The dramatic events unfolding in Myanmar/Burma -- the demonstrations by thousands of Buddhist monks now 'disappeared' into their army-occupied monasteries; the ordinary citizens who took to the streets in their support, only to be decimated by bullets and truncheons -- overshadow the question as to why countries like China, and those others who have influence over the repressive regime, are not doing more to stop the oppression.
The answer? Oil:
While Myanmar's military junta cracks down on pro-democracy protests, oil companies are busy jostling for access to the country's largely untapped natural gas and oil fields.
Just last Sunday — as marches led by Buddhist monks drew thousands in the country's biggest cities — Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was in Myanmar's capital for the signing of contracts between state-controlled ONGC Videsh Ltd. and Myanmar's military rulers to explore three offshore blocks. Link.
Myanmar/Burma, for all its extreme poverty (while the families of the regime live in luxury), is an oil producing nation and where there's oil, there are choices being made that don't necessarily include the considerations of the common people.
Who is drilling for oil in Myanmar/Burma?
Here's a partial list:
France - Total SA
Malaysia - Petroliam Nasional Bhd
Thailand - PTT Exploration & Production PLC
South Korea - Daewoo International Corp
China - National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC)
China - Petroleum & Chemical Corp (Sinope)
And, in an existing investment that is exempt from sanctions as part of its takeover of Unocal:
Chevron -- with its 28% stake in France/Total's Yadana fields.
Chevron's interest in the Yadana project is "a long-term commitment that helps meet the critical energy needs of millions in people in the region," said Nicole Hodgson, corporate media adviser for Asia.
Total and former partner Unocal Corp. were accused of being complicit in forcibly relocating people while a pipeline was being built across Myanmar to Thailand in the 1990s...in 2005, prior to being acquired by Chevron, Unocal settled a lawsuit brought against it in U.S. courts for the alleged abuses.
Indonesia's Foreign Ministry did call today for an end to the brutal treatment of the monks. But their oil investment continues, as does that of the other companies.
Such complicity with repressive regimes is not uncommon. China's interest in Burma includes a pipeline through its territory that will give oil tankers from the Middle East a Burmese port to offload their fossil fuels. This is along the lines of their involvement with and their protection of the Sudan against resolution of their genocide in Darfur, which is about China's need for the Sudan's oil, as well, as is the reason for our (U.S.) long history with "the Kingdom," Saudi Arabia.
And then there's that war in Iraq.
But the brave monks of Myanmar were not thinking of oil exploration off their waters by Chevron's European partners when they took to the streets. Not while their regime was raising the price of oil and gas to the point where their citizens could not survive. That's why the monks took their stand and why they are now either under armed guard in their monasteries or with the higher power to which the regime has sent them while behind those closed doors.
Meanwhile, the drilling continues.
[Update] Here are two videos here and here from BBC reporters in Burma and a link to the latest BBC report on the fate of the protesting monks.