Isolation policy threatens regime in Myanmar

Freedom New Mexico

An earthquake, upgraded by seismologists from a 7.8 to 7.9 magnitude in Sichuan province in central China, is first of all a reminder that few parts of this world are immune from what we call natural disasters.

We’ve had more than the usual number of tornadoes in the southeast this year; we have hurricanes, wildfires, cyclones, tsunamis, and flooding in various parts of the world.

This earth is beautiful in many ways and can be bountiful as well. But it can also be treacherous.

As we have discovered in the past week, however, there are different ways of dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster that can have an outsized impact on just how devastating the final impact will be.

The Chinese government has acknowledged at least 9,000 dead from the Sichuan quake, and the death toll will undoubtedly rise in the next few days. But whatever its failings (and they are many) the Chinese government has trained its military to respond to natural disasters reasonably well.

Within hours nearly 8,000 military and police personnel were rushed to the quake area. The Chinese government has traditionally been touchy about what outsiders are allowed to do inside China. But if it develops that outside help is desirable — especially since it is trying to make an impression in this year of the Beijing Olympics — the Chinese government is likely to permit help, and even welcome the aid.

Contrast this with the response of the military junta that rules Burma (also called Myanmar) to the cyclone that devastated the key rice-growing Irrawaddy Delta last week.

The junta has purposely kept the country isolated from the outside world and continues to do so even though its own forces are overwhelmed by the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

The International Committee for the Red Cross, Oxfam, Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) and the U.N., along with the U.S. military, stand ready to help, but only a trickle of aid is getting in.

The Myanmar government has even refused to give visas to aid workers, or tied them up with red tape.

But the regime held a scheduled referendum to set in stone the military power structure.

If the government continues to keep outsiders out and disease sets in, as many as a million people could die, compared to early estimates of 60,000 to 100,000 dead from the cyclone itself.

The Myanmar regime may be cutting its own throat. As the protests led by Buddhist monks last September showed, there is widespread opposition to the regime. Its claim to legitimacy rests on keeping residents safe, and helping in times of trouble. If it is seen to fail in the wake of the cyclone, its power could become more tenuous.