Wednesday, December 08, 2004
IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
It's been a funny old few weeks in the neighbourhood, with all the neighbours and a few overseas friends and relatives showing up for the annual ASEAN shindig, hosted at the Lao family residence this time.
The shortcomings of this regional grouping become apparent in some of the extra-curricular activities and statements by certain members. There had been expectations of a certain degree of tension between neighbours, owing to recent events. The issue of the Tak Bai killings was expected to be a sore point with Malaysia and Indonesia in their conversations with Thailand. So much expected, that Thai PM Taksin displayed his political gravitas well in advance, by announcing that if anybody brought up the subject, he would take all his marbles and return to our City of Angels, forthwith. And in a snit of course, which would go without saying. But more than likely, with a snootful of snits.
Then there came the hopeful news that the ruling thugocratic junta of Burma, had decided to release lots and lots of their political prisoner population. Included in this number, was to be the long serving student dissident Min Ko Naing (hope I got the spelling right). He has been held since the student initiated popular uprising against the dictatorship of Ne Win back in 1988, and was one of the principle leaders of this movement. That the generals should decide to release such a high profile and symbolic figure, just a few weeks after having sacked and arrested the powerful government leader Khin Nyunt, gave rise to more questions than answers. Khin Nyunt was formerly the head of the secret police, placed in the number 3 position in the ruling junta, and later named to head the cabinet in a newly created Prime Ministership. As he had appeared to be the only one of the top clique who were even willing to talk occasionally with Aung San Suu Kyi, he was dubbed "the moderate" (these things are extremely relative, in a place like Burma).
With the purging of Khin Nyunt, suspicions naturally were of a tilt toward even greater authoritarianism and tyranny, and forget about the "roadmap to democracy" touted by Mr. Taksin for several years already. They never seemed serious about it, he never seemed serious about it, and its main function seemed to be to get the pressure off supposedly "democratic" ASEAN countries to actually do something for the long suffering Burmese population -- who are fundamentally, political prisoners all. Fears of future serious loss of face looms, when Burma is slated to assume the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2006. It's been clear that ASEAN "democracies" don't have too much problem with fascism and ethnic cleansing in the neighbourhood, but some of those other democratic countries are not likely to relish being hosted in Rangoon under such an odious regime. It's fair to say, I believe, that the more developed member states, while unwilling to openly "interfere in Burma's internal affairs", are quietly ashamed of having invited them into the club in the first place.
When the big prisoner release became known, it obviously affected the suspicions that Rangoon was closing ranks with Khin Nyunt's purge, confident that their burgeoning relationship with communist China would see them through any amount of isolation from the civilised democratic world. Then, a few short days later, more announcements of even more prisoner releases. For years these generals have been dragging this process out, releasing 4 or 5 dissidents, and then months before any other signs of progress. But these were major events, with many hundreds of prisoners released each time. Was this a big PR exercise with an eye to the ASEAN meeting, or was some progress really afoot? I'm sure that many were tempted to let their imaginations get loose, for the next step would surely be for The Lady (who is indeed the defacto leader of the democratic aspirations of Burmese people) to start negotiating reforms with the thugs, right?
Wrong. Thugs don't work like that. The next announcement from the junta, was for The Lady's house arrest order to be extended for another year. Nobody really gets what's going on in that bizarre country, or which way they eventually plan to go. Or indeed if they have any plan at all. At the meetings in Vientiane, China was evidently their greatest defender (naturally, they see eye to eye on the "keep out of my internal affairs" department). No real surprise, the PRC is governed under much the same principles. Member ASEAN countries issued a few miserable weasel words that carried little weight, and (as usual), only the United States issued a strongly worded statement that made clear that they, at least, stood with the people of Burma to attain their long-held aspirations.
So really, the only progress achieved in Vientiane this year, has been to draw the ASEAN countries closer into the sphere of China, moving forward on a free trade zone plan or economic community under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. Well, alright then, the leadership of the PRC -- but same thing. Taksin didn't need to take his marbles home, since ASEAN is somewhat like the range -- you know, where seldom is heard a discouraging word. And more than likely, the Burmese will still be a nation of political prisoners at this time next year.
So after all this high powered diplomacy, PM Taksin returned to our fair City of Angels to put into effect his master plan for establishing communal peace and harmony in the deep south. To atone for his security forces' gross misconduct and negligence in killing at least 85 unarmed and completely subdued Muslim prisoners by suffocating them in trucks, Taksin took his cue from a Japanese schoolgirl of many years ago. He would have millions of origami "peace cranes" produced by Thai schoolchildren, and then he would have them dumped all over the four southern provinces on His Majesty's birthday (this past Sunday, Dec. 5), from military aircraft.
Now, undoubtedly there would be some nay-sayers who might equate this exercise with some sort of grandstanding, showboating, thinly disguised farce of a mass littering operation. The numbers of paper cranes grew steadily, with daily announcements on the progress. The original target was to reach 62 million, the same as the population of humans in Thailand, but that was surpassed. By the time they were dumped by the airforce on Sunday, they numbered more than 100 million. As if it wasn't enough to ask schoolchildren to work their fingers numb to make these things by the bushel, they were then exhorted to create picturesque netting from natural fibres, to hang between trees or over their playgrounds, and catch the paper peace offerings as they fell onto the violence torn 4 provinces. Brilliant plan! Why, if those dumb Americans would just do something like this in Iraq, they could stop slaughtering innocent civilians and peace and love would surely break out. (/sarcasm)
I suppose all this could accomplish something, but I'm just at a loss yet to guess what it was. I suppose if some jihadis would have seen the quaint and innocent gesture, the product of all those pure hearted children wishing for peace, and if even a few of them had a sudden revelation -- or even, what the heck, an epiphany -- such that they would decide to stop working, and killing in the name of global Islamic supremacy, then a few lives may be saved by the cranes. However, within hours more terror attacks were launched with the assassination of a criminal prosecutor in Pattani, and a bombing in Narathiwat. The BBC reports that their Bangkok correspondent says the peace crane drop was "an inspired, populist move" -- from which I will deduce that it was a stupid, useless charade by a politician who thinks he's a populist. Oh yeah, a populist who wishes to be re-elected next month.
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, nothing new on the Munir murder in Indonesia as parliament moves to fulfil the president's intention to have an independent commission investigate the case. Abu Bakar Ba'asyir continues his court appearances before galleries crowded with his vocal supporters, and has been named by several witnesses as being the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. Charged with inciting terrorism and involvement in the Bali, Marriott and Aussie embassy bombings, no smoking gun has come to light as yet but the trial continues. And today, the governor of the special status province of Aceh -- or as it is now known, Nanggroe Aceh Darusalam -- has finally been arrested on corruption charges and is now bedding down in Salemba Prison, Jakarta.
And one more piece of positive news which I hadn't commented on before, the release from prison in Malaysia of the figurehead of the pro-democracy movement in that country, Anwar Ibrahim, which happened some time back. We mustn't let these things go unnoticed. I've just seen Anwar interviewed on Indonesia's Metro TV, and it looks like his medical treatment in Europe has done him a lot of good. Practically crippled and in a neck brace ever since his beating in the prison several years ago, he looks fit and healthy now -- not to mention as articulate and idealistic as ever.
DALAI LAMA VISITS KALMYKIA
Another piece of pleasantly surprising news recently, has been the decision by Russia to grant a visa to Dalai Lama, in order for him to visit the predominately Buddhist former Soviet republic of Kalmykia. I liked this passage from an AFP wire, describing the history of this little Buddhist backwater in southern Russia:
Once known as a quiet agricultural region where sheep outnumbered inhabitants by 10 to one, Kalmykia lies on the Russian steppes in the northwestern corner of the Caspian Sea, mainly peopled by Buddhist descendants of a Mongol tribe which traveled West in the 17th century.The Russians have been refusing His Holiness' repeated requests (in response to the Kalmyk religious community's numerous requests for a pastoral visit) for about a decade -- which always occurred in the face of Chinese whining about the Lama being at the head of a "splittist clique" and warning of dire consequences for any country thinking about receiving him. Finally the Russians did the right thing, China whined and postured as usual, and the Kalmyk Buddhists at long last had the opportunity to welcome and show appreciation for their spiritual leader.
A good two part series appeared last month in the Washington Times, about the current and prospective effects of China's railway into Tibet, which is nearing completion. "Bridging Beijing to Tibet with each new track" and "For Tibetans, railroad brings doom" both give a taste of the social and economic upheaval brought about by the project, and what might be in store for Tibetan cultural survival when the link is fully operational.
Two years ago, a very highly regarded Tibetan monk along with a distant relative of his, were convicted in a secret court proceeding for having conducted a terrorist bombing in Chengdu, Sichuan province. The monk, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had long been active in community service and environmental protection. He had founded several projects such as schools for orphans, community assistance projects for the elderly and the like. He was extremely well loved in his area, and in years past when the authorities had tried to curtail his activities in promoting Tibetan culture and language or environmental protection, the populace of his region acted to shield him from this official persecution. Thus, it wasn't a complete surprise when the authorities fingered him for the terrorist attack. The citizenry in his region organised themselves, and demanded that the government should provide him a fair trial according to law. The government's response was to post leaflets in these towns, requiring a certain amount of money to be put up as a security guarantee for this trial. It was an astounding amount of money, yet the people got busy and started raising it. Contrary to all expectations, the followers of Tenzin Delek got very close to raising the required amount, when the ringleaders of this fundraising effort were also arrested and jailed by the communist authorities.
The case by this time had gathered international attention, and a trial proceeded. Both Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dhondup were found guilty in a process that was closed to observers, and in which both men were denied their own choice of attorneys. The sentences were handed down by Kardze Intermediate Peoples Court on December 2, 2002. In such a case appeal is automatic, but the appeals were turned down in both cases, and on January 26, 2003 the death sentences were confirmed. Lobsang Dhondup was executed immediately on the same day, whereas Rinpoche was given a two year reprieve. This means that he could "legally" be executed anytime after December 2, 2004. I use the "sneer quotes" around the word "legally", because according to Chinese law, the case should have then had a hearing in the Supreme Court -- as the Chinese authorities assured western governments and observers would happen, but it did not. Lobsang Dhondup was led out of the courthouse and shot almost immediately, while Tenzin Delek Rinpoche now faces the same fate.
Tibetans in India and around the world have been trying to gain attention for this case, during the two years between then and now. See the Tibetan Youth Congress website for details on their campaign, including hunger strikes in cities across India. In western countries, the Students for a Free Tibet have a strong campaign in many countries. The International Campaign for Tibet has details of ongoing actions in Europe and US, as well as an account of the testimony of a former political prisoner, the Buddhist nun Ngawang Sangdrol, as she appeared before the hearing on Religious Freedom, convened by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, in Washington DC on November 18, 2004.
These and (the other Tibet organisations listed under the Tibet section of the blogroll at right) will have more up to date information on the worldwide activities on behalf of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Government ministers of several countries are being pressured by their populations to do something meaningful to save his life, and I understand the matter has been raised in the Canadian House of Commons. Nice to see we have some MP's who are on the ball, but I'm afraid our Foreign Affairs Dept. is a bunch of wimps who will go to any lengths not to upset their PRC friends. Despite considerable attention at this time, due to the expiry of the sentence reprieve on Friday December 3, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has refused to give any indication of clemency, and have reiterated that Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche is a terrorist.
Wait just a minute here. China continues to arm actual terror sponsoring regimes such as Iran, Syria and North Korea. China continued selling arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks in the US. China is virtually the sole patron of the criminal thug regime in Burma, which terrorises the entire 40-odd million citizens of that country. Tenzin Delek and Lobsang Dhondup were convicted in closed court with no public evidence (state secrets, you know), lawyers picked by their prosecutors and all sorts of other violations of their supposed "rule of law", in a system that assumes guilt (you must prove your innocence, an inversion of internationally accepted standards of justice). Tenzin Delek has always maintained his innocence, and indeed his aversion to harming any living being (which includes Chinese in Chengdu, of course). His crimes have been to teach Tibetans to be proud of their culture and traditions, to nurture the orphans and other disadvantaged in his society, to basically do good and teach others to do so as well. For these, he got on the wrong side of tyrants who are threatened by a strong sense of worth on the part of Tibetans -- and they had been after him since long before this string of bombings in Chengdu.
Such tyrants have no business being accepted as just another normal national government. Such tyrants have no business being rewarded with the 2008 Olympic Games. Heck, if I had my way, such governments (and there are a lot of them) would have no business even sitting in the UN General Assembly, not to mention the UN Security Council. This is a position that enabled China to block actions aimed at saving innocent victims of Janjaweed genocide in Sudan, block the threat of sanctions against Khartoum, and basically protect the Sudan government in the same way that France tried to protect Saddam and keep him in power with their own "permanent five veto". Bah! With countries like France and China holding such unwarranted power and influence, coupled with their evident tendency toward coziness with thugs and creeps (provided they have something to gain for themselves -- in Sudan of course, it's oil for China's unquenchable thirst), I have a difficult time maintaining much hope for the present international system in general, and UN in particular.
Long Live Tenzin Delek Rinpoche! Free Tibet!
Yeah, yeah, this is getting to be one of my "issues". It just really bugs me, and I'm ashamed of much of what I see emanating from my own country. And I'm not as cut off as some might think -- I actually can listen to CBC radio at certain times via Radio Canada International, through the Asiasat 2 satellite (though I must note, that watching C-SPAN from the same bird, is totally and vastly more interesting, most of the time).
Anyway, no rambling on this item -- but I haven't offered too many links yet this time, so here is an article I found the other day on this very subject -- it's called "Hating America" by Bruce Bawer. Originally published in Hudson Review, I found it on FrontPage Mag. It's long though, three pages -- but quite worth the read.
Also, a small followup on my reference last time to the whiny Americans who wanted to apologise for their election to all correct-thinking progressivists around the world, their "We're Sorry" website and the response from all correct-thinking progressivists in the form of their "Apologies Accepted" website. Well, what can you say after seeing actual pictures of people whose main point is to say to foreigners (with correct attention to the optimum amount of compassionate head-tilt and a suitable number of power fists), "Please forgive us that just over half of our people are stupid morons, we didn't vote for Bush so please don't think we did, and please like us, please please?" And more pictures of Eurotopians and others going "It's ok, it's not your fault, we know you tried, so we accept apologies from the 48% who are not stupid morons." I'll tell you what you can say. You say, "You're Welcome Everybody". And wow, what a surprise! They actually don't look like drooling morons at all! (/sarcasm again) "We're not sorry, and you're very welcome," that's the ticket -- and it should be for anyone in a democracy whether you get your way or not. Man oh man, people from a free country apologising for the democratic process, and I thought I'd seen everything. Tell it to the Ukrainians, eh?