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Martin LeFevre: Burma, China, & the Global Polity

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

Burma, China, and the Global Polity

Nearly unnoticed, a resolution against human rights abuses perpetrated by the Burmese government (ironically and hypocritically put forth by the United States) was vetoed by China in the Security Council last week. Politically, this signals the equivalent of a reversal in the North Atlantic current, marking the point where China’s economic power turns geopolitical, and surpasses American influence.

It’s axiomatic to everyone but American elites that the American century ended when Bush invaded Iraq. The last chance for genuine leadership from America came immediately after 9.11, when horror, sympathy, and common concern about the growing tide of terrorism combined to provide a momentous opportunity for America and the world to enter a new era.

Of course the Bush Administration was intellectually and inwardly incapable of seizing the moment, and acted reflexively from a mindset of Cold War triumphalism and World War II mythology.

A new era, demanded by history, characterized by cooperation rather than confrontation, and peacemaking rather than warmaking, awaits genuine leadership to emerge. History is being driven by the interdependence of nations in the wake of the unstoppable phenomenon of globalization. The Burmese vote on the Security Council proves that leadership will not come from China.

On January 12th, the governments of China, Russia (and South Africa!?) effectively blocked action at the UN Security Council on Burma. The draft resolution contained no punitive measures such as sanctions.

As the Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ADDHU), said in a press release, the resolution was designed to encourage national reconciliation and democratization in Burma, the release of all political prisoners (including the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi), an end to human-rights abuses in the country, and inclusion of the opposition and ethnic minorities in dialogue leading to a genuine democratic transition.

The push for a UN Security Council resolution comes after 10 years of failed UN efforts and 18 years after a military junta took power by killing as many as ten thousand democracy activists in the 1988 nationwide popular democracy uprising.

"I am very disappointed by the actions of these governments. By rejecting the proposed resolution, they effectively signal to the Burmese military junta to continue its crimes against humanity and its war on its own citizens," said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and Policy Director of the US Campaign for Burma. “Their actions indicate they don't want to give us any possible venue to highlight the Burmese regime's atrocious abuses and seek an end to these attacks and abuses. They are giving the regime a license to kill."

No situation in the world, with the exception of Sudan, better illustrates the disgraceful inadequacy of the nation-state system than the enslavement of the Burmese people by the brutal military dictatorship there. No situation in the world attests more to the urgent need for action and leadership in a new dimension in world politics, beyond the box of the defunct nation-state framework.

The Chinese government, along with the Burmese government, the Bush Administration, and a dwindling number of other regimes, are the last holdouts for the supremacy of the nation-state. (Some progressives unwittingly join these reactionaries, believing that nationalism is an antidote to corporate globalization, when in fact it serves it very well.)

Science and technology on one hand, and business on the other, are the two great driving forces in the world today, and neither sector thinks or acts in terms of national borders. How long can political thinking lag behind the monumental changes that are occurring in the ‘world economy?’ Not even the Chinese communist government can stand in the way indefinitely.

America has been reduced to a mere player, while China is stepping in as the pit boss. But even as it invests in and extracts from Africa, Latin America, and almost everywhere else, the Chinese government wants to be left alone, and talks stupidly about the inviolability of a nation’s “internal affairs.”

The Chinese government has recently developed a penchant for propping up some of the world’s worst human rights abusers (al-Bashir in Sudan and Mugabe in Zimbabwe for example) because it itself needs continuous propping up. Just how long will the communist government’s policy of scouring the world for a steady supply of natural resources to maintain a 10% capitalistic growth keep the lid on unrest at home?

The Chinese government is like a man on a runaway treadmill; the faster he runs, the more certain and severe his fall. But where will genuine leadership come from? Clearly, it won’t come from within the nation-state framework, regardless of scale.

Nationalism is assumed on both sides of the two-dimensional political spectrum. But a growing percentage of the world’s population no longer sees or acts in terms of national identity--or ethnic or religious identity for that matter. Sure, many people are clinging to the old identities as they fade into irrelevance, but as dangerous and conflict-producing as that reactionary tendency is, the real story is in the porousness of borders of all kinds.

Political thinking and action has to catch up to economic and social reality, and fast. Paradoxically, in a completely interconnected, globalized world, the way to promote local control is to create a global concord beyond the nation-state system.

As the planet’s biosphere teeters on the edge, the new, de facto global dimension in world politics has opened up political space and opportunity. Seize it.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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