Cyclone spotlights disasters in Burma, China

June 5, 2023

From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters

by Bob McGuire

After Cyclone Mocha devastated Rakhine State in Myanmar (Burma) on May 14, the National Unity Group representing civilian opposition and armed resistance reported 200 Rohingya Muslims had been killed as the storm hit with 130-mile-per-hour winds.

But it was not a natural disaster. The military junta all but confessed that it had refused to evacuate any of the 1.2 million Rohingya by how it revised its initial claim of just 21 dead upward to 145. The regime separated them out as four soldiers, 24 “locals” and 117 “Rohingya minority.”

Rohingya refugees fleeing Burma for India or Bangladesh on Sept. 16, 2017. Photo: CAFOD.

The military’s slaughter of a people not considered “local” after centuries of residence in Burma is what had driven half the Rohingyas to flee to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh and beyond. Many others risk and lose lives on flimsy boats crossing open ocean to as far away as Indonesia. The 920,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, survived Mocha without the expected loss of life, but their suffering continues as UN relief teams have reduced refugees’ daily rations by half.

The systematic massacres by the military that forced Rohingya into exile no longer threaten just Rohingya. Since the military seized total control in the coup of February 2021, ethnic populations across Burma are in danger. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing’s military has relied on big power rivalries to thwart democratic aspirations.


Many sanctions by Western nations have been easily breached, with Russia alone supplying almost half a billion dollars in jets and helicopters and other military goods. China has added a quarter billion dollars more in lethal aid. Employing that imported air power in massacres, like the April slaughter of over 160 in a Sagaing village, has kept resistance movements, civilian and armed, that dominate their region from toppling the regime.

China is supporting the military coup for more than the petroleum and mineral wealth, including rare earth deposits, that it receives in return. There is a fear among Xi Jinping and his cronies of repeated workers’ revolts in China, from the voices of the 100 Flowers Campaign in 1957 through Tiananmen Square in 1989 to the thousands of strikes that have continued until today.

China has reached out to Central Asian countries with development loans which put them at risk of default and resultant loss of economic sovereignty. But a goal of economic clout is dimming any opposition among nearby Muslim countries to the work camps by which China suppresses demands among Uyghurs for autonomy or outright freedom in Xinjiang.


When China imposed a National Security Law on Hong Kong in 2019, it did not merely tear up an agreement with British imperialism. It declared illegal the right to speak, write and demonstrate that was to be guaranteed for another 28 years, and even criminalized the Hong Kongers’ ability to speak for revolutionaries in China as a whole.

That extends to every June 4 commemoration of the 1989 massacre of 3,000 students and workers in Tiananmen Square. The recent removal from Hong Kong libraries of all books on the Tiananmen Square uprising will be familiar to anyone who has followed the erosion of free expression in Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis.


The people of Taiwan are under a threat of invasion. That threat was never real in the 30 years that money from Taiwan was instrumental in financing the primitive accumulation of capital. Beginning with coastal export production, that buildup of private capitalist production made China the world’s sweatshop. But Xi is now threatening invasion as an effort to stifle dissent at home.

Since the end of martial law in 1987, voters in Taiwan have made clear their opposition to becoming a part of China by repeatedly voting against the Kuomintang. It had ruled Taiwan since fleeing Mao Zedong’s victory of Communism (his name for state-capitalism, as enshrined in the 1956 Constitution) but still stood for unification.

The current Democratic-Progressive Party government headed by Tsai Ing-wen received verbal assurances of support from countries publicly opposed to China’s threats to Taiwan. China’s April war games sent a menacing message by surrounding the island with heavy armaments. However, those same countries have wrung their hands as invasions and coups have faced nothing but ineffectual sanctions. Labor groups in Ukraine and in Taiwan have practiced more reliable expressions of solidarity.

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