The CSS Blog Network

China’s Challenge in Northern Myanmar

Myanmar welcoming the Thai Prime Minister. Photo: Peerapat Wimolrungkarat/ Abhisit Vejjajiva

Northern Myanmar is strategically important to Beijing as a supply corridor and as a buffer between China’s ethnically diverse southwestern provinces and southern Myanmar. The heightened tension in northern Myanmar in the past several years presented Beijing with challenges regarding border security and maintaining a balance between Naypyidaw and various ethnic forces with strong connections to Beijing.

While Beijing remains the most important mediator in the ethnic conflicts, its broader strategic interests in the country played a part in Beijing’s reluctance to openly engage with ethnic forces involved in the fighting. With Naypyidaw gradually gaining support from the West, Beijing has to contend with Western threats to its energy and transport interests and with ethnic issues threatening stability along its border. » More

Ethnic Minorities: Tipping the Scales in Syria?

Church next to a mosque in Hama, Syria. Photo: fchmksfkcb/flickr

Last month’s assassination of Kurdish activist Mashaal Tammo has put the spotlight on Syria’s almost forgotten Kurdish minority. Their involvement in the uprisings had been considerably low up to this point, propelled by fears that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would ruthlessly put down Kurdish participation in the protests. But after the death of Tammo, a prominent opposition figure and founding member of the Syrian National Council, a wave of outrage has swept across the Kurdish population. This brought about the most intense protests and demonstrations of this ethnic minority since the beginning of the uprisings in March and might just mark a tipping point for the highly fragmented Syrian opposition.

While opposition movements of the Arab Spring have been characterized as heterogeneous and unstructured, Syria’s opposition seems particularly patchy. Approximately 40 percent of the population do not belong to the Sunni majority. Shia Muslims, Christians, Alawites, Druze, Jews and Ismaelites all have their own political agendas. One of the main reasons why Assad has managed to remain in power for so long is because he was backed by the country’s minorities. In exchange, he implemented laws and policies to secure the minorities from the Sunni majority. » More

No Escape from the Curse of Taxation

Bad News in the Cards for Romania's Witches, photo: Brenda Clarke/flickr

Politicians in Romania are currently debating a bill which will inescapably change the lives of the country’s witches, fortune tellers and soothsayers. Only one month after the Romanian Parliament changed the country’s labor laws to officially recognize the centuries-old practices as taxable professions, the nation’s witches & co. are cursing a new bill that threatens fines or even a prison sentence if their predictions do not come true. In addition, the law will make them carry permits and provide receipts, and forbid magic weavers from carrying out their work near churches or schools.

This move by the Romanian officials does come as a surprise (to some of us, at least). Witchcraft has been part of Romanian (sub-)culture for centuries. Nevertheless, the lives of witches, astrologers and other forms of spiritual mediums have always been tough, to say the least. Under the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, the supernatural industry was even banned and its adherers prosecuted. Only in the 1990s the witches re-emerged to carry on their craft in freedom.

Today, superstition is considered a serious matter in the land of Dracula, and officials regularly turn to occultists for help – not least to help the impoverished country collect more money and crack down on tax evasion. It is thus hardly surprising that the country’s sitting president, Traian Basescu, is known internally to wear purple on certain days in an attempt to ward off evil. » More

Syrian Kurds – A Struggle in the Face of Government Repression

Kurdish area in the Middle East, CIA/University of Texas Libraries (1986)

On 21 March of this year, Syrian security forces opened fire on a crowd of over 5,000 in the northern town of Ar-Raqqah. The crowd had gathered to celebrate the Kurdish New Year as three people, including a 15-year-old girl, were killed. Over 50 were injured. Yet this incident was just the last in a long list of examples of the repression of the largest national minority in Syria – the Syrian Kurdish population.

Kurds in Syria occupy the lowest social rank among the country’s minorities. Estimated at approximately 1.7 million, the Syrian Kurds make up roughly 12 percent of the country’s population. Yet the Kurds living in Syria are not recognized as an ethnic group in their own right, and many not even as Syrian citizens. Their cultural and civil rights are withheld from them, while their political parties and organizations are forbidden. » More

Good News, But Bad News Will Keep Coming

In the wake of the Xinjiang riots, mass casualties and plenty of unwanted press, Chinese leaders were undoubtedly hoping for some good news.

They did not have to wait long. Little more than a week after the Urumqi riots Chinese authorities announced that the Chinese economy had grown by a healthy 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2009. Compared to the West, this is a spectacular achievement and an encouraging sign for all those that saw the end of the world coming just months ago.

To the surprise of many seasoned China analysts and economists, China’s stimulus package managed to inject much-needed capital into the industrial sector; succeeded in offsetting the worst effects of massive export-industry layoffs by employing migrant workers in government projects, and perhaps most importantly, ensured that government-owned banks continued to lend despite the downturn. Even retail sales rebounded, the government announced, indicating that the Chinese consumer is still feeling confident and secure (unlike the rest of us).

» More

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