Saturday, February 26, 2005

Trials of Total, and pro-Boycott Burma Activism

Quotes of the Day:

"It is not simply Total Oil that is on trial; but the pro-sanctions, pro-isolation Burma activism itself is being tried in the court of empiricism."
"It is only fair to ask - To whom are we, Burmese dissidents - and our outside supporters - answerable when we make consequential mistakes? And who pays the price for our mistakes and failures, especially when we are obviously not affected by the policies which we advocate?"

- Trials of Total, and pro-Boycott Burma Activism

"Whether or not the campaign to oust Total from Burma is successful, the results either way will not advance the cause of freedom and democracy for the Burmese people and an end to human rights abuses, any more than the sanctions campaign over the past 17 years has achieved any success towards achieving this goal. The current regime is as hard-line as ever, and the Burmese people continue to suffer."

- Derek Tonkin[UK Diplomatic Service - retired]

"I am very concerned that Total Oil is in a joint business venture with Burma's brutal military dictatorship. By working so closely with the dictatorship you are funding a regime that imprisons and tortures political opponents, has been condemned by the United Nations for its widespread use of forced labour and that uses rape as a weapon of war in its persecution of ethnic minorities."

- On-line petition for Total divestiture from Burma

This FBC Posting contains:

1). Trials of Total Oil, and pro-boycott Burma Activism
2). A Divestment Campaign against Total
3). Total on Trial: An Alternative View

Trials of Total, and pro-boycott Burma Activism: Compiler's Note

Zarni, Free Burma Coalition

Generally, activists are thought to be well-meaning individuals who exhort others to "do the right thing." But there are some serious problems with simply doing the right thing oneself or campaigning for the right thing to be done, in the evangelical sense of that phrase.

The most obvious one is the fact that different sets of logic and rationality can be used to either justify or invalidate a given line of social action, and hence the cliche "reasonable people may/can disagree."

In the case of the existing, divergent voices clamoring for change in Burma, presumably reasonable people disagree as to what type of international policy (read Western - because there is evidently an Asia-wide Burma policy concensus among governments that matter in that country's internal affairs) should be adopted. The resultant debate (or lack of it) should be pursued on the basis of empirical evidence in terms of the effiacy of certain policy, adopted or advocated for.

Activism, both pro- and anti-investment, pro- and anti-isolation, must be evaluated in the same way all policies are supposed to be evaluated: their demonstrable effectiveness.

The trial of Total Oil in the court of public opinion is not simply Total's alone. It is, in a way, the trial of Burma activism itself, the kind that believes depriving, in effect, the country of Burma (and her voiceless majority) of both meaningful and substantial interactions and engagement with the world at large.

If the argument that trade and commercial interactions have not benefitted the people of Burma since the generals launched their "Burmese Way to Capitalism" scheme during post-1988 popular uprisings, then an equally convincing case can be made that our pro-isolation and pro-disinvesment activist policies and strategies have accomplished nothing, insofar as the goal of democratic change in Burma is concerned.

Speaking from my own experience, it is definitely a bitter pill to swallow to admit the demonstrable failures of the boycott campaigns of which I was a participant, as a behicle for advancing the cause of freedom in my country.

It is understable that an entire generation of Burmese dissidents, both within Burma and in disapora, may find it hard to admit that their (our) activism, however admirable and glorious it may be, has accomplished very little. Not surprisingly, it is a lot easier to continue to stay with the pact which, deep down in its collective heart, no longer believes in the effectiveness of their (our) boycott activism. But it is always easy to go along with the crowd and thus relieve oneself of any responsibility for the policy or strategic failures, that prick our conscience, collective and individual and that challenge us intellectually.

Let's look at what we have accomplished over the past decade, embracing a particular line of activist action, against an objective set of criteria. Such a set, albeit not exhaustive, may include:
1). change in the regime's behavior or policies;
2). improvement in the life of average Burmese citizens;
3). comparative strength, viability and sustainability - politically, militarily, geo-strategically, financially, and human resource-wise - of the parties in conflict; and
4). the general state of affairs in our country, a deeply troubled nation-state.

Some argue that the generals are devouring their own flesh and blood - or simply put "killing each other." Further, they argue that the regime is at its weakest and may soon collapse on its own weight and owing to its own fierce internal struggles.

One then feels compelled to ask the following question -
Why is that such regime could destroy one of its pillars of power and support and yet continue to hold onto to power, in spite of our collective activism, both within Burma and internationally, especially when we are presumbly 'good guys on the right side of history' supported by a consetllation of the rich and powerful nations on earth?

A short answer is this:

A weak regime protected by strategically placed, powerful polities and economies, can not be forced out of power by a weaker force of fractured political activism whose main pillar of support has, in effect, been relocated outside Burma, specifically Western capitals. This is something anyone who knows a thing or two about the state of the movement would readily, if quietly, admit.

The truth of the matter is not many objectively thinking Burmese, either "back home" or in diaspora, are pinning the hope on either our economic activism or "the movement" to set in motion any meaninful process of social change in our birthplace.

Many Burmese citizens may - and do - derive naturally pleasure from the knowledge that their hatred toward the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is popularly shared globally in the form of boycotts and dis-investment campaigns abroad. But the efforts to free a nation or bring about social change require more than quiet pleasure shared in whispers in Burma and activists' piety (toward their/our own activism).

A virtuous action may be judged not only by the tone of its moral indignation, which typifies our activist literature but also against some objective yard stick of its utilitarian efficacy.

We Burmese would do well to reflect our strategic choices, and perhaps entertain the following - might I add shocking - thought.

It is not simply Total that is on trial; but the pro-sanctions, pro-isolation Burma activism itself is being tried in the court of empiricism. Confronting our own failures and shortcomings and bearing responsibilities for the wrong choices we have made is hardly tantamount to call for submission or surrender.

Even Gotama Buddha is said to have made the wrong choices (for instance, eating only the falling fruits that remained in the small circle inside which he sat, engaged in Vipassana) as he sought to extinguish the grand illusion of "I".

And we ego-celebrating mortal beings should, at the very least, have a healthy degree of humility to grapple with the unbearable self-critical thought: what if we as activists are continuing to make same, old wrong strategic choices?

The current generation of Burmese activists (and the public at large) are paying the price for glaring strategic failures of the previous generations as well as those of our own.

It is only fair to ask - To whom are we, Burmese dissidents - and our outside supporters - answerable when we make consequential mistakes? And who pays the price for our mistakes and failures, especially when we are obviously not affected by the policies which we advocate?
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http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/pm/weblog.php?id=P152

To Total Oil

I am very concerned that Total Oil is in a joint business venture with Burma's brutal military dictatorship. By working so closely with the dictatorship you are funding a regime that imprisons and tortures political opponents, has been condemned by the United Nations for its widespread use of forced labour and that uses rape as a weapon of war in its persecution of ethnic minorities.

Burma’s democracy leaders have asked companies not to invest in Burma. I urge you to end your business partnership with Burma's military dictatorship and pull out of Burma now!

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.
//end (on-line petition) text//
=========================================================
TOTAL Oil & Burma – New Report & Campaign

21 Feb 2005

On Monday 21st February the Burma Campaign UK publishes a hard-hitting new report exposing how oil giant TOTAL plays a crucial role in funding and protecting Burma’s brutal military dictatorship.

The report Totalitarian Oil – TOTAL Oil: Fuelling the oppression in Burma, coincides with the launch of a global campaign against the company, supported by 40 organisations in 18 countries.
French oil giant TOTAL is the fourth largest oil company in the UK, and the fourth largest oil company in the world.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Burmese Perspectives

Guildford UK - 23
February 2005

Total on Trial The European-wide campaign launched on 21 February 2005 to induce the French oil and gas company Total to withdraw from Burma will have delighted those aggressive State companies in China, India, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea who are currently showing such keen interest in exploiting Burma's offshore natural gas reserves.

China already has exploration and production interests in Burma through the China National Petroleum Corporation, China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec), and offshore specialists China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). There are plans to construct a natural gas pipeline into China's Yunnan Province. India's ONGC Videsh and gas transmission specialists GAIL have teamed up with South Korea's Daewoo International and the Korea Gas Corporation to exploit the 6 trillion cubic feet gas discovery in Block A-I, while India is discussing with Bangladesh an international gas transmission pipeline to take the gas from Burma to India. Thailand (PTT EP), Malaysia (Petronas), and Japan (Nippon Oil) are likewise heavily involved in Burma, with pipelines from both the Yetagun and Yadana fields already pumping into Thailand. Asian interest in acquiring Total and Unocal assets

These Asian companies must now be looking with close, acquisitive attention at the Total-Unocal involvement with Thailand's PTT EP and Burma's Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) in the Yadana field. Reports have already emerged of CNOOC interest in acquiring Unocal's South East Asian interests generally, and no doubt Unocal, and possibly China itself, have already consulted Total about these developments. Both Total and Unocal are likely to get a good price for their Burma assets, should they choose to sell, for whatever reasons.

Just as Premier Oil sold out to Malaysia's Petronas, who then sold on part of these assets to other Yetagun consortium partners, so a sale of Total or Unocal interests in Yadana would have not the slightest effect on production or earnings. Revenue to the Burmese State will continue to flow at the precisely the same rate, whether Total and Unocal remain in the consortium or not. The only difference is that Total or Unocal would no longer be "contaminated" by association with the military regime.

The balance of Western interest would seem to be in favour of Total staying in Burma, in order to preserve a Western presence there and to maintain a channel of influence with the military regime. Isolation and ostracism of the junta is strongly opposed by Burma's neighbours, so that for Europe to go it alone would make no impact at all.

Though our Asian-Pacific competitors would welcome Total's departure from Burma on purely commercial grounds, their Governments might have some misgivings about any increased polarisation between Europe and Asia over Burma, dramatically illustrated at the ASEM Summit in Hanoi in October 2004. The regime itself is hardly likely to lose any sleep if yet further Western assets fall into the hands of their regional supporters. This additional Asian acquisition of Western interests will further bind Burma's neighbours to supporting the military regime.

More generally, Burma can dispense with any further investment from the West for a long time to come: it is simply not needed. Likely French Reactions to a departure of Total As for France, it will cause considerable surprise in Paris, if not mirth, to hear that the departure of Total would be likely to result in a "more progressive French foreign policy that would be supportive of such a [UN mandatory] sanctions policy" (Burma Campaign UK - "Totalitarian Oil").

In the light of France's opposition to sanctions policies generally, its current endeavours to entice a reluctant UK into supporting an end to the arms embargo on China, the known Asian attachments of President Chirac, and the continuing presence in Rangoon of an enterprising commercial and economic mission, the prospects of such a basic realignment of French policy even in the event of Total's withdrawal would be close to the traditional snowflake's chances of survival in the nether regions. Determined to develop its commercial relations throughout Asia, and especially with China, France is most unlikely, in that event, to support any proposal within the EU to ratchet up sanctions against Burma yet again. UN Security Council action against Burma is not a policy which France is likely to support except as a last resort and only in close concert with its partners in Asia, and for the present this possibility can be discounted altogether.

President Arroyo of the Philippines, the most democratic of all South East Asian countries and currently a Member of the UN Security Council, has made it clear yet again this week after talks with Burmese Prime Minister Lt Gen Soe Win that the Philippines intend to remain engaged with Burma in economic matters and that sanctions is not on their agenda.

China and Russia, UNSC Permanent Members, remain implacably opposed to sanctions. It is wishful thinking for activist groups like the Burma Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide to believe that France would be likely to change their policies. In fact they know this full well already, but self-evident political realities have never tempered their messianic assertions.

A Total withdrawal would be detrimental to the cause of freedom and democracy in Burma.

Whether or not the campaign to oust Total from Burma is successful, the results either way will not advance the cause of freedom and democracy for the Burmese people and an end to human rights abuses, any more than the sanctions campaign over the past 17 years has achieved any success towards achieving this goal. The current regime is as hard-line as ever, and the Burmese people continue to suffer. Activist polices serve only to entrench the junta in power, delay the advent of democracy, lessen Western influence on the regime and promote the industrial and commercial interests of our competitors.

Some activists have at long last acknowledged the futility of these policies, but their enlightened recognition is not yet generally shared. It is after all difficult to admit that you have been wrong all the time.

Derek Tonkin[UK Diplomatic Service - retired]

Derek Tonkin - Heathfields, Berry Lane, Worplesdon, Guildford, Surrey GU3 3PU UKTel: + 44 1483 233576 - Fax: + 44 1483 233161 - Mobile: + 44 7733 328832E-mail: d.tonkin@btopenworld.com