Today in the Wall Street Journal there is an interesting op/ed which focuses on the urgent questions of sovereignty and foreign policy in the context of energy relations. Both India and China, widely acknowledged to be the world’s two strongest growth economies over the next decade, have found themselves competing aggressively all over the world to secure steady energy supply agreements (without which, obviously, their industrial expansion would not be possible). Unfortunately, in many cases, governing regimes in exporting countries are finding it very easy to leverage this demand into a heightened tolerance for human rights abuses – the recipients of their gas and oil will be prohibited from “interfering” in that nation’s “sovereign affairs.” In other words, some exporting countries, Russia among them, offer a “moral discount” to importers – ignore our political prisoners if you want to do good business with us. Such is the context for India’s Petroleum Minister’s visit to Burma this week, inauspiciously timed to coincide with a period of rapidly increasing unrest from protesters.
Burma’s leading democracy advocate and most well known political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi. India has been reluctant to speak out in support of her out of the fear that Burma will send more gas to China.
Instead of speaking out on behalf of Burmese democrats, Delhi has taken a page from Beijing’s playbook. In answer to a question about India-Burma ties, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said Friday that “the cardinal principle of our foreign policy is non-interference in the internal matters of any country.” That kind of response might have passed muster three decades ago, when India’s foreign policy was shackled to the Soviet Union. But as India’s neighbors become increasingly unstable — think Pakistan and Bangladesh — it’s not in Delhi’s interest to exercise such limp diplomacy. The irony here is that kowtowing to the generals has proven ineffective in the past. Last month Indian oil ministers said Burma had agreed to sell most of the gas from two hotly contested blocks to China — reneging on an agreement it had made with Indian oil companies. Burma’s democracy movement has a long way to go. A little help from friends wouldn’t hurt.