Burma's Sinister `Flying Fishes'

RUDYARD KIPLING'S vision of the road tRo Mandalay in British Burma as a place where ``the Flying Fishes play'' has always been poetic. But in today's Burma, run by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), Kipling's famous road is a major conduit for Chinese weapons.

Since the military coup of September 1988, the Burmese generals have established with China a symbiotic relationship - ``relatives born together.'' Following the Chinese model, SLORC adopted a policy of an ``open door market economy'' combined with political repression. Both China and Burma (also called Myanmar) have succeeded in attracting foreign investment and some United Nations aid - and have averted Western efforts at sanctions based on human rights violations.

Human rights abuses do restrict Western governmental aid. But the Burmese military junta has succeeded in obtaining much economic and military aid from China.

Since the legalization of Burma's border trade in 1989, the SLORC obtained Chinese arms and aid worth billions to sustain its illegitimate rule. Chinese goods have flooded Rangoon, Mandalay, and other urban centers. The China-Burma border trade includes drug traffic estimated at $1 billion a year.

In January, a series of arms shipments by China across the Wantin-Kyukok bridge was reported. Deliveries included light infantry weapons, rocket launchers, mortars, recoilless rifles, and armored personnel carriers. Between 1990 and 1993 China used these roads to ship 16 jet fighters, 100 amphibious tanks, 25 anti-aircraft guns, hundreds of trucks, and thousands of tons of light weapons.

On Feb. 1, the foreign minister of China, Qian Qichen, visited Rangoon to reaffirm the Sino-Burmese relationship. According to official reports, border trade and economic cooperation was agreed to; there would also be mutual cooperation with the international community to eradicate opium plantation and drug trafficking on the Sino-Burmese border.

Asian diplomats hint that during his visit the Chinese foreign minister promised increased military and economic aid to the Burmese military regime in exchange for access to the Indian Ocean through Burmese ports.

On May 27, members of SLORC met with officials from China, Thailand, and Laos to discuss a highway system called the ``Golden Square Highway Network.'' It would link the four countries with the heaviest drug trade. China, Thailand, and Laos now form the famous ``Golden Triangle'' that accounts for 60 percent of the world's opium. The first section of the system (a Thai-Burma-China highway) will connect the Thai city of Chaing Rai with the Burmese cities of Tachilek and Kengtung (the center of drug traffic) and ultimately with the Chinese city of Ta Lua. The four will soon jointly approach the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the UN for loans.

On July 9, Burma and China signed six agreements on trade, transportation, and infrastructure. Burma will sell timber cut in the Kachin State to China across the border, while the Chinese will help construct hotels in Rangoon and a hydroelectric plant at Chin Shwe near the Chinese border. Burma will also purchase 30,000 tons of rail locomotives and parts and $2 million in vehicles from China.

The presence of China in Burma and the their new relationship should be a major concern for United States officials who support most-favored-nation status for China.

Recent US sanctions against China for its sale of weapons technology to Pakistan underscore the fact that China is a threat to the regional security and stability of Asia. The new highways and bridges built by China and Burma should alarm the US and the West.

China and Burma have both crushed democracy movements. This should crush the premise that favorable trade and aid promote democratic reform. In Burma's case they sustain a regime's authoritarian rule. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.

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