In 2002, when India and Pakistan appeared to be headed for a war, Colin Powell, the U.S. secretary of state played a key role in cooling down the tensions. Apparently a significant part was also played by India’s huge software and information technology industry which asked the government to tone down the rhetoric. No one could have put it better than the metaphor maestro, Tom Friedman who wrote, “That’s right — in the crunch, it was the influence of General Electric, not General Powell, that did the trick.”
While business interests can avert wars, it can also cause nations to support dictators and be mute spectators to genocide. In 2006, when United States and its European partners wanted United Nations to pass a resolution to allow UN peace keepers in Darfur, it was opposed by China. China has leverage with the Sudanese government due to the vast investments in Sudanese oil fields, but has always withstood putting pressure on them. Chinese oil purchases have supported the regime and Chinese made AK-47s are used as the murder weapon in Darfur.
It is not just China which behaves like this. The main opposition to the Iraq war came from Russia, France and Germany who all had lucrative deals with Saddam Hussein. Our own Natwar Singh took kick backs and faked a moral opposition to the war.
With the protest of the Burmese Buddhist monks getting attention from around the world, analysts have concluded that if there is one nation that can exert pressure on the military junta, it is China. China is Burma’s largest trading partner and has the leverage, but it is a foregone conclusion that China will do nothing to help the monks. A nation which suppressed the Tiananmen revolution and brutally murdered Buddhist monks in Tibet would be least interested in bringing democracy to Burma. When the issue was bought up before the United Nations, China protested, similar to the protest in Darfur case.
Occasionally there is a mention that India could do something about the issue in Burma, then it as hilarious as the suggestion by one of the callers on On Point Radio, who said that all Americans should write to Wal-Mart asking it to do something about the freedom struggle in Burma. While the world was watching, India chose to be as insensitive as possible by sending the petroleum minister Murli Deora for business talks. Pranab Mukherjee went one step further and requested the murderers to conduct an enquiry into their own activities which is like asking Veerappan do his own post mortem.
Both India and China are least bothered about the plight of the monks and the human tragedy in Burma. Out of this, India’s behavior is shameful as it is a democracy selling arms to a cruel dictatorship in return for access to oil and gas. When China brutalized Buddhists in Tibet, India kept quiet and now probably to show that the foreign policy is consistent, it is keeping quiet when the show is being repeated in Burma. This was an opportunity for India to take a moral stand and distinguish itself from China, but instead it has chosen to let General Electric run the show.
(Image via Free Burma)