Monday, May 18, 2009

China Should Break its Silence on Suu Kyi

The Irrawaddy News

The removal of Aung San Suu Kyi from her home to Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison and her trial before a secret court have sparked international outrage and condemnation, shared by world leaders, Nobel Prize winners and prominent personalities.

Two governments have remained significantly silent, however—those of Burma’s two giant neighbors, China and India.

The reasons for their silence aren’t difficult to discern.

Both countries exploit Burma’s natural resources and are major trading partners. China, in particular, profits from lively arms sales to the pariah regime.

China makes no secret of its strong ties with Burma. New Delhi, on the other hand, is a pathetic hypocrite, changing its policy from support for Suu Kyi to one of subservience to Burma’s ruling generals. India has descended a long and ignoble decline since presenting Suu Kyi with its coveted Jawaharlal Nehru Award.

It’s sad indeed to see one of the world’s largest democracies—whose commitment to democracy has just been proved in a general election—kowtowing to the bullies of Naypyidaw.

China’s stance on Burma is, by comparison, at least intriguing.

At the time of the September 2007 demonstrations, when monks and other protesters were gunned down in the streets of Rangoon, China told Burma to exercise restraint. Beijing urged the junta to restore order quickly and to address the domestic tensions that caused the unrest.

Although the regime ignored the appeals from Beijing, China remained on friendly terms with Naypidaw and used its UN veto to block a Security Council resolution on Burma in 2007.

Beijing is not blind, however, to Burma’s ongoing problems. Chinese analysts and officials have been meeting exiled Burmese and making assessments on Burma. They have suggested that Beijing is wary of political development in Burma.

China has also told the Burmese regime that it doesn’t share Naypyidaw’s description of Suu Kyi as a tool of the West, and has indicated strongly that it wants to see national reconciliation in Burma.

When Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Burma in December, he urged junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe to respect the UN’s request for an inclusive political process in Burma, and he reportedly mentioned political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

Informed sources in Naypyidaw suggested that Than Shwe looked unhappy, while briefing his Chinese visitor on the state of the country, including its political and economic development and reconstruction work in the cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta.

It is sad that Burmese leaders have found in China a convenient shield to hide behind whenever they face international outrage and condemnation. Again, the silence emanating from Beijing only sent a wrong signal to Than Shwe.

As in September 2007, Beijing should speak out. But this time it should exercise its political influence not only on Burma but also on the region as a whole to press for the release of Suu Kyi and the other political prisoners.

Such a move by China would be warmly welcomed by oppressed Burmese and the exiled community. It shouldn’t be forgotten that they also want to regard China as a friend.

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