The Rocky Road to Burma’s Salvation Goes Through Beijing

The Rocky Road to Burma’s Salvation Goes Through Beijing

During a visit to Burma a few years ago, I decided to avoid the country's legendarily deadly airlines and instead hire a car to take me along the somewhat less deadly roads. Distances that on the map looked like they should take an hour to cover took entire days. The criminal extent of the country's neglect was already obvious in Rangoon, where I saw a mother sitting with a large crowd on a downtown sidewalk, despondently holding in her arms a baby so malnourished that I'm sure it died not long after I gave her a small amount of money, probably more than she had ever held in her hand at one time, and definitely more than the country's malignant military government spends on any of its desperate citizens in an entire year.

It comes as no surprise that Burma's army, one of the largest in the world, is largely absent during the people's time of need. With tens of thousands dead and perhaps millions homeless in the wake of a cyclone, the brutal government of Burma is a no-show. The best its people can hope for is that the world will persuade the junta to allow international aid without the generals stealing too much of the money. Burma, according to Transparency International, is the world's most corrupt country. It also spends less on health and education than almost any nation on earth -- about $2 a year for both. By some accounts, most Burmese live on less than a dollar a day, enduring hunger in a country that used to be the world's leading exporter of rice, and one of the most promising economies in Asia.

The Burmese generals, talented as they are, could not have managed to destroy their country all alone. No, to achieve that, they secured support from China. Yes, that China. The same one that grinds its heel on Tibet and helps finance genocide in Darfur; the proud host of the upcoming Olympics is the one country that can influence the greedy generals to let the world do what they themselves should be doing: help the Burmese people. China, which never met a dictator it would not do business with, has sold weapons and handed cheap loans to the generals. If China will not intercede now, it does not deserve even a single head of state attending its precious propaganda games.

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