without first achieving basic "first generation" rights for everyone.

Having studied and worked in both Viet Nam and China, I can speak from personal experience, that while both countries have reached unprecendented rates of economic growth, the lack of rights and rights consciousness impede the development of civil society in each respective state. Poverty is still rampant. The vast majority of people have meager means by which to live. The cities are ok, but for almost all of the towns and villages, basic infrastructure like sanitation and roads are lacking, social services like healthcare and education are appalling. In large cities and towns in the Mekong Delta, you can see kids as young as 4 or 5 on the streets selling lottery tickets.

Is the "economic growth" really benefitting the average Vietnamese or Chinese? I think not. Rather, both countries are susceptible to the "race to the bottom", in which multinational corporations go to their countries to set up shop because of the lower wages and environmental and worker safety standards of each country. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China.

Absolute poverty is defined by the global community as making less than $1 a day. Do you know how China has been making such big headway in curbing poverty? Simple. Because the CCP's definition of poverty isn't $1 a day. it's $122 a year!

I've been to many a village--not even that far from major towns--they lack roads, drainage, working water systems, and school supplies. I've seen malnourished children and people suffering from drinking flouride contaminated water. Is this progress?

Ok, let's focus on big cities. In China, the government refuses to acknowledge that homelessness exists. According to a former co-worker, when there was an evaluation to decide whether or not to term the city where I was working a clean city (or some politically equivalent title), instead of finding ways to solve the homelessness issue, the government bought train tickets for the homeless to go home for a couple of weeks.

The only soup kitchen in the city, and the only one I've seen in China for that matter, is allowed to operate because it is obscured from public view from the street. Chinese citizens and tourists won't see the throngs of people lining up for food. It's not a government soup kitchen, but run by an individual who pays for it out of pocket.

And not to mention the issue of urban migration--China's policies make it very difficult for the 400 million+ rural workforce to find a place for themselves in city.

But quite possibly the greatest deficiency was the appalling low sense of rights awareness and the generally acknowledged sense of powerlessness in this cultures and societies. In Chinese, there is a phrase termed, "Mei banfa," which means, "There's no way, so why bother?" The root of this ideology is Asian values of "not rocking the boat" and respecting your elders, even if they are wrong or if you disagree. True, Asian cultures have a deeper sense of communal values, but that is precisely because they have sacrificed their individual dreams, hopes, and aspirations for familial burdens and expectations and for unity and conformity. This has much to do with filial piety and Confucian values, which have reversed the clock on the development of a true rights discourse in China.

At my previous job, the organization's focus was on children's development. All the children and most of the parents and villagers I've met and have spoken with simply didn't know that as human beings, they deserve clean water; a good education; a safe, clean, and comfortable toilet; social services, and a right to participate in politics and community development. They don't know how to demand these things. So there is this cycle of ignorance and the corruption that preys on it.

The helplessness that I felt and the inefficiencies I've observed in Viet Nam and Chinese society made me realize that I could never adjust to living life there. Don't read me the wrong way. I'm very liberal and open-minded. But honestly, if you would ask me in what ways living in Viet Nam or China were better than living in the States, besides lower living costs, I'd say nothing.

Some may feel that comments about China's lacking rights consciousness may come across as incendiary and that I may come across as culturally insensitive, but the lack of rights consciousness pervades all aspects of society. If you're truly interested, I written past papers on the lack of human rights discourse in China and the correlation between that and the lack of rights consciousness in China.

Citing multiple sources and quoting Chinese dissidents and democracy movement leaders, it seeks to explain the human rights case in China. While my understanding of China is far from complete, my general thoughts on China has been formulated through research both in the library and living in Chinese society.
Another paper I wrote focused paper on how Confucianism and Marxism have impeded the development of a rights consciousness dialogue in China, and how these ideologies have facilitated and/or excused human rights abuses there. Let me know if you want them, and I can email them to you.

I digress. Perhaps some of my views are generalized, but I hope it gives you some insight into my frustrations and observations of life in "closed" Asian societies.

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