Tuesday, May 19, 2009

EU to ask China to Push Burma

The Irrawaddy News

BRUSSELS — The European Union is asking China and other Asian nations to press Myanmar to drop charges against pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and free her from house arrest.

EU officials said the issue will be raised Wednesday at the trade, economic and political talks in Prague with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and in Hanoi next week with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Burma.

Both events were scheduled before Suu Kyi went on trial Monday for allegedly harboring an American man who swam to her lakeside home where she has been under house arrest.

Last week's arrest of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, reignited criticism of Burma's ruling junta, and led to renewed calls by world leaders for her immediate release.

The EU foreign ministers denounced the trial, urging Burma's neighbors to push for a restoration of democracy in Burma.

This has never worked since many Asian nations tend to view appeals for action against human rights abuses as meddling in a country's internal affairs.

China has close diplomatic and economic ties with Burma's junta, but has always refused to criticize it.

Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of house arrest, but it was expected the military government would try to find reason to hold her, as has happened in the past.

Topping the agenda of the EU-China talks are climate change, the global recession and difficulties in two-way trade. The EU will be represented by Czech President Vaclav Klaus—whose country now holds the rotating EU presidency—European Commission President Jose Barroso and Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security affairs chief.

The EU hopes trade and investment can reverse the economic slowdown. Negotiations for a world trade pact fell apart in 2008 because the US, India and China refused to compromise.

Global trade is now in a free fall as wealthy nations' demand for imports that boosted the economies of China, Brazil and others has evaporated.

While China may escape a recession this year, it will suffer from plunging exports to the US and the 27-nation EU. Europe is China's biggest export market and was worth €248 billion last year—dwarfing the EU's €78.4 billion in exports to China.

China worries that a recession could make Europe more protectionist and start shutting out cheaper Chinese goods that European manufacturers blame for poor sales.

Key irritants for the EU are trade barriers in China, which EU companies blame for €21 billion a year in lost sales. Sixty percent of counterfeit goods seized in the EU come from China, and 70 percent of EU businesses there complain about intellectual property rights violations.

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