Saturday, March 29, 2008

"We are not so different, you and I"

I received an email from a customer from Australia, Russell, who pointed me to AVAAZ.ORG (did I mention how I love Bloom for putting me in touch with like-minded individuals I would otherwise have never known?). AVAAZ.ORG is an online global people's movement campaigning for the world's most pressing issues, such as global warming and peace in the Middle East. I signed up to this one on Tibet:

"Petition to Chinese President Hu Jintao:

As citizens around the world, we call on you to show restraint and respect for human rights in your response to the protests in Tibet, and to address the concerns of all Tibetans by opening meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Only dialogue and reform will bring lasting stability. China's brightest future, and its most positive relationship with the world, lies in harmonious development, dialogue and respect."

AVAAZ needs 2 million signatures by 31st March. To date, 1,270,622 have signed - 1 million target reached in just 7 days! Petition delivery in 4 days, so please if you are reading this - join the global voice for peace.

Although I am ethnic--though not wholly--Chinese (I am third-generation Chinese Singaporean, but also have Thai blood on my mom's side), I despise many of the things the Chinese government is doing, not just in Tibet, but also in Sudan and it's enough for me to boycott the Olympics and to call on friends to do the same. It should be said, though, that what the Chinese are doing in terms of promoting national self-interest is no different or morally more repugnant than what the US does for its self interest, in Nicaragua, Chile and numerous other countries (for further reading, you may want to read Noam Chomsky or John Pilger, two of my heroes). Or indeed, what Singapore does. Among the things done in the name of national self-interest, Singapore sells arms to Burma and was crucial in the military's early days of consolidating and building power.

Here is an except from a 1998 report in Jane's Intelligence Review.

"The SLORC ("State Law and Order Restoration Council", or the name adopted in 1997 by Burma's military junta), faced with the country's economic collapse and fearful of a link-up between ethnic insurgents in the countryside and urban-based dissidents, was desperate to restock its depleted armouries. China and Thailand were quick to step in with offers of support, but the first country to come to the regime's rescue was in fact Singapore.

Traces of a relationship

Details are hard to come by but, according to one regional journal, in October 1988 hundreds of boxes marked 'Allied Ordnance, Singapore' were unloaded from two vessels of Burma's Five Star Shipping Line in Rangoon's port. These shipments reportedly included mortars, ammunition and raw materials for Burma's arms factories. The consignment also contained 84 mm rockets for the Burmese army's Carl Gustav recoilless guns, which were made by Chartered Industries of Singapore under licence from Forenade Fabriksverken in Sweden. The shipment thus violated an agreement under which the original export licence had been negotiated, requiring that any re-exports only be made with the permission of the Swedish Government. No
such clearance was granted.

In August 1989 Singapore was again accused of providing arms to the SLORC when weapons and ammunition originating in Belgium and Israel were trans-shipped to Burma, apparently with the assistance of SKS Marketing, a newly formed Singapore-based joint venture with the Burmese military regime. There have been reports that these latter shipments included second-hand 40 mm RPG-2 grenade launchers and 57 mm anti-tank guns of Eastern Bloc origin. One well-informed Burma -watcher has suggested that this equipment may have come from Palestinian stocks captured in southern Lebanon by Israel in 1982 and re-sold to Burma.

It is highly unlikely that any of these arms shipments to Burma could have been made without the knowledge and support of the Singapore Government."

This 1998 article also reported "Singapore is now Burma's largest foreign investor, with over US$1 billion committed to nearly 50 different projects (mainly in hotels, property development and tourism)". For all its support, "Singapore [is] in a category reserved for Burma's special friends, a category currently shared only by the Burmese junta's main financial backer and strategic ally: China."

I am reminded of Dr Evil saying to Austin Powers, "We are not so different, you and I". Yes, but two wrongs don't make a right. Regardless of what country you are from and what your government has done, we still can, as individuals, make our opinions heard. If you had watched this week's HardTalk where Stephen Sackur talks to China's most censored writer, Liao Yiwu, you may have heard how he was locked in solitary confinement for 23 days, with his hands cuffed behind his back all through those 23 days. Liao has been arrested numerous times and imprisoned. The first time was in March 1990 while working on a movie about the government´s persecution of persons involved in the June 4th (Tiananmen) Movement. He tried to commit suicide twice.

In the show he talks about freedom to write and publish being taken for granted in the West but in China it is like opening a door, a little at a time. It was a very depressing half-hour for me, to see this human being, 50 years old, so beaten down, despite his claims that he is now in a "healthy" place and is a "healthy" person. But for me, Liao had an important message: I am among the privileged in this world who have the ability to write and publish. I should not waste this opportunity, so denied to people more talented and brave and deserving than me.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin