The Chinese government recently declared that all people who use cell phones, which is almost the entire population of China, will have to submit to a facial scan that is stored in a government database in order to “verify” the identity of the user. This was heavily criticized by many as a way to control Internet access by monitoring what websites a person visits and making judgments for or against a person based on the Chinese social credit monitoring system.
Now it has been revealed that the government of Myanmar, historically called Burma, is now going to imitate a Chinese-style approach to cell phones, requiring that biometric information is taken before making a purchase, and as a result being able to theoretically tie one’s identification to a particular phone.
People in Myanmar will be required to give their biometric data, including thumbprints, when buying mobile phone services under a controversial government plan to store private information on a central database.
A tender document issued last month and seen by The Myanmar Times invites bids for a “national database to store and manage biometric mobile subscriber registration information from all mobile network operators in Myanmar.”
The biometric information includes at least a person’s name, both thumbprints, identity type, identity number and scan of identity card, the document says. It may also contain the father’s name, date of birth and street address.
The tender, which is still open, was put out by the Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD) under the Ministry of Transport and Communications. It does not say when the system is to start operation. (source)
In fairness, India has also gone about this in a slightly different way. The Aadhar system, or the Indian National ID Card, which is the most advanced in the world, also takes biometric information and stores it in a government database.
The use of biometrics is going to become more frequent throughout the world. Many questions exist about how it could be used properly, because there is a clear record that regardless of what technology is chosen eventually it is not only used for evil, but whatever data is gathered for “good” purposes will at least partly escape and fall into evil hands, and innocent people suffer as a result. This is more serious with biometrics because one simply does not change one’s fingerprints, handprint, retnal scan, or genetic code. Once that information is made public, it is permanently public, and there is NO way to reverse it.
A large-scale “hack” of biometric data, which is going to happen at some point simply based on historical precedents, is going to result in a lot of this data being misused. However, this does not consider abuse by governments. As it is known that the Chinese and other very despotic governments will fabricate evidence against other people, what is to prevent people who have access to such databases from framing innocent people for crimes they did not commit, targeting people for political or personal reasons, or forcing innocent people to become actors in a political show they have no part of (for example, being accused of not only a crime, but one that would have been impossible to commit, yet such a person is accused because biometric data is abused to make this person fit the profile of a possible suspect)?
There is no government or society that would be immune from such abuse. However, this is precisely what many governments want because they believe that such abuses can be used to serve their interests.
in 2012, the US confirmed an ambassador to Myanmar is a new series of opening relations up with her, and not without reason in relation to the story above, which is the growing Chinese influence in that nation.
Burma is a poor country, but also a heavily agricultural one, and one of Burma’s largest sources of food export is to the Chinese market. even more so than to her neighbor of Thailand, and includes crops such as rice and legumes. While she is not the only source of Chinese food, she is part of the entire bloc of southeast Asia that increasingly represents China’s attempts to divest herself from US food supplies.
But the Chinese cash influx has not wholly benefited farmers either. I have pointed out how the Chinese tend to operate “slash-and-burn” type operations, and where that term historically is used to describe the environmentally destructive practices that Brazilian farmers and loggers engage in but ultimately cause serious damage to farms and agricultural land, rendering it unrenewable, the Chinese do similar. Her largest target has been herself, as due to her attempts at “modernization” she routinely destroys good farmland to build questionable projects that usually do not produce as they are promised but result in the loss of farmer jobs, thus causing social instability by homelessness, and wasting good land that can no longer be used.
Africa has seen a lot of abuse by Chinese farming estates, who often end up dumping money into companies where the executives steal most of it and what farmland is purchased is abused, destroyed, or abandoned. This has been repeating in Burma, where the Chinese have paid large sums of money to Burmese farmers to grow bananas but not only have not produced a good crop, but are engaging in practices that are permanently destroying the land as well as promoting disease.
In the decade since the Chinese-backed banana plantations first appeared in Myanmar, more than 100 companies have leased tens of thousands of acres in Waingmaw, Myitkyina and Bhamo townships.
Traditional crops such as paddy, corn, chilies and watermelon have a limited market, so many farmers have leased their land to the Chinese-backed companies.
For Kachin farmers, selling their crops cannot compete with the lump sum of 200,000-300,000 kyats (about US$130-200) per acre each year they make from leasing their land. (An acre is equal to 0.4 hectares.) Farmers are now seeing the consequences of the plantations. The pesticides used on the bananas are affecting the naturally grown crops, farmers claim.
Land ownership disputes have arisen because many farmers use customary land tenure and they did not have the formal registration.
Social problems have also been caused by an influx of migrants from elsewhere in Myanmar and China.
So far, the land disputes have been addressed “through social means” at the community level without using the courts, said Daw Doi Bu, a former Lower House parliamentarian and advocate based in Myitkyina. She said the plantation companies and the landlords contracting the land have signed a variety of contracts.
The plantation contracts include no binding agreement on the preservation of the land and the environment. Civil society groups, activists and lawyers have voiced concerns about what will happen after the banana plantations leave.
After 2011, fighting resumed between the Kachin Independence Army and Myanmar’s military (the Tatmadaw). The plantation companies chose to invest in government-controlled Waingmaw but some villages have been abandoned by fleeing Kachin farmers.
According to Ma Zin Mar Aye of the Waingmaw Women’s Network, the landlords in Aung Myay Thit Village in the township are told by these companies that the land will be used for seven years for banana plantations and then the soil will need time to recover.
It is uncertain if the land will be returned to the original farmers, Ma Zin Mar Aye told The Irrawaddy. She said some of the land has been used for four years and farmers are wondering how to restore the soil.
Traditionally, farmers grow a variety of crops throughout a year to naturally fertilize the soil. But now only bananas have been grown for years.
“Many of these banana plantations are illegal but the governments tax them,” said Daw Doi Bu, citing the Kachin State cabinet’s answer to the state parliament last year that the plantation investments were allowed under the previous government.
They carefully cut and clean the fruit, dip the bananas into water mixed with antibiotics and benzylpenicillin sodium, then dry, weigh, box and load them into trucks heading to China. (source)
The events taking place in Myanmar are not unlike all that has accompanied Chinese geopolitical expansion, and is similar to what happened in the USSR, which was famous for initiating “state projects” in agriculture which resulted often times in the mass destruction of arable land and the loss of human life. The most infamous example of this is the Holodomor in Ukraine, where Stalinist attempts to collectivize agriculture and resulted in the destruction of many farms and the deaths of about ten million innocent people by starvation. A similar disaster took place regarding the Aral Sea on the Kazakh-Uzbek border, in which Soviet attempts to use the water in the lake to irrigate cotton crops resulted in the complete destruction of the sea and the collapse of the local economy whose origins stem back for thousands of years and is now permanently destroyed in what some have described as one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes.
However, as the Chinese have demonstrated, their thought processes are not unlike those of the Soviets, and do not care what they destroy or the consequences so long as it seems to satisfy or give the appearance of satisfying political objectives in the moment.
Likewise, note the highlighted part about the use of antibiotics, which while common to the farm industry, is also a direct source of the growth in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and especially China because like the USSR, the abuse of this is incredible and deadly long term.
Concern has been expressed in Burma about China expanding her geopolitical influence, and the economic networks, especially the “belt-and-road” initiatives touted by the Chinese are the most obvious examples of this. Burma is key for China to keep under control because her location makes her an agricultural stronghold for Chinese food security as well as an access point to all of southeast Asia and India, thus allowing her to extend her influence over those regions and attempt to isolate or even push out the Indians, especially from Eastern India, where the Hindus have been fighting for control over key borderlands in the nearby Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and other bordering regions with China and Burma.
But will the Chinese be able to expand without causing serious destruction to themselves and others? This is unlikely, but this will not stop them from attempting to exert influence in the region.
Burma will be an important place to watch for the future as social, economic, and political pressure from Beijing will attempt to force that nation, I suspect, to mould her more after her own liking so that she can impress more control on her. What is to be seen is what the US and especially India will do, as both have been coming closer together and share a mutual interest in seeing Chinese influence in the Southeast Asian region minimized.