“Flip-flopping” and anniversaries head-up this week’s news stories.
On the one hand, Burma’s ruling military junta has been taking steps that would seem to suggest that they are responding to pressure to respect human rights and democratize the country. On the other hand, they’ve also been doing things that seem to suggest resistance to such changes.
France is also backing away hard from their embrace of the Dalai Lama last year after considerable pressure from China.
In other news, the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami inspired Buddhist-led vigils in both Thailand and Indonesia. Tibetans in exile also marked the twentieth anniversary of the 10th Panchen Lama’s death.
As usual, there are odds and ends too, including two from the U.S.: a Buddhist health fair in Los Angeles, and an exploration of how Buddhist Americans celebrate Christmas.
In a resolution adopted this week, the U.N. General Assembly “condemned wide-ranging human rights violations in Burma.”
In a statement issued ahead of the sixty-second anniversary of Burma’s independence from Britain, the U.S. State Department said, “The United States stands ready to take steps to improve bilateral relations based on reciprocal and meaningful efforts by the Burmese government to fulfill the Burmese peoples’ democratic aspirations…We support the peaceful efforts of people everywhere to exercise freely their universal human rights, and we look forward to the day when Burma’s citizens will be able to do so. We hope that day will come soon.”
Pondering the effectiveness of other sorts of diplomacy, the Associated Press notes, “If talks with Burma over democratic reforms fail, the Obama administration could tie up large amounts of money that the country’s ruling generals stash in international banks from the sale of natural gas. So far the administration has been hesitant to go that route.”
Kyaw Zaw Lwin (who is also known as Nyi Nyi Aung), the Burmese-American imprisoned by the junta back in September, has been placed in solitary confinement after undergoing a twelve-day hunger strike. This is especially distressing because he is reported to be in ill health following his protest. He has been accused of trying to stir further unrest in the country.
The Washington Post reports on the lack of U.S. response to his imprisonment, noting that the situation “appears to be politically inconvenient for both the United States and the Burmese military dictatorship at a moment when the two countries have taken tentative steps toward engagement after years of stormy antagonism.”
That said, fifty-three U.S. Congressmen wrote a letter this week calling for his release.
Tin Tin, “a 38-year-old political activist who participated in the ‘Saffron Revolution’ of 2007,” has died in Insein Prison from a burst aneurism.
The country’s junta-controlled media reports: “The Supreme Court will hear pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal against her latest house detention handed down in August.”
In addition, the New York Times reports: “The military junta in Burma allowed the opposition leader. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to meet with senior members of her party on Wednesday, the latest in a recent series of signals that suggest the junta might be responding to diplomatic overtures from the West.”
Of course, the Associated Press also reported: “Burma’s new constitution, adopted last year despite criticism it is undemocratic, cannot be changed before next year’s planned elections, the country’s state media said in a commentary Sunday.”
Reuters reports: “Russia has agreed to sell Myanmar 20 MiG-29 jets for 400 million euro ($572.2 million), the Vedomosti daily reported on Wednesday, citing unidentified sources in Russia’s defence industry.”
The junta agreed this week to take back around 9,000 of 28,000 Rohingya refugees currently staying in camps in Bangladesh.
The Washington Post also reports on the China/Burma border town that has emerged as “the new front line in the fight against human trafficking.”
The junta also began doubling the cost of local telephone calls within the country today.
The Agence France-Presse offers a fascinating video report on the practice of spirit worship in Burma.
The Telegraph confirms that Shaolin Temple is preparing for “a 1bn yuan (£85m) initial public offering (IPO).” This is a joint venture between the temple, the city of Dengfeng, and the state-run China Travel Service (CTS), and it is set for 2011.
The Times of India reports: “Fifteen years after it was planned, the Mysore City Corporation is all set to inaugurate [a Buddhist stupa]. Ever since the works were completed four years ago, the stupa has been awaiting installation in Chamarajpuram adjacent to Ambedkar junction (Ballal Circle).”
The Telegraph reports on continued complaints about the management of the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. This has been a longstanding issue.
The Jakarta Post reports: “Hundreds of Buddhist residents on Sunday joined a prayer in front of a mass cemetery for people who died in the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that hit Aceh five years ago.”
ANI reports: “Construction workers have found old structures, believed to be part of a 9th and 10th century temple, in Yogyakarta in Indonesia, with a specific architectural style and relief ornaments on its sides resembling those found at other significant historic Hindu and Buddhist temples.”
The Agence France-Presse reports that Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal said his government “would not tolerate any anti-China demonstrations in the Himalayan nation as he met with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing.” He was quoted as saying to Wen Jiabao, “The Nepalese government… believes that Taiwan and Tibet are inalienable parts of the Chinese territory…[and that Nepal] will not allow any forces to use Nepalese territory to engage in anti-China activities.” As the AFP notes, “the Himalayan nation is home to around 20,000 exiled Tibetans, who began arriving in large numbers in 1959 after their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled Tibet following a failed uprising against the Chinese.”
The 10th National Buddhist Convention commenced at Dharmodaya Bihar in Lumbini.
While in the country this week, Chen Yunlin, president of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), visited Chung Tai Chan Monastery “amid mild protests from pro-independence activists.”
On the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, “thousands of Buddhist monks chanted and marched in Ban Nam Khem, a small fishing village on Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast that lost nearly half its 5,000 people.”
The Wall Street Journal reports: “Thailand is coming under increasing pressure to stop the forced repatriation of 4,000 ethnic Hmong to Laos, amid rising fears that many of the refugees might face persecution for their pro-American allegiances during the Vietnam War.”
Sadly, we also must note continued violence in the south.
In his home of Dharamasala, India, His Holiness the Dalai Lama joined Tibetan exiles in marking the twentieth anniversary of the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, Lhundrup Choekyi Gyaltsen. The Panchen Lamas are the second highest-ranking lamas in Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, just beneath the Dalai Lamas. The 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was arrested and removed with his family from their home in Tibet shortly after his identification in 1995. Neither the Panchen Lama nor his family has been seen since. Many human rights groups have referred to the 11th Panchen Lama as “the youngest political prisoner in the world,” as he was only six years old at the time of his arrest.
Following the prison sentencing of Liu Xiaobo, China’s “most prominent critic of Party rule, Vice Minister for Public Security Yang Huanning “vowed ‘pre-emptive attacks’ against threats to Communist Party control.” Reuters suggests this means “China’s leaders will continue tough measures to stifle political dissent, control the Internet, and quell ethnic unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang.”
Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, the son of a Tibetan aristocrat and former commander in chief of the Tibetan Amry who surrendered to the People’s Liberation Army and later signed a peace accord in Beijing, has died a few days shy of his 100th birthday.
The Agence France-Presse reports: “French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told Chinese students Tuesday that any ‘misunderstandings’ between Paris and Beijing were a thing of the past, following a heated row last year over Tibet.”
THE UNITED STATES
The Sarathchandra Buddhist Center held its first annual health fair earlier this month. “Vital signs were taken, finger stick blood testing for fasting glucose level for diabetes screening, as well as lipid profile that tests triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol), & LDL (bad cholesterol) information in the span of 5 minutes.”
Voice of America reports on “why Buddhists celebrate Christmas and what the holiday means to them.”
The Agence France-Presse reports that a delegation of Buddhist monks and nuns from Vietnam, France, Britain, and the U.S., accompanied by Anh Dao Traxel, “former French president Jacques Chirac’s Vietnamese-born adopted daughter,” submitted a formal request for temporary asylum on behalf of the four-hundred monks and nuns from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing who were recently expelled from Hanoi’s Bat Nha Monastery. (For more, see Shambhala Sun Space’s many past posts on this issue.)
Photo (detail) above via Reuters.
Rev. Danny Fisher is Coordinator of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program at University of the West in Rosemead, CA. He also blogs at http://www.dannyfisher.org. Keep coming back to SunSpace for more from Danny each week. And for daily news from the Buddhist world, join us at MahaSangha News.
Richard Shelmerdine says
Maybe the Burmese Military are giving out conflicting signals on purpose so people don't know from the outside what they're thinking or doing. It's straight out of "The Art of War". Great collection of posts. Ive bookmarked it.