Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The clampdown has started

Riot police attack monks in Burma

Shocked but not surprised.

At least President Bush has spoken out strongly, though will the tough new sanctions include Chevron, he's always seemed to pander to the US's oil industry? You can see a list of companies dealing with the illegal regime at The Burma Campaign's Dirty List. At least he's making some noise, last night on Newsnight, UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband merely repeated mantra-like that he'd been advised by the Foreign Office that no major UK company has investment in Burma. Of course whenever a politician hedges like this, it's a fair bet they're not giving you the entire picture - if you consult the Dirty List there are a large number of UK companies, both major (e.g. Rolls-Royce) and minor trading there. On the other hand, he is pressing the EU to take it up in a more robust fashion, and the list reveals a number of French companies with significant dealings.

In reality, the west's influence is rather limited (though that's no excuse for inaction, of course). The big player is China. While the 'Communist' government can be rather thick-skinned where business is concerned, it certainly doesn't like to lose face and appears rather vulnerable over the 2008 olympics. How about a "Boycott Beijing if there's Bloodshed in Burma" campaign?

Special mention must go to the travel guide company, Lonely Planet. They still produce a Burma guide and try to get away with it by fudging it that backpackers should leave it to their own conscience, and even claiming that contact with ordinary Burmese people would be beneficial. This advice while patently slimy is borderline hypocritical given their stance of backpackers being so much holier than tourists. Their Thailand guide, I'm told, advises people not to buy from beach sellers, who're among the poorest of Thai people, so as not to encourage them.

Boycotting the olympics is not really an issue for me as I can't be bothered to watch people jumping over sticks and running round in circles in stadia so plastered with corporate branding as to be reduced to a gluttonfest, but I'll certainly never buy a Lonely Planet book again and would urge you, dear reader, to do likewise.


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