When a devastating earthquake 7.9 in magnitude struck China on Monday, the nation's response was swift and well orchestrated.
It was noteworthy for two other reasons. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, megaphone in hand, personally directed efforts. This is significant because Chinese leaders are rarely seen except in official ceremonies. Also, the Chinese, who appear to have the rescue and recovery efforts well in hand, have welcomed international offers of aid supplies.
Contrast this to the Myanmar junta's response to the May 2 cyclone that has killed some 30,000 people. It has taken nearly two weeks for the Myanmar government to permit supplies and relief workers to enter the hardest hit areas of the nation in Southeast Asia. It is still quibbling over visas for U.N. relief workers, which means relief workers who have been admitted are overtaxed and large-scale relief efforts have been delayed. Meanwhile, precious time has been lost in administering medication and providing clean water, food and hygiene, further endangering lives.
In many respects, the respective responses to these disasters are illustrative to China's self-assurance and Myanmar's lack thereof. According to Associated Press reports, the trickle of aid allowed to enter Myanmar has been modified to make it appear as though the relief has come from the military regime. State-run television has continuously run images of Gen. Than Shwe ceremonially distributing disaster relief.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has described the government's failure to permit entry for large-scale international relief efforts as "unprecedented."
From a global perspective, many nations and international aid organizations are willing to assist in time of disaster. China, for instance, may be in the unusual position of being an aid recipient and donor within the same month.
Perhaps it is impossible for Myanmar, a nation with an embarrassing human rights record, to comprehend that many nations, private aid organizations and religious organizations are willing to help their fellow man with no strings attached. While many nations do not recognize Myanmar's military government, they are willing to provide humanitarian aid.
Myanmar has far fewer national resources than China, which makes it far more difficult to handle cyclone relief on its own. For the sake of the nation's own people, junta leaders must set aside their pride and isolationist tendencies and accept the aid so many nations and private organizations are willing to give. It is not a sign of weakness to accept help. Rather, as China demonstrates, it is an indication of a government's self-confidence.