Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

I attended a private school in Sydney's inner west. My school's colors were green and white and if you are from that part of the world you will know which school it is. A nearby private school in the same area used the colors black and white.

These two schools were rivals. Not only on the sporting field and in academic achievement did we compete but at the train stations, where students from both these schools would congregate before and after school hours, we also competed for territory at Strathfield Station and for the attention of girls from the nearby private girls schools. It was not an understatement to say that we hated each other.

As I watch the development of two humanitarian disasters unfold in Sichuan and Myanmar, I am reminded of an incident in the late 80's when a senior student from another local catholic non-private school, (in peer driven act of teenage stupidity) struck a junior student from my school and broke his nose. Now I am not here to justify what occurred afterwards but when the news got out, the senior boy from the catholic school and his mates got the retribution of not just the friends of the boy who's nose was broken but from the rubgy teams of both my school and the black and white school. Our normal rivalry and social hatred dissolved as we joined forces to right a perceived wrong.

In Sichuan today I am reading aid workers from Japan, Taiwan & Russia have reached the disaster area. Donations have come and are still coming from all over the world and I can see, countries that are usually at odds with China, joining forces to right this perceived wrong. To combat a common enemy of disaster and misfortune. Furthermore, citizens, children, foreigners and even those who can scarcely afford charity are digging into their pockets to contribute to the relief being provided to the victims and survivors of the earthquake.

Elsewhere in Asia though, I can see that no such solidarity is evident in Myanmar. Although there are aid organisation and countries lining up to offer help, within the country, those who most need this aid are not getting it. It angers me to see that the government in power are trying to fool the world into thinking that everything is under control when it is evidently not.

This may seem simplistic but I put this difference down to a difference in perception. China perceives the enemy is the disaster and we who have nothing else in common are united in fighting the enemy that is common. Sure there are political ramifications to think of but the Chinese Government has correctly prioritized that death and destruction is a greater enemy than the balance of trade or border conflicts.

Conversely the enemy in Myanmar is perceived to be the "The Image of Myanmar in the global community" and the cyclone has attacked not the citizens but has attacked that image. The cyclone has attacked the perception that "everything is okay in Myanmar" and in their fight against this enemy, they are doing everything they can to fix this perception and let everybody know that everything is okay. Unfortunately this enemy is not the same as everyone else's and so there is no alignment.

It is sad to think that simply because the leadership's perception is wrong that some of the 25 thousand plus casualties were not avoided, however it is encouraging to think that many lives have been saved because the Chinese leadership and the world have banded together, despite their differences to fight a common enemy.

It is also interesting to note that in the 1976 Tangshan earthquake it appears that China thought the same way as Myanmar does now. The official death toll for that disaster was a quarter million. Unofficially over 600,000. Let's hope that Myanmar learns quickly before more life is lost.

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