Hearing of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - Burma Crisis
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: My apologies to our panelists. We've -- I thought the ceremony honoring the Dalai Lama would be for about one hour, but it's taken a little longer than expected. But -- he certainly does deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor, so I'm sure my good senior ranking member's on his way, about to complete the ceremony there at the Rotunda. My distinguished ranking member is on his way, so I can go ahead and proceed and we'll start our hearing this afternoon.
(Strikes gavel.) The Subcommittee hearing on Asia, Pacific and the Global Environment will now come to order. Topic for discussion this afternoon is the current crisis in Burma. Can the United States bring about a peaceful resolution to this problem?
I would like to begin by offering my opening statement, and then proceed on in introducing our witnesses. I'm joined by my good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey, distinguished member of this subcommittee, Mr. Sires.
Between 1948 and 1962, Burma was a parliamentary democracy. On the fourth of July, 1962, the Burma Socialist Program Party staged a coup d'etat, replacing the civilian government with a military-led regime headed by Mr. Ne Win, who remained in power for some 26 years.
On August 8, 1988, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks, civilians, staged what is now commonly known as the 8/8/88 protests, calling for democracy and the return to civilian rule. The BSPP responded by deploying troops and firing upon unarmed demonstrators, killing what I understand to be -- well over 3,000 people were killed at that protest, and some 10,000 students fled.
After several weeks, a faction within the military originally calling themselves the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or what is commonly known as SLORC, later renamed the State Peace and Development Council, took over power, promising to hold elections once peace and tranquility restored to Burma.
Elections were held in 1990, but the military regime refused to recognize the outcome. It continued its military reign. In 1988, the National League for Democracy was formed as an opposition political party to the BSSP (sic) and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate named Aung San Suu Kyi, now under house arrest since 1989, is the party's general secretary. I might also note for the record that in that 1990 election, the National League for Democracy Party won 392 seats of the 485-member parliament, I suppose. So I think about 82 percent of the people of Burma supported Aung San Suu Kyi's party platform and their proposal.
An underground group called the Alliance for Burmese Buddhist Monks also emerged, and about 80 -- as you know, 80 percent of Burma's population of 54 million people are Buddhist. Throughout Burma's history, Buddhist monks have played a pivotal role in political change. Buddhist monks, for example, were active in the protest of 8 August 1988, which contributed to the downfall of the BSPP and the SPDC's rise to power.
Since 1988, the annual reports of the State Department have described extensive abuses of human rights perpetuated by the SPDC and the Burmese military. Political unrest is worsening, and the 1988 generation named after the pro-democracy demonstration is challenging the government. In September of this year, the Alliance for Burmese Buddhist Monks also issued a letter calling for Burma's monks to refuse alms from members of the Burmese military, calling for the overthrow of the SPDC.
On the other hand, the military regime and Aung San Suu Kyi's party appear to be taking cautious but conciliatory steps. About two months ago, what began as a protest against unannounced increases in the prices of gasoline, diesel fuel, and natural gas quickly turned to renewed calls for democracy and freedom.
The Congressional Research Service has reported that the initial reaction to the military regime was restrained and that protests regarding increased fuel prices were allowed to occur. However, the Buddhist monks joined the protest. Military rulers began to break up the protest, using violence. The focus of the protest then shifted from fuel prices to abuse of the monks, and sparked further controversy.
September 25, the junta effectively imprisoned the Buddhist monks inside their monasteries by imposing dusk-to-dawn curfews, and two days later troops opened fire on a group of unarmed protestors, killing at least nine, including a Japanese reporter. By the same token, the Congressional Research Service also reported that there are some accounts of troops refusing orders to deploy or action taken against the protestors.
At the United Nations General Assembly the 25th of September, President Bush expressed the outrage of the American people and stated that he was tightening sanctions on Burma. However, President Bush did not make any changes to the current exemption which allows the U.S. oil company Unocal to continue its natural gas project in Burma, which provides the military regime with an estimated $400 (million) to $600 million a year in revenue.
The European Union's response to Burma has been slight. While taking little action of its own, the European Union has called on China and India to do more. China has maintained that issues of this sort are an internal affair, but expressed hope that all parties would exercise restraint. India took a similar position to China. Other key Asian nations have taken mixed positions.
Today we have with us some real good witnesses from the State Department, from USAID, U.S. Campaign for Burma, and the distinguished professor from the Johns Hopkins University to be as our analysts this afternoon. I look forward to hearing from their statements and their testimonies, and I will give the opportunity to our ranking member, Mr. Manzullo, the opportunity to provide an opening statement when he does come. And at this time I would like to turn the time to my friend from New Jersey, if he has an opening statement.
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DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Might also add to the gentleman's comment, and this has been one of the reluctance on the part of some of our friends, not only in Asia, but with India and China, because they do have economic ties to Burma, especially in the areas of oil extraction and also natural gas. And I believe this is where India and China -- find it very reluctant to come forth and be part of the international community to raise serious questions concerning the developments in Burma.
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DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I thank the gentleman for his statement, and I think this is one of the issues that hopefully our hearing this afternoon will come to bear.
Sanctions, it seems to me, will only work if there's a collective effort made not only by one country but by an international community. And I think this is one area that we need to look at. And I think, despite whatever amount of sanctions that our own country might bear on Burma, the fact that there are other countries still conducting economic trade in relationship with them makes it very difficult -- makes it difficult to say that Burma will react positively to some of the initiatives that we've already taken.
But, be that as it may, I think we ought to still make every effort through the United Nations to see that the international community participate in this form of sanctions so that hopefully Burma will respond in a positive way by the international community's efforts.
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DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: If the gentleman would yield, I also note of interest that one of the problems that we're faced in putting sanctions in Iran is because many of these companies from the European Union are doing business with Iran, which totally makes our sanctions worthless. And this is the same problem that we're going to be faced with Burma when we place sanctions and these other countries continue to do business with Burma as if nothing was happening.
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REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank my friend from California for his remarks.
I want to follow up with what Ms. Watson had said earlier about what seems to be the motivation that caused the military to continue to exist in its role of Burma.
And I wanted to ask you, Mr. Secretary, do we have presence there as far as an embassy or -- we do have an embassy in Burma?
MR. MARCIEL: Yes, Mr. Chairman. We do have an embassy --
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: We don't have an ambassador, but a charge d'affaires
MR. MARCIEL: We have a charge d'affaires, that's right.
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: Okay. How many members of staff do we have there in Rangoon?
MR. MARCIEL: If you'll bear with me just one second, I'll look it up. I have it here. We have 91 U.S. government employees.
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: Ninety one foreign service employees are there at Burma?
MR. MARCIEL: Ninety one total at the embassy -- U.S. government --
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: What are they going to do if we're going to put all these sanctions against Burma?
I just wanted to follow up with what Ms. Watson said earlier -- the motivating factor as to what caused this military to be. In my limited readings of the history of Burma has been strifed with a lot of civil unrest among these seven or 14 ethnic -- you call them minorities but actually they're competing groupings within Burma, and of course in a course of its history they've had several ruling dynasties until finally the British came along and -- so much they used force to the extent that the Burmese do not like the British very well -- to the extent that there were three uprisings against British colonial rule. In fact at the time of the British took control of Burma, it made it part of India. And for many years the British brought many of the Indian to work in Burma.
So when you put all this combination together looking at the British an example of democracy and freedom and enlightenment, if I was a Burmese I would have nothing to do with the British.
One thing I will give credit for the British, they allowed many of the Burmese to go to school -- take up law school in London or in other parts of Great Britain. But all this came to a hold (ph) during World War II, Aung San who is Aung San Suu Kyi's father sided with the Japanese during World War II but only because they were promised freedom, a democracy against colonialism if the Japanese were to win the war. Of course the Japanese did not win the war. And after finding out that the Japanese were not going to hold true to their promise, they then decided to side with the British and then of course in 1948 they became independent.
But still I think the very core issue that Ms. Watson said earlier is because you got seven or 14 -- I don't know how many groupings within Burma -- it's almost like these the feudal period in the British of the European countries. You've got all these fiefdoms and controlling -- always vying for control and power. And so this is how the military came into being justifying its existence.
And I might add, you said earlier they are 400,000 soldiers that make up the Burmese army?
And if my reading are correct, and then on top of this, you have 200 of the ruling elite among the military officers as I understand it to be, that control this 400,000 army grouping. Am I also correct to say for the record that China is the biggest supplier of arms, military arms and equipment to Burma?
MR. MARCIEL: I'm not sure we know that.
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: They've got to get it from somebody. I mean, they don't make the bullets. They got to buy it from some sources.
MR. MARCIEL: It is one of a number of --
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: Can you provide that for the record? I'm curious if any of our European allies provide them the bullets and the guns and everything like that to Burma.
MR. MARCIEL: We'll see what we can find out.
REP. FALEOMAVAEGA: Now, you heard from my good friend from California -- he does have a very distinct difference in opinion. I don't consider these people as gangsters, if you will, if that's the best way to say it, but I think you have to understand the collective situation of that country and why it's the way it is. And I know it's also been stated quite often that it's because of this constant strife for rivalry among the different ethnic groups that make up Burma that causes the military to be where they are, to be able to take control. Is that -- is that actually true or is this just a myth that's been said over and over again about Burma's situation politically?
MR. MARCIEL: Mr. Chairman, I'm in the business -- we're in the business of trying to understand foreign cultures, foreign societies, what their thinking is. In this case, I can't think of an excuse for the leadership of this regime. It is really as bad as advertised. General Than Shwe, General Maung Aye, the number two general -- what they have put this country through in their severe repression I don't think you can explain through patriotism -- twisted sense of patriotism or anything else. I think these are just really bad guys. And I don't think it has anything to do with cultural understanding, with all due respect.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Do you think perhaps it's because of western democracy that's being heaped upon them? Why can't they find for themselves how they want to work out their own problems and dealing with their form of democracy and not necessarily a Western form of democracy? I mean, when you talk about cultural differences, there is quite a difference here.
MR. MARCIEL: Right.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: When we say "yes," they mean "no," you know? And when they say "maybe," it means "no" again. So, please --
MR. MARCIEL: Right. But I think, Mr. Chairman, you would agree that what this regime has done to this country and the brutal crackdown -- killing Buddhist monks, there's no form of democracy in the world that allows for this. It's not a matter of cultural differences.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Let me ask you this, Mr. Secretary. At what level in our relationship with Burma that is going to cause us to say, "We need to use military force to go against this military regime"? Let's say, perhaps -- and I'm being hypothetical -- let's say Burma's trying to develop a nuclear bomb. Will that give us a little higher sense of strategic or real sense of national interest/importance, just like we've put on North Korea?
I mean, we've been talking about Burma now for 20-some years -- the non-democratic military regime, the sufferings and the pain and everything else that we can talk about. But we still have not -- it's all been rhetoric. It's been a lot of talk coming from all the western nations or democracy -- democratic countries. But when it really comes down to grips, how serious are we really in enhancing human rights when now it's no longer "put your money where you mouth is." Let's do the talking, not just -- I mean, let's do the walk and not just the talking.
I mean, we've seen it, the destruction, the people being killed -- innocent people being killed, we're putting sanctions, all these important things, but still not enough to say -- to bring down this military regime, a 400,000 army. And what do think China's reaction would be if we used military force? The same reason why we were reluctant to go that far in our -- in the 10-year terrible that we had with Vietnam. We were more afraid of the Chinese then we were of the Vietnamese -- the North Vietnamese.
Now, my question, Mr. Secretary, at what level -- at what are we going to say, "Enough is enough"? We say this how many times? And 54 million people in Burma still continue to suffer because of the terrible rulings and the decisions that this military regime has made against its people.
I didn't mean to put you on the spot, but I just want to get a sense of where we are. It's very nice to talk about this. We might have another hearing. We talk about resolutions, we can talk about sanctions -- international community supposedly moving towards putting sanctions on Burma. But as long as China and Russia has the veto- proof power in the Security Council, not very easy to point our points stick. Or is it shtick? I don't know how you'd call it.
MR. MARCIEL: Mr. Chairman, I'm really pleased to see that my colleague here was going to take me off the hook for a moment with a few comments.
MS. CHILES: Mr. Chairman, as you were talking, I was thinking. I was in Burma in 1988 -- in August of 1988 -- right before the student demonstrations in 1988. And I was thinking, "What's different now between this round of demonstrations and the crackdown than the one that was in 1988?" I was going to say '90 -- '88. And I think the difference is technology, the fact that we've got pictures that we didn't have before.
There is a buildup of pressure because of that. I don't know if you saw the article about the student who entered all this information into his Facebook. He happened to be in Rangoon when this was going on and thousands of people have signed up. So I think we have to give this a chance to see whether this -- with the technology and the spread of information about what's actually going on that we haven't had before now to see whether that's going to make a difference, because I do think it was to the regime -- it is something they are probably having to deal with that they've never had to deal with before. And we don't know how important international pressure or how they think about all this information about what they've done being out in the world on the world stage now. And I think have to let that play -- play out. So that would be my answer to -- it's not quite answering your question, but my thought --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: So better PR, YouTube and all this other stuff might cause tremendous influence on the military regime to change its mind.
MR. MARCIEL: I would just add, Mr. Chairman, that the level of reaction from the international community to this crackdown is qualitatively and quantitatively different than we've ever seen before. And we believe that the best chance to encourage Burma to move in the right direction -- meaning beginning a genuine dialogue with the opposition leading to a democratic transition -- is through intense, concentrated international pressure.
You made the point about just words. Of course, our world is one of words, but it's also pressure. And we think that the regime, although isolated and certainly not easily influenced, does respond to some extent -- does care to some extent what the international community thinks -- certainly its neighbors think. It has some impact. And that we need to keep working diplomatically in the region through Mr. Gambari and others to do all we can to see if this little tiny hint or hope of an opening can be turned into something real.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I have with me -- I'm going to submit it for the record -- it's an op-ed piece that was written by the grandson of U Thant, former secretary-general of the United Nations from Burma. Its name is "Mr. Thant, Me and You," and it came out in the L.A. Times today, 17 October. And I want quote and ask for your opinion about -- I thought he was very insightful in terms of his observations.
He said, "Avoiding disaster will require high-level attention and commitment beyond a couple of weeks when Burma is on the newspaper front pages and televisions screens. It will require an acceptance that long-distance condemnation and Western economic sanctions don't mean much to the half-century-old military regime, a regime that has long been comfortable in isolation and needs only a modicum of money and trade from the outside world. It will require a realization that Burma sits right in the middle of Asia's economic miracle; that harnessing Burma to that rapid change is the surest way to raise up living standards; and that access to Western markets and Western ideas will make all the difference in determining whether the Burmese become equal partners of China and India, or merely the providers of cheap labor and raw materials. And it's only when the Burmese ruling elite are exposed to the world that they will see a need to men their ways."
Is that a good statement?
MR. MARCIEL: I think it's a good statement. He's a thoughtful man. The problem is that the regime hasn't shown any interest in moving in that direction -- economic reform, joining the world. This is not Vietnam of 10 or 15 years ago.
It's not a country that's made a decision to join the world and is being held back by the West; far from it. This is a regime that's chosen to isolate itself, to put in place economic policies that are capricious and damaging; that, as my colleague said, moved its capital further away, into the hinterlands. So it's hard to see this regime moving in that direction at all, which might give some hope for political opening.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Do you think it possible for the United Nations, by consensus, that China could take the initiative and have maybe a six-party talk, China being the leader of this situation to bring Burma to the negotiating table, to the idea that dialogue with the military regime rather than just putting sanctions that are not going to work, in my humble opinion?
And some point, somehow, I suppose -- what do the Asian cultures think, that we sometimes in the western societies seem to take it seriously enough. And that's losing face. Losing face is almost like cutting your right arm or your right leg in Pacific-Asian cultures. We don't think much of that, I think, in western societies.
And do you think that maybe somewhere or somehow, through the United Nations -- and I thought that Mr. Gambari is doing an excellent job in trying to gain support with the United Nations. But the fact that China and Russia has the veto power makes it difficult for anything to go through the Security Council. But do you think the administration has ever entertained the thought of doing a -- this is a multilateral effort rather than unilateral that we've done against Iraq when you talk about doing policy decisions. What about doing a multilateral approach to Burma as well?
MR. MARCIEL: Mr. Chairman, we completely agree. And, in fact, we're strongly supporting Mr. Gambari's role here. The whole idea is for the international community, via the United Nations and through the United Nations Security Council as well, supporting Mr. Gambari as a representative of the international community, going to Burma, as well as to other countries in the region, trying to promote dialogue, dialogue with the regime, but also a dialogue between the regime and its people. This is our goal. This is absolutely what we support.
We've worked extraordinarily hard, both in the United Nations and in the region, to support this. We're very pleased that China and others joined in support for the presidential statement, the U.N. Security Council presidential statement last week, which really was a huge expression of support for Mr. Gambari's mission; so absolutely.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: In my visit a couple of months ago to China, I know they are very sensitive and very concerned about the Darfur crisis being linked into the Olympics coming up next year. And I think there seems to be now movement among various international organizations in linking both Darfur and Burma crisis with the Olympics next year.
What do you think of the impact on the Olympics if the U.S., some point at some time along the road, says, "We're going to boycott the Olympics next year"? Do you think that might have an impact on China's ability to respond positively and being a help rather than being a hindrance, understanding also China's standard policy has always been "This is an internal matter; really it's up to the country to work out its own problems; it's not for us or any other country of the world to present itself or force itself into the problems affecting that country, whether it's communist, democratic, fascist or whatever"? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to --
MR. MARCIEL: Mr. Chairman, I think what we've seen with China in recent months -- I don't want to overstate it or exaggerate it, but we have seen some interesting steps from a country that traditionally and up till very recently has said, "No interference in internal affairs of another country; this is not the responsibility of the United Nations Security Council." China has called for restraint by the regime, has called for national reconciliation.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: That's all rhetoric, Mr. Secretary. I mean --
MR. MARCIEL: They supported the presidential statement of the U.N. Security Council last week. Again, I don't want to overstate it or exaggerate it, but it is interesting movement. My sense is that the Chinese understand that the international community is looking at them in part because of the Olympics being held in Beijing this year, and they're paying attention to that.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: You know, President Carter boycotted the Olympics, and the Soviet Union was very upset about it. And, of course, many of our athletes were very upset because they'd been training for four years only to find out they couldn't go out and represent their country. I don't know how many other countries may follow that lead if it should come to that point, and which we try to avoid as much as possible.
I do want to say that at some point, how serious are we really making an effort to make a difference? And my question is, I have a bill that I'm going to put as part of the record. We haven't even put a number on it, but our distinguished chairman of the full committee has introduced this legislation to amend the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, which actually is going to add more additional sanctions we're faced with Burma.
But like I said, and my good friends from California and Illinois stated earlier, sanctions work, but only to a certain point. We've placed sanctions on Cuba now for the last 60 years, and Cuba is still there. I think a couple of other countries we've also done the same, unilaterally, because I've been to Havana and, guess what, all the European tourists are coming over to Havana having a great time as if it's a communist country.
We're the only ones that put the (psyche ?) on the people to say, "Don't go to Cuba because it's a communist country." And I think this is something that I just wanted to put out into -- I'm going to have some questions for you, Ms. Chiles.
How many Burmese are you talking about that are considered refugees or have left the country? And how many Burmese do we have here in the United States that have claimed citizenship and all that? Don't we have a record on that?
MS. CHILES: Mr. Chairman, I'm afraid we don't have the number on the --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Shame on you. We should have. My gosh, we've been (dealing with ?) Burma for the last 200 years. And we don't have any records on the number of Burmese living in the U.S.? Can we get a record, Mr. Marciel, Secretary?
MR. MARCIEL: We can certainly try to get that record, sure.
MS. CHILES: I'm sorry. The number of Burmese refugees in the camps is around 150,000.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: In the camps.
MS. CHILES: In the camps -- 150,000.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Are we making any efforts to have them come to the United States like other refugees?
MS. CHILES: Well --
MR. MARCIEL: We'd like to get back to you with a thorough answer if we could.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Could you please, because I'm very curious. I mean, my gosh, if we've been dealing with Burma, I would suspect that -- how many people have left Burma in the years since this military regime has existed, even though it came in different military rulers? But for all this time, do we have a count, just as we do the Laotians, the Cambodians that we've brought here to our country because of their serious political uprisings and killings that went on in those countries?
MR. MARCIEL: Mr. Chairman, let us undertake to get back to you with answers to all these questions on numbers. I'm afraid we don't have numbers historically.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: So Ms. Chiles, you say that we do have some form of an assistance program that goes on right now in Burma? HIV- AIDS and what are the others?
MS. CHILES: Inside Burma, it's HIV-AIDS and the avian influenza. We are providing assistance on that. Also for the internally displaced, those are primarily in the Karen province.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: When you say internally displaced within Burma, they don't go outside of Burma?
MS. CHILES: That's correct, the ones who are still in Burma but who have been forced out of their homes.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: What about Burmese who claim political asylum, that maybe they escaped from Burma and they claim political asylum for fear of their lives? Do we have an accounting for that? Not you, Ms. Chiles, but I think Mr. Marciel might have a better picture of that.
Do we have any numbers in terms of those who may have escaped for their lives?
MR. MARCIEL: My understanding is that most who escaped or left have gone to Thailand.
And many of them in refugee camps in Thailand.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: So I would say Thailand, India, China, probably Malaysia are probably the four main countries that somewhat deal with Burma quite a bit. Am I correct on this?
MR. MARCIEL: I think the vast majority are in Thailand. My colleague tells me there are about an estimate of a million economic migrants working in Thailand from Burma as well. These aren't people who sought asylum.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: And do they send money home from Thailand, like our illegal immigrants that send over $52 billion worth of aid to their families in Central and South America?
MR. MARCIEL: I would expect so. I don't think we have any numbers on it.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I'd be very curious to see that maybe our 91 employees in our embassy in Burma might want to try and find out what is the number, because I think it's very important that we should find out what the specifics are, I think.
MS. CHILES: We do know that in 2006 our programs were reaching about 500,000 of the displaced Burmese, those who were inside in the camps, then also the Burmese migrants, the ones who are in Thailand who are not in the camps. A problem that they have had, a significant problem, is getting access to health care and to education. It's been quite a problem for the Thai authorities as well. And that's been a large part of our support has gone to giving them that health care and education.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Are we giving assistance to the Thai government in helping these refugees that come across the border from Burma? Do we have any refugee camps that are set up along the Burma- Thai border?
MR. MARCIEL: I don't believe we've given money to the Thai government, but we do provide a large amount of money to NGOs who are working with the Burmese in the refugee camps on basic health, education, food, these sorts of things.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: How much have we contributed in that effort to help the NGOs?
MR. MARCIEL: It's several millions a year. We'll get you the exact figure.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Could you provide that for the record?
MR. MARCIEL: Sure.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I'd be very curious.
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DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Thank you, Dr. Welsh.
There seems to be a view among my colleagues that these people really don't care about the people of Burma. And I don't know. Is that -- do you think that's an accurate description of the leaders, the military leaders of Burma? What is it that -- I'm not trying to be a psychologist here; I'm just trying to figure out what will motivate them to say, "Let's come to the table; let's engage; let's see what we can do to be of help"?
Some say that it's for fear of losing their power if the country becomes democratic, the fear that the country will disintegrate because of these multiple ethnic -- I don't want to call them minorities. I would think that they are very distinct, very, let's say, competitive. And that seems to be what's feeding on to justifying this military regime to continue to function. And I just wanted to get your view, Mr. Woodrum, on that, and especially -- you've been there six times. I hope to visit Burma in a very short while, while we're having the hearing today.
MR. WOODRUM: Well, they do justify their rule by saying that the country would split apart unless -- the military's the only institution that can hold the country together. And the military has almost become -- I mean, it's an institution in and of itself. Members of the military have greater privileges than the rest of the society; can get better transportation. There's all kinds of perks that go along with it.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I don't mean to interrupt you, but we have this exact same problem in Indonesia. It was the military that really ruled the country since the time of Sukarno, then Suharto. But then the complete reaction of the people, of the demonstrations, that finally it just got to bear that they just recently elected, the 223 million people there in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, the fourth-largest population in the world.
Do you think something like that might be a similar -- you know, that could happen in Burma that will turn the situation around?
MR. WOODRUM: Yeah. And, in fact, the Burmese regime conscientiously was trying to model their form of government on Indonesia under Suharto. So it was deliberate. The interesting part about the ethnic groups is that the regime keeps them split so they can justify their power.
So there's been several agreements signed between the ethnic groups saying, "We're joining together. We're all for a federal unified Burma. We support the democracy movement and Aung San Suu Kyi." And the regime promptly carries out targeted attacks against those groups and tells them, "We'll stop attacking you if you take your name off that treaty." So it's a cycle they perpetuate. They split the ethnic groups from each other and then claim the ethnic groups will split if they aren't in power.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Fifty-four million people is a lot. The size of Burma, I was surprised, is the same as putting England and France together. That's how big the country is. It's not a small little country. With 54 million population, that's a real challenge.
You had mentioned earlier, Mr. Woodrum, about Aung San Suu Kyi. Why do they keep her still alive? I mean, my gosh, this is for how many years now that they still leave her under house arrest. Will this really cause a revolution in Burma if something should happen to her?
MR. WOODRUM: Yeah, probably so. I mean, when she was last -- she's been arrested and released four times. And the last time she was released, in 2002, she traveled on a speaking tour around the country, and hundreds of thousands of people came out to see her everywhere she went. I mean, she is like a Mandela. I mean, that's not a stretch to say that. I mean, she does embody the Burmese people's aspirations.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: She was raised in Great Britain, got her education. Then she came back just for the purpose of seeing her ailing mother. And it just was then that this whole evolution -- I don't want to say revolution -- (inaudible). That's when she became a member of this national party that caused the elections in 1990 now for her to be in the political arena, because of her name and her father's -- I guess her father's probably considered a George Washington in modern days of what he did in bringing the country -- or taking the country away from the British colonial rule, if I might add.
You mentioned also India, India's situation, being the largest democracy. But India and China have two common things. They really need energy, and that's the reality that they're faced with. In fact, we're having a problem with India right now, its proposed plan to have a pipeline coming from Iran to India to provide for some 1.1 billion people living in India.
What are the realities? What can we do to help India alleviate this resource need to provide for the needs of 1.1 billion people, even for that?
MR. WOODRUM: Well, in our conversations with Indian parliamentarians and NGOs in the media, I think that the Indian foreign ministry and government has set itself apart from Indian public opinion on this. And that's why I was suggesting that we should reach out to Indian parliamentarians. I don't think the Parliament shares the view of the Foreign Ministry on the position on Burma in any way at all. And I think there's -- because it's a democracy, there is room to move and there is room for their policy to evolve.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Professor Welsh?
MS. WELSH: I think it's very difficult to move India in a direction. I think that they're too -- besides the issues of oil and gas, I think the other factor is that they're competing with China, and they see themselves in a power play in the region. And you've seen the fundamental shifts in their policy in the last few years as they tried to engage the regime. And it's been a direct competition with China over specific oil deals and gas deals. So it's going to be a very slow process.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: What is interesting is that you mentioned China in this whole situation. We've just awarded the dalai lama with the highest congressional medal that the Congress -- with the president being there and all the major branches of our government, against China's really strong disagreement in honoring the dalai lama. And yet we find ourselves with the fact that China is also a very key player in helping these other situations. She's helped us with the Korean (lesson ?), the North Korean crisis of the nuclear situation there. Now we're asking China to do this with Burma when we've just given the dalai lama a gold medal.
Do you think China should still go ahead and help us with Burma, despite the recognition we're giving the dalai lama?
MS. WELSH: I think it's in their interest to do so. I think it's in their interest because the regime in the country of Burma is not stable anymore. And they recognize that. And they want long-term access to oil and gas and to the strategic resources that they feel are important for themselves, and they're going to have to have a regime that's stable on their border.
And right now you've seen a fundamental shift. The regime stayed in power in three fundamental ways. The first way was actually it consolidated and separated the military from society. And so people felt that they had to join the military in order to basically function in a slightly better way. And so they had separate hospitals. They have separate schools. They're better off. That's why the military still stays loyal to the forces, because it's basically for survival for these ordinary soldiers and their families.
The second way they stayed in power was using this resource well. Jeremy and others have talked about it. It's always been described in colors. White was heroin. Brown was timber. Green was jade. Red was rubies, and so forth. They've stayed in power by using resource wealth. And they are very wealthy now because of oil and gas revenue.
And the third was actually using some sort of legitimation about ethnicity as well as tying itself to Buddhism. And what you've seen in the last two months is that the regime has been undermined because monks basically came out into the streets. One of the main pillars that they tried to build up their support is no longer there. And I think China recognizes that.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: This unannounced increase in fuel, I think, was what got -- the monks all came out in force. Was it a 500 percent increase? How much is the cost of fuel now in Burma, by the way, because of these increases? What does that mean? How much does it --
MR. WOODRUM: Their cooking fuel went up by that much. They've raised different prices of different fuels to different levels. I'm not sure what the cooking fuel actual price is right now.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: And the Burmese people are living on $146 per annum per capita?
MS. WELSH: It was estimated $164 a year, but it's actually -- we don't know exactly, because there haven't been enough studies. There's been only two major studies, but that's what the estimate is.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: What is the international poverty level?
MS. WELSH: We don't have the studies. We don't have accurate --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: No, no, I mean generally. On the average internationally, what is the poverty level? Has there been any estimations made on that?
MS. WELSH: I don't --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: And the (hours ?) is -- what, $14,000-$15,000 per annum are at poverty level?
MS. WELSH: It's usually done by the World Bank numbers for a dollar a day or two dollars a day, based on the way that they make the assessments. And we have a very -- but it depends on the -- they've now become more nuanced in terms of how they make the assessments in terms of what they include or what they don't include in the actual amount.
In Burma, we don't have the data to actually know how much poverty there is. The last two studies that have come out that have been really substantive was the 2005 household study done by the U.N., which estimated minimally 30 percent extreme poverty and pointed to a significant -- if there was any change whatsoever in inflation, which has happened, that that could go as high as up to 70 percent.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: If my data is correct, as I understand, 800 million people in China live below the poverty level, and I think at about $100 per annum. I think our young friend over there might have a figure. She was raising her hand.
Did you --
STAFF (?): (Off mike.)
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Twenty-five hundred --
STAFF (?): Yes.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: -- per day? Okay. I think I got that figure correctly.
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DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: The sheer geography of Burma's position in Southeast Asia does have a bearing, unlike Indonesia and other countries that had strong military regimes. What I'm saying is that China borders Burma. Now, you talk about being right next to the heart of things, if there would be any considered effort by any organization or an army to go against the military regime, it will definitely bring China's attention, and probably even bear to support the military regime. So that's a real issue that's going to cause more civil strife, more killings, and a lose-lose situation for everybody.
You mentioned earlier, Mr. Woodrum, about the issue of torture. What do you suggest on how we go about providing -- "Oh, they're torturing people"? Because every country in the world is going to go right back and stab us in the face and say, "Well, let's talk about Abu Ghraib, if you want to talk about torture." And this is where, even in our own country, in our own government, even in the Congress we're having a big debate on torture, about how or to what extent should the military and those in the intelligence community apply measures of torture, which I consider should never be utilized under any circumstances, even if the opposition does these things, for t he simple reason that it'll come right back to haunt us and do greater harm to our soldiers. And somehow there's a difference of opinion within the administration on how we do this. And by and large, this has been used by the community, the world community, and putting us in a bad situation. "Don't talk to us about torture when you haven't cleaned up your own act in making sure the Geneva Convention principles are applied."
So -- and I'm very concerned that the people, or these protestors, are being tortured. How do we -- how can we make that as an issue to tell the military regime that they should lay off and not do these kinds of things?
MR. WOODRUM: Well, in my personal interactions with other organizations and parliamentarians and such overseas, I've experienced personally the very thing you're referring to, where people say, "Why are you guys talking to us about this when you have the mess in your own back yard?" So we have -- I've experienced that personally and directly.
I think -- well, what we were encouraging yesterday the U.N. secretary-general to pick up the telephone and to call to Burma to the leader of Burma's military regime, to Than Shwe, and to tell him, "We know you're torturing people right now. People who've been arrested over the last month. It's got to stop, or otherwise all deals are off." You know, this -- "How can you negotiate, how can we have a negotiated settlement if you're torturing the people you're supposed to be talking to?" So that's what we're pressing for him to do immediately.
I mean, I think it's -- for the Burmese people, the U.N. is a big deal, for people inside the country. They look up to it, they respect it, they pay attention to it. And so when the secretary-general, if he would do something like that or his envoy would, it does have a big impact inside the country, both among the generals, but also the perceptions in the population.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Professor Welsh?
MS. WELSH: Unfortunately, the military, as a military institution, it's not a professional one in the sense that it -- that there are certain boundaries and rules. This organization has been trained on using force, and this is what they know. And so this -- issues about torture and other so forth are not surprising.
But in fact, I think the fact that they're using it shows, in my view, that they are -- there is deep concern within the regime about what's happening. They're unstable. They're using force out of the fact that they are getting -- they're fearful about their own wanting to stay in power.
It's important to keep them at the dialogue table, because dialogue is the only way that they're going to get the torture -- to convince them that the torture has to stop, and for them to encourage them to release political prisoners. As long as they're at the table and the senior officials are there, right? there's a chance for them to begin to be more accountable to the international community in the way that they treat their own people. If they don't stay at the table, then we won't have any leverage or any way of engaging, and this may still continue.
So it's part of the mind set of the military in the institution itself, and it's going to take time to change that. It's not going to be an easy process, but dialogue itself is crucial.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Mr. Woodrum, you said earlier that there are some 1.5 million refugees right now, and about a million of these refugees live in Thailand? Are there organizations within Thailand representing the Burmese population living in Thailand? Are there any associations of some sort who wish to -- I don't know. Have you had a chance to visit some of these refugee camps? How many camps are there in Thailand that borders Burma with this --
MR. WOODRUM: There's nine camps up and down the border.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: What's the population of the people living on these nine camps?
MR. WOODRUM: Well, it's misleading, because there's probably about 150,000 in the camps, but long ago, the Thais stopped allowing Burmese of particular ethnic groups to enter into refugee camps, even though they are bona fide refugees fleeing well-founded fear of persecution. That's the U.N. definition. And so a million people are refugees, 150,000 actually in the camps. So the rest of them scratch by as migrant workers working in orange fields, sleeping outside. I mean, it's a miserable existence. And I'm glad that USAID has some programs to help those people out.
Even worse off than them, though, are the half-million that are internal refugees, or internally displaced in eastern Burma. A lot of those people are on the run, being hunted down, you know, killed in the jungles like animals.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Professor Welsh.
MS. WELSH: Actually, I think the number that was given to you earlier is an underestimate, based on the assessments that I've read, that there may be up to as many as 2 million people in Thailand. There are about 350 (thousand) to 500,000 Burmese in Malaysia, and there are now increasingly numbers being sent to the Middle East.
In the last three years, I've observed that there has been more and more young Burmese going out for work. The government, particularly since 2004, has allowed them to have access to travel, and so they go on six-month contracts.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: (Inaudible.)
MS. WELSH: And so the remittance --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Yeah, but would there also be human trafficking involved among some of these?
MS. WELSH: Yes, there are reports of these issues. But, again, all of this is not fully known, because there's not enough investigations that are going on inside the country, I mean, whether or not it's economic or others.
And one of the recommendations in my written testimony was to call for some of these assessments, because I think until we know those numbers, we're actually not going to have effective, accurate information to be making a clear sense of what needs to be done and how we need to target that.
But the remittance economy has increased, and it's been important for the young population. And there are some -- it's a very important dimension of the income that's coming now for ordinary people.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Is there a listing of -- I will check with the State Department -- of all the companies currently doing business in Burma? Do you have any information that leads to this, Mr. Woodrum?
MR. WOODRUM: We have as comprehensive a list as there is, yeah.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Could you submit that for the record? I'm curious. I'm would like to get that from you.
MR. WOODRUM: Sure. Yeah.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: You mentioned also Singapore as one of the -- has tremendous economic interests in Burma. In what form are the -- Singapore's investors --
MR. WOODRUM: What is the context?
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Yeah. What is the context of their involvement in business?
MR. WOODRUM: A lot of it's -- they help to build the tourism and sort hotel industry and such inside Burma. Also, as I mentioned, there's countless allegations about weapons trading. So I think those are the main two.
But interestingly, a lot of Singaporean businessmen have not followed up on their initial investments inside Burma because, frankly, they found it was a bad business environment, and so much corruption.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: So I guess I go back to my basic theme of our hearing this afternoon, Mr. Woodrum and Professor Welsh, in the sense of what the United States can and cannot do and the limitations of its ability to do, in terms of sanctions, as you've suggested, that the sanctions be done on a multilateral basis. You'd indicated earlier also there seems to be a view, from the military regime's view of the West with suspicion. Can you elaborate further on that? I mean, is it because they don't trust the West? Could it be because of their previous experience with British colonialism?
MS. WELSH: I think one has to make a distinction between the junta's lack of trust outside and the ordinary people. I think the ordinary people trust the West quite considerably, and there's -- and many of them would love a visa to come to the United States. (Chuckles.)
In the case of the junta, there has been no real engagement with Western partners. And of course what they're often hearing are condemnation, and there's no dialogue.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Were these officers trained in China, or what countries are they --
MS. WELSH: Many of them, China, Russia --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: But none trained here in the United States?
MS. WELSH: No, because programs outlawed that particular practice for quite some time, since 1988. So they haven't had any exposure. And so all they have are the things that they get in the Western media about -- and everything that's being said is negative. And not to say that there aren't real legitimate reasons for that, but I think that it also creates the sense of distance and it creates -- and it reinforces the isolationism towards the West that is actually deeply rooted.
And they use this strategically, to keep themselves in power. In a sense, they basically reach out to other allies and they try to divide the international community in order to basically say, strategically to make linkages to regimes that may not be as close to the West, including countries like North Korea.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: The fact that 80 percent of the people of Burma in that 1990 election supported the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, does that give any (sense ?) to think that that's how democracy -- that there is a sense of coming together of these seven ethnic minorities that are constantly rivals among themselves and which gives rise to the military saying, "Without us, this country will be in complete chaos." Because these different ethnic minorities are constantly at each other's necks, even to the point of having this divisiveness, I guess you might say that you need a strong man. You need a military ruler to really take control of things, or otherwise the country will be tyranny.
MR. WOODRUM: I think they're not -- I think minorities aren't so much at each other's necks, but they're at the military regime's necks. Each of them is fighting against the military regime, not against each other. Although sometimes the regime tries to force them to fight against each other. They'll, for example, take land from the Karen ethnic minority and give it to the Shan, and then, of course, the Karen are angry. So they actively foster divisions and such inside the country.
And yeah, there is a universal admiration for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLB inside the country. They are seen as the group of people that can unite the ethnic minorities. And they set up a special council of ethnic leaders that's part of their organizations and part of their leadership. So they're trying to go about it through dialogue, and the ethnic minorities are overjoyed, because they feel that they're being included, you know, whereas the regime completely sidelines --
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: Kind of the bottom line, there are no killings.
MR. WOODRUM: Yeah, they're not being killed.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I mean, they're helping the ethnic minorities to continue their survivorship, if you will, to provide them with what their needs are. Is --this seems to be the way things are under control.
Now, where do the monks come into play? I know they've got -- what, the country of 9,000 temples?
MS. WELSH: Well, just quickly, to speak to the other issue about the role of the military. I think that the military has used ethnic issues to keep itself in power, but I do think ultimately there's a recognition in the opposition in Burma that in any future government, the military has to play a role. Because it's important for maintaining order, and that they have a particular position to play in society. What that role is has to be negotiated and focused in a democratically -- democratic process. It's going to be long going to get there.
The monks, they play a critical role in terms of society. They are the fundamental social foundation. They provide resources for ordinary poor people in terms of education, coming into the monasteries. They basically provide a valve for people to express their religious rights. Eighty percent of the population is Buddhist, and this is a very devout society.
They -- you know, everybody goes to the monasteries regularly. That's very much part of their life, and this is why I say that the fact that they have actually -- came out in protest represents a fundamental shift in the way the regime is actually connected with society. They no longer can actually give money to monasteries and give money to pagodas in the same way that they did previously, and count on their support. And this is why it's very worrying now that -- how they will treat the monks, whether or not they will allow them to still be able to engage in society and practice, or will there actually be a effort to divide them, as the way they've divided other communities, or will there be an effort to actually, you know, engage in dialogue with them?
I think it's the latter that's going to be critical in order for the process to be a peaceful resolution. Otherwise, there's going to be more division in society.
DEL. FALEOMAVAEGA: I would like to welcome both of you to submit any additional materials, things that you'd like to be made part of the record, because I do -- I will have it printed. I think this is a very important issue, that we need to have it printed. And without objection, I also have three items that I want to be included in the record. There was Washington Post editorial dated 27 September of this year, and there was also an op-ed commentary written by the first lady, Mrs. Laura Bush, in the Wall Street Journal on 10th October of this year. And also, I noted earlier the L.A. Times op-ed article written by Thant Myint-U, the grandson of Mr. U Thant, the late secretary-general of the United Nations. This date is 17 October. And also, a copy of the proposed bill by Chairman Tom Lantos of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that will be made part of the record.
Mr. Woodrum and Professor Welsh, I cannot thank you enough for your patience. This has been a lot hearing, but it will not be the last that you'll hear from the subcommittee. I do have every intention, hopefully, to visit Burma in the near future. And, well, hopefully, to find somewhere how we could bring about a solution to the serious problems that we're faced with in that country.
There's a saying that if you're not at the negotiating table, you'll be on the menu. I don't know if the generals are going to be on the menu or the people are on the menu, because they're not on the table. But I do want to thank both of you very much for your testimony, and hope we'll have another occasion to have another round dealing with this issue concerning Burma.
Thank you very much. The hearing is adjourned. (Strikes gavel.)