Tag Archives: china

Myanmar is an unpopulated country

TW: colonialism, neo-colonialism

I’ve been on something of a kick going through past and present reporting by The Economist as of late. More than finding woefully (and probably willfully) myopic looks at rebels in Syria, it’s been a rather varied treasure trove of distilled nonsense. For instance, their coverage of the 2012 US presidential election was woefully naïve, and had eleven states held up as “toss-ups” on November 2, before uploading an updated report on November 7 where they awkwardly admit that Obama won ten of those “toss-ups” (they complain that the popular vote was much closer, but inaccurately report the results as 51 percent Obama when it was closer to 53 percent). Of course, there were all those voices that pointed out that such results shouldn’t have been terribly surprising.


(The gas and oil pipelines being constructed from Kauk Phyu in Myanmar into China, from here.)

Naturally, none of that can compare to discussing Myanmar as a location and not a, well, populated area. Yes, Myanmar has the potential to be an important location for ports where goods would be shipped to and from urban centers in eastern China, Bangkok in Thailand, and even the rather poor territories in northeastern India. At least there’s assertions that the people living in those areas will see increased economic security or opportunities as a result of this, even if there’s no substance to those claims. The various Burmese peoples aren’t mentioned but implied to be in the way between Chinese and Thai consumers and oil imports. How that might jeopardize the trade surrounding Singapore, Malaysia and even Indonesia goes unmentioned and the precise economic impact (other than “trade”) on one of the poorest parts of India isn’t elaborated on.

Given this pattern of discussion where entire populations are erased from consideration, which was a key part of their coverage (if it can even be called that) of Syria, it seems as though The Economist‘s staff needs to be reminded just that certain groups even exist. I thought we could expect more from an internationally-read paper.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How many dead

TW: islamophobia, mass killings, genocide

So, of course, in the wake of the Boston Bombings, this happened:


(Erik Rush responded to being asked if he was blaming Muslims for the Boston attacks by saying “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.”)

I think after the decades of the US being at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and arguably secretly too in Yemen and Pakistan, people in this country have gotten accustomed to extreme displays of violence towards (presumed) Muslims. I don’t think the actual magnitude of this statement, which frequent Fox News guest Erik Rush walked back as “sarcasm”, has sunk in for many people.

There are about 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet. That’s nearly a quarter of the entire world’s population. Killing every single one of them, as Rush cavalierly suggested (oh sorry, “joked”) would be equivalent to more than 200 times the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. That’s more than 145 times the total deaths in the Holocaust. That’s more than 66 times the military deaths in World War II. That’s almost 39 times the military deaths in both World Wars. That’s still about double the largest estimates for deaths under Mao Zedong’s governance in China (which were primarily from starvation, but also included several million political killings). To call the number of people Rush joked about killing staggering seems like an understatement.

The sort of mass killing Rush referenced seems to fit more effectively into eradications that history textbooks describe as occurring across continents and over centuries: the colonization of the Americas, the “settlement” of Australia, the exploitation of Africa. Even compared to those, Rush’s “sarcastic” remark falls short: indigenous peoples saw their lives destroyed on an unimaginable scale in each of those historical processes, but there were survivors. In a very real way, what Rush “joked” about was a level of murder unprecedented even in those cases, that would have lead to the depopulated path leading from the western coast of Africa into central Asia.


(Percentage of the population in a given country that’s Muslim. The darkest color, which is most prevalent in North Africa and the Middle East, represents that at least 90 percent of the population is Muslim. Click to enlarge.)

In spite of how much this remark, if translated into action, would be a new chapter in an already bloody history, it’s actually shocking how well it fits certain legal language: that of genocide. To the surprise of some, the legal definition of genocide is actually quite narrow, since it was written by the US (which had just used nuclear weapons against enemy civilian populations), the UK (which still had it’s empire, including the brutal local governments in south Asia and south Africa), France (which had brutally repressed its colonial subjects in Algeria and would do so again after the war), the USSR (who at that time was governed by Stalin), and China (what was in the midst of a massive civil war that would lead to Mao’s death-happy rule). The hands that conceived a legally actionable idea of what were and weren’t crimes against humanity were careful to make sure their past and future actions weren’t themselves quite within the boundaries of the definition.

In light of that it’s something of a shock how easily Rush’s comments fit into this deliberately narrow definition: the intent or act of killing in whole or in part an ethnic, religious, or racial group. Muslims are pretty clearly a religious group, which he quite clearly advocated killing of in whole. With so little wiggle room, the only defense he has that he didn’t advocate genocide is to claim “sarcasm” – and lo and behold he has.

While I don’t intend to suggest we should limit speech half as much as we do now, it seems like the US public and Fox News in particular could make clear that we aren’t on the same page as Erik Rush. So, I hope you’ll consider signing this petition which requests that Fox News cease hearing from him permanently.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A run down of the wars

TW: Korean War, Philippine-Malaysian tensions, Argentinian “Dirty War”, drone strikes

War was all over the news today, let’s just take a quick assessment of it all.

  • Just before joint military exercises between South Korea and the US, North Korea has sent several signals suggesting that they might be interested in reengaging the South in another armed conflict. The last time everyone considered that they were likely to do so (in 2010) more than a few people cited analysis from 2005 (again, when everyone expected something to happen) that suggested huge casualties would be likely if the war did reignite. Buried under all the paranoia is an actually important point: if the war, which technically has only ceased rather than ended, started again in earnest, hundreds of thousands are likely to die. That, among other pieces of evidence, does point towards this being yet another bluff on the part of the North Korea leadership. Unfortunately, there seem to be diminishing returns as North Korea has to increasingly concern China, South Korea, and the US in order to not be easily labeled as only being aggressive to jockey for aid.
  • Military conflicts between East Malaysians and militarized Filipin@ groups in the Sabah province have gotten the Philippine state involved now as unaffiliated Filipin@ individuals have been targeted by the Malaysian police. Ironically, exacerbating the land conflict wasn’t the intention of the Sulu Sultanate, the Filipin@ group in question, who simply wanted the regular allowance paid by the Malaysian government for having displaced their government to be raised. As tensions have worsened, that actually seems to be becoming a less likely outcome.
  • With the selection of the Archbishop of Argentina to hold papal office, many old wounds about the “Dirty War” in Argentina have been reopened. Was Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) among the high-ranking Catholics that sought to soften the blow of the military regime by keeping pregnant political prisoners alive, only to kill them after they gave birth? Is his sense of fidelity to Christian principles so thin?

What’s striking is how many of the instigators (or alleged accessory in Pope Francis’ case) were loath to actually initiate or perpetuate conflicts. They didn’t seem to be interested in killing or causing the death of anyone, but their political interests allowed them to risk that, or even cause or participate in it to maintain an unsustainable class division within North Korea, to lobby for greater dispensation from the Malaysian government, and to protect some perceived victims in the midst of state-sponsored killings.


(A Pakistani woman protesting the use of drones in 2011, from here.)

I think that’s an important thing to meditate on, when examining your own beliefs. Would they let you get to the same place as Kim Il-Sung, the Sultanate of Sulu, or Pope Francis?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The unreality in America

TW: gun violence, political killings

Over the past couple of days, one particular study has set much of the US blogosphere on fire (along with a few more established media commentators). In a nutshell, congressional representatives consistently estimate their districts to be more conservative than they actually are – independent of their party identity (although Republicans overestimate more egregiously). It’s not just you, US politics really are distorted.


(Both elected Democrats and Republicans estimate their districts to be much more conservative than they actually are, from here.)

While I’m glad that someone’s gone ahead and quantified this phenomenon, I’m sadly not surprised in the least. The US has long had politics that seemed unreal, a fact that comes with nearly daily reminders. I was particularly struck by that confusing part of living in the US while watching Rachel Maddow of all news programs last night. She was explaining the significance of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and noted that he had connections to so many different countries that the US was in direct or indirect conflict with.

She ran through the list: “He buddied up ostentatiously with the Castro brothers in Cuba. He aligned himself with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran. He signed giant oil contracts with the Chinese government. He bought weapons and fighter jets from the Russians.” It’s a bit curious that we think of these deals and connections as making Chavez exceptional, rather than reflecting the oddly solitary nature of the US in the world. Maybe Chavez was friends with many of our enemies, but doesn’t that imply something about how many enemies we have?

I had another such rude awakening this morning while commuting to work. In front of me I noticed a peculiar bumper sticker:


(A bumper sticker proclaiming: “Exist” written in scopes and firearms, from here.)

There’s a lot being said with that one word, but let’s simply start with the obvious: it say exist, rather than co-exist. It blatantly rips off and responds to that image that’s at least iconic to me, but it modifies it. Rather than mutual effort to understand respect one another, it’s a declaration of a right to violence. It’s a summary of a growing political philosophy in this country – that violence is a means of establishing one’s freedom. It joins the ranks of scores of earlier joke “hunting licenses” and maps with scopes on them.

But there’s also an important question in light of the evidence that the political realities of the US are not what they seem, that those stickers should raise: are they so impacting because of an actual threat of violence? Or are they so shocking because while vocal, they’re such outliers from the rest of the US? In other words, are they the last stand of a disappearing political subculture? And what risks do such last stands pose?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This week in death…

TW: suicide, anti-Black violence, anti-LGBT* violence

There were quite a few deaths in the news this week which seem necessary to talk about. In Tibet, two monks immolated themselves in anticipation of the Chinese parliament reconvening, which was expected to vote for further strict security protocols in Tibet. One week earlier, two different teenagers also killed themselves in protest of continued Chinese rule over Tibet. The Dalai Lama has both faced criticism in China as the source of these suicides and officially called for the Chinese government to examine how its policies have contributed to these and other protest suicides.

In Mali, on the other hand, the decision to express political disagreement through suicide was also present, but mixed into the on-going multifaceted struggle over the form and number of states that will emerge from modern Mali. Presumably a member of the more hardline Islamist movements, one attacker this week killed themselves and seven others, all members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and more moderate Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) at a checkpoint in Kidal. This is one in a long string of attacks throughout northern Mali or Azawad, which have targeted the civilian population, French forces, the MNLA, and now the MIA. This is another indication that the “hard” Islamists are turning on moderates and rebels who likewise fought for the self determination of Azawad. Whether France will be as motivated to assist the liberation movements as it was to prevent the disintegration of the undemocratic government of Mali remains to be seen.


(Marco McMillan who had been a main contender for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi, from here.)

In the US, a mayoral candidate for Clarksdale, Mississippi, Marco McMillan was found dead in a river. While a majority of the population has long been Black, it’s also been a site of much racist violence, including one incident where Aaron Henry, who eventually became the head of the Mississippi branch of the NAACP, was dragged to the Clarksdale jail while handcuffed to the back of a truck. The current mayor of Clarksdale, Henry Espy, was the first and as of yet only Black mayor of the town. McMillan had hoped to replace him as the second Black mayor and the first openly gay one. It remains unclear what his campaign will do in light of his death.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Power rather than merits

TW: brief mention of sexual assault

It’s not great shock that power rather than merits determines what messages are widely disseminated, as several recent articles show. To live in a country with a less democratic government is to have your speech coerced if not outright monitored and controlled. Egypt’s President Morsi is pursuing a policy of rather intently shutting down parodies and satires that appear to reflect poorly on him, namely one extremely popular video satirist who has mocked his overuse of the word love in recent speeches and other mannerisms.


(He hasn’t seemed to consider not giving himself extensive political powers if he doesn’t want to be mocked as power hungry. Photo from here.)

Meanwhile, Chinese officials similarly shot themselves in the foot, as they initially allowed broad coverage of the sexual assault and subsequent death of a 23 year old Indian woman, as that fit into their narrative of India’s form of development as inferior to China’s. As protests erupted across India (TW: sexual assault as “defilement”, some less reasonable than others), however, internet users speaking anonymously asked questions including, “If such things happen in China, will we have a large scale protest?” Searching for articles or coverage on Chinese networks now turns up no results, as the state has now censored discussion of the incident or ensuing protests.

In contrast to those two other examples that have to swim upstream against their own governments, Howard Schultz’s interest in some sort of a deal on the “Fiscal Cliff” didn’t face state-based censorship within the US. But furthermore, it didn’t have to compete on an open market of ideas. As the CEO of Starbucks, he could simply demand that his employees propagate his message, no matter how nonsensical its content or unclear its meaning. So even in many comparatively open and uncensored media markets, what views are represented speak more to the power of those stating them than their own merits or popular appeal.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Billions of people aren’t enough leverage?

The Hindu recently published a rather interesting opinion piece on Chinese foreign policy, that looked over the history of how China has annoyed almost every neighboring country in the past couple of decades, and consequently is feeling a little lonesome. While India is one of those countries, as the two have previously come to blows over a border dispute, a number of different international factors is driving the two to look past those squabbles and focus on the need for joint international action on various issues. Chief among those reasons to unite forces would be climate change.

But the fact that China and India must tactically coordinate in order to influence international policy actually leads to only further questions. Both nations are by far the largest single-state portions of the global population, and the coming decade China is predicted to outpace the United States as the world’s largest economy. While both superstates have per capita wealth that’s dwarfed by the US, Canada, Australia, and much of Western Europe, there’s clearly indications that their economies are actually more stable and in a sense more robust than those of “more developed” countries.

In spite of this, India or China acting independently on the issue of climate change would apparently get nowhere. There’s two potential explanations for that. For one, as individual countries they’re in such completely unique positions that their political views, while influential, fails to connect with the interests of others. Alternatively, their needs are at least somewhat similar to not only each other but many other countries. In spite of that, even when working collectively, their capacity to influence world affairs is disproportionately small. It seems as though both are highly plausible arguments.

For one, a frequently used socio-economic category for countries used since the fall of the Soviet Union and disintegration of the idea of a capitalist first world, socialist second world, and unaligned third world, has been that of BRICS. The steadily more democratic Brazil, ostensibly more open Russia, developing India, increasingly Western-friendly China, and post-apartheid South Africa represented to many analysts a confusing and new national category in the changed global landscape. They were unified by recent indications of growing prosperity and bright political futures in spite of past histories of violent repression and extensive concentration of wealth in a small elite. Likewise, they were all populous regional powers that contained diverse religious and ethnic groups. Occasionally, Mexico and Indonesia would be included within the category as similarly emergent powers.


(The BRICS countries, from here. They contain for approximately 2.9 billion people. If Indonesia and Mexico are included in the same category, they account for 3.3 billion people.)

As negotiations over the original Kyoto Treaty began to become more urgent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they successfully pushed for the exemption of “less developed countries” (which included all of their categorical members except Russia) from stipulated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The economic development of the poorest countries in the world, which to some extent still included the BRICS countries, was understood as an acceptable alternative to stricter environmental protections (especially since most of the historical emissions had been produced in wealthy developed countries).

That said, the classification of Russia as a developed country has led to it pushing for policies more in line with those proposed by Japan, the US, and Canada, rather than India or China. As Al Jazeera’s coverage of the discussions shows, the EU is essentially the lone voice within the “developed world” in even entertaining the idea of a second or additional periods of proposed cuts. India and China have disagreements between each other, and with the coalition of the poorest and most flood-prone countries, but have the beginnings of a consensus among “less developed” countries. The positions of South Africa and Brazil are unmentioned, but it’s unclear why they would disagree with those other nations.

Even assuming that the positions of India and China are unacceptable to their fellow BRICS-type countries, inadequately strict for the most vulnerable nations, and anathema for the developed world aside from the EU, those three collectively are 3 billion people of the planet’s 7 billion. Surely, a few additional millions can be found in places too poor to be considered “developed” and too secure from rising tides to be considered among the most at-risk. Reaching a plurality if not a majority of the world’s population in terms of signatory states to a new treaty is not some unthinkable prospect. But it’s still treated as a long-shot.

The only explanation is that not all countries’ votes count for as much. The treaties are non-binding and there’s not really any clear context for punitive measures for refusing to sign on. So the majority of the population of the “developed” world can burn what we want without a care, even if we number a noticeably minor portion of the world’s people. The oil-rich gulf states (another tiny minority) seem to gladly agree to our right to do that, since they can turn a tidy profit from it.

Not only does climate change spell out a future where your race and class within wealthier countries may determine your security, but the same factors play out across the entire globe. And China and India might be better situated than other nations, but their voices are still devalued in the current debate, even if their nations represent a third of the world.

Edit: I apologize for erroneously calling China the world’s current largest economy in the original published version of this article. I was confused by misleading representations of this argument, that China may have a much larger GDP than largely believed.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ill omens for Suu Kyi?

Just to review, if for the past week you stuck exclusively to American media you’d probably have heard either nothing about President Obama’s recent trip to Myanmar, or saw an awful lot of this image:

Helpfully, Al Jazeera can provide you with a more nuanced look at the talks in which multiple issues are clearly at play. Obama has done a lot of work in opening Myanmar to democratic influences from namely the US but the broader world. But there’s also speculation around the world about what else will happen now that the country with the world’s tenth largest natural gas reserves has been opened up. Aside from potentially exchanging isolated exploitation for a globalizing variation on the same theme, there’s always the possibility of a close bond between the US and a democratized Myanmar to further politically contain China. As we’re still trying to extract resources from the region and contain Chinese political influence, it seems worth asking if this is just a smarter version of the same US policies that brought us the Vietnam War.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the effective leader of the democratizing movement in Myanmar brilliantly said, of the gains made while Obama has been in office, “We have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success and that we are working towards genuine success for our people.” With brave talk like that, from someone who’s been under house arrest almost continuously for the past twenty years, we should all have hope. But for her to provide the tenacious leadership that won’t settle for exchanging a Myanmar run at the behest of China for a Burma designed for the benefit of the United States, she’ll have to beat the odds.

Suu Kyi will have to avoid the fates of former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and former Chilean President Salvador Allende. She’ll also have to overcome the temptation to avoid challenging the powerful that daunted the still lauded Nelson Mandela. There’s actually been another democratizing female politician from a politically dynastic family trying to fight against military rule in a former colony in subtropical Asia – former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who seemed to combine the worst of Mandela’s subverted democratization and Allende’s and Mossadegh’s inability to avoid assassination. That’s not a very positive predictor of either Myanmar’s or Suu Kyi’s futures.

Perhaps a better question than why some Burmese people created a mural of Obama is why didn’t they create one of her? And how does that bode for any emerging democratic government in Myanmar?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Learning from history

TW: class warfare, forced relocation

After decades of horrendous environmental policies, Chinese protests based in the city of Ningbo against reckless industrial expansion seem to have reached critical mass and have become capable of shutting down questionable projects. While China didn’t have to go through its own Bhopal Disaster to reach this point, it’s obvious that an environmental price in quality and length of life has been paid by some of the country’s citizens.

57.54% of Ningbo Area waters are severely pollutedMarshes surrounding Ningbo, China
(Although a majority of the surrounding marine environments have been determined to be “severely polluted”, they are not significantly increasing in size, and the area appears relatively healthy. Right image from here, left from here.)

The most recent aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip went on the PR offensive before being seized by Israeli officials. One of the founders of the group that had organized the current effort provided an interview before reaching Gazan waters which specified their goals, their cargo, and responded to multiple likely accusations to justify the seizure of the flotilla. With the famous Turkish flotilla having been subjected to provably false allegations by Israeli officials, this was probably a good way of heading off another such round of “he said, she said” discussion on the aid group.

In Mumbai, there’s the beginning of political organization within the majority of the city’s population which dwells in places labeled as “slums”. Facing forced relocation by the government to make way for urban development, some of the communities in the city are protesting for investment in existing communities, rather than displacement of the poor. Although some areas’ populations have already been forcibly removed and replaced with upper scale housing developments, the political movement is largely anticipatory at this stage. As a result they’re more on their toes than comparable movements in South Africa, which have largely responded to existing mass evictions in working to prevent further displacement or ease transitions.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s going on with North Korea?

The Presidential debate earlier this week didn’t touch on North Korea, and more than a few people noticed.

Tweet from Chris Hayes
(Originally tweeted here.)

While it’s a real shame there wasn’t any discussion on the national stage about the last remaining Stalinist dictatorship in the world then, there has been some really interesting coverage by the New York Times over the past couple of months. They’ve looked into the always complicated relationship between the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Likewise, they’ve explored the on-going saga of North Korean and Chinese relations, which strike me as being utter “frenemies”.

Tagged , , , , ,