Monday, May 18, 2009

China, India and ASEAN silent over Suu Kyi’s trial

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – In the wake of the charges leveled by the Burmese military junta against the country’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a trial in Insein prison, there has been mounting international outcry condemning the regime.

But surprisingly, Burma’s neighbours China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are conspicuous by their silence.

Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was charged for breaching her detention law after an American, John William Yettaw, allegedly swam across Rangoon’s Innya Lake and entered her house.

Regime authorities on Friday formally announced her trial and on Monday held the first hearing.

The junta’s move, however, sparked outrage among the Burmese as well as the international community ranging from intellectuals, campaigners, activists, writers, artists, human rights group, and world leaders.

The United Nations, United States and European Union (EU) lambasted Burma’s ruling junta and demanded the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. Asian countries including Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore also joined the call.

Foreign Ministers of EU on Monday called for review of fresh sanctions against the junta and urged China and other regional countries to pressurize the Burmese regime to release the opposition leader.

But China, the junta’s closest ally, India and the ASEAN as a group, has so far remained silent over the events unfolding in Burma.

Debbie Stothard, coordinator of Alternative ASEAN network on Burma (Altsean Burma), a group working to promote human rights and democracy in Burma, on Monday said the ASEAN, of which Burma is a member, has the responsibility to pressurize the Burmese regime over its actions as part of enforcing the group’s charter that was ratified last year.

“I am very shocked to see how quite ASEAN’s General Secretary has been, especially since they are supposed to be the main body promoting implementation of the ASEAN charter,” Stothard said.

“We don’t know where he [the Secretary General] is? We don’t hear his voice in this matter,” she added.

Debbie said ASEAN’s silence over the injustice done to Aung San Suu Kyi would encourage the Burmese regime to be more aggressive against her and commit more human rights violations in the country, which will become a threat to regional countries.

“The quieter the ASEAN remains the worse things the SPDC will commit, not just to Aung San Suu Kyi but also to the regional countries,” she said, referring to the junta by its official name – the State Peace and Development Council.

“All these are creating problems for ASEAN,” she added.

Following China is its main rival, India.

India the world’s largest democracy, which is currently busy in the aftermath of the Parliamentary elections, has officially made no statements on Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial.

Tint Swe, Information minister of the Burmese government - National Coalition Government of Union of Burma (NCGUB) in exile - said avoiding criticism of Burma’s military regime is not unusual but has been a tradition for the two regional powers - India and China.

When it comes to human rights and democracy in Burma, both China and India choose to remain silent as they look forward to maintaining a good relationship with the junta, he said.

“It is strange that the two regional powers, India and China, are silent regarding Aung San Suu Kyi but it doesn’t make any difference to us since these two countries have vested interest in Burma,” Tint Swe told Mizzima.

“It has become a tradition for these two countries to keep quite as much as they can when it comes to Burma’s issues,” he added.

Tint Swe said, the recently concluded Parliamentary elections, might be a good excuse for India to remain silent.

“We also don’t expect too much criticism from India of Burma since India has a foreign policy that doesn’t care which government rules Burma. It will try to better relations with it for its own national interest,” Tint Swe added.

India, since 1994 introduced the ‘Look East Policy’ and chose to appease Burma’s military regime rather than condemn its human rights records as it cosies up and looks forward to a warm relationship with the country.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Sino-Burma border based observer said, China’s reluctance to criticize the Burmese regime for their injustice against Aung San Suu Kyi could be because of its policy of non-interference in other country’s domestic affairs.

“Simply, they [China] will say Aung San Suu Kyi’s case is Burma’s internal affair,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

China is one of the few countries that have maintained friendly relations with Burma’s military rulers. China along with Russia had vetoed a United Nations Security Council Resolution on Burma in January 2007.

Aung Kyaw Zaw said, China’s current interest is to immediately implement the construction of the gas pipeline that will connect Burma’s Arakan state and China’s Yunnan province.

The junta’s move against Aung San Suu Kyi is possibly a kind of amusement for China as it needs a stable regime in power so it can exploit and extract mineral resources from Burma, he added.

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