Saturday, August 22, 2009

Shock and Ore

(SMH) -Secret agents are shadowing Australian executives as the Communist Party's hardliners gain the upper hand. Now Rio Tinto must play by China's rules, writes John Garnaut in Beijing.

When China tracks the conversations and email traffic of foreign executives, it normally does so covertly. These days, with Rio Tinto, surveillance can take the form of overt intimidation.

Three weeks ago, Rio's global strategy chief, Doug Ritchie, checked into Shanghai's downtown Four Seasons Hotel to find the entire floor had been cleared of other guests. His only companion was Ian Bauert, Rio's global head of iron ore marketing, who had arrived before him. Plain-clothed officers proceeded to shadow their every move across the town.

For Ritchie, the treatment might have smacked of revenge. He was the architect, negotiator and driver of Rio's $US19.5 billion ($24.3 billion) Chinalco investment deal which collapsed in June, staining the business reputations of Rio Tinto and Australia in China. China's Chinalco bid was a response to Australia's iron ore duopoly and an effort to ease China's resource constraints by playing by global rules. It didn't work, so now Rio would be asked to play by China's rules.

For Bauert, it was personal. Bauert is the low-profile, Chinese-speaking power behind Rio's iron ore sales and negotiating team. He opened Rio's China office in the 1970s. It is his men - Stern Hu, Liu Caikui, Wang Yong and Ge Minqiang - who are in a Shanghai jail. He caught a plane to China the moment he learnt his team had failed to turn up to work on Monday, July 6, and has been there ever since.

Efforts by Bauert and Ritchie to see their employees in Shanghai were obstructed at every turn. And if Hu, Liu, Wang and Ge were detained for alleged serious crimes on behalf of their company, then there was an outside chance that their bosses might be told to join them.

A statement on an official Government website said the Shanghai State Security Bureau had found Hu and his colleagues had stolen and obtained secrets by "bribing internal staff of Chinese steel companies". "This has caused huge loss to China's national economic security and interests,'' it said.

China's Ministry of State Security does not concern itself with ordinary crimes, such as bribery or theft. Its tens of thousands of analysts and intelligence operatives have the job of protecting the Communist Party from perceived threats to its existence, such as Tibetan or Xinjiang ethnic separatists, foreign spies, political dissidents and activist lawyers.

According to some analysts, that executives at the world's third-largest mining company were being treated as threats to China's national security signalled that conservative, hard-line and less economically literate forces were getting the upper hand in Beijing.

The detentions were endorsed by the Communist Party's Standing Committee, chaired by the President, Hu Jintao, according to sources in a Chinese security agency.

Stern Hu and his three Chinese colleagues have now been charged with receiving bribes and commercial secrets. People close to the case note the opportunities for bribery that can present themselves in a climate of iron ore shortage and large price differences between contract and spot market purchases. Many say the Chinese Government is unlikely to have gone as far as it has without what it considers to be sound evidence that is prepared to publicly present. A trial is likely to proceed by early next year.

But the Chinese Government's initial framing of the case as one of "national security" suggests Rio and Australia may also have been caught up in a larger struggle for influence over China's 540 private and state-owned companies, which together produce more steel than the rest of the world put together. Steel, with its central, visceral place in China's modernisation and national mythology, can provide a proxy battleground for the path of Chinese development.

"This is about: do you let the market determine prices domestically and internationally or do you insist on political intervention? " David Goodman, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Sydney, says. "How do you allocate resources, politically or economically? Within the leadership you can imagine the arguments going on between those calling for a more open political and economic system and others saying, 'You must not rock the boat.' ''

The stakes at play in China's steel industry were illustrated in an investigative story this week about how the new manager at the Tonggang steel factory in north-eastern China was recently beaten and thrown from a building to his death. The manager had been appointed by China's richest steel entrepreneur, Zhang Zhixiang, who had been attempting to take over the inefficient state-owned company in line with a provincial government reform drive. But the old guard managers and their local supporters fought back. Would the disgruntled managers of a local state-owned company resort to murder in order to keep their jobs?

Rio Tinto's immediate problems began with BHP Billiton's takeover bid in November 2007. The event immediately steeled Chinese leaders to push back against what they saw as an Australian iron ore monopoly. And Rio responded to BHP's aggression with new aggressive marketing strategies, including diverting iron ore from long-term contracts to the more lucrative spot market.

Chinese steel mills were furious. Rio itself was divided on the long-term wisdom of hurting its considerable standing in China. ''We acted in accordance with the letter of the contracts, but not the spirit,'' Stern Hu conceded in conversation with BusinessDay at the time.

The incarceration of Hu suggests Rio and the Australia Government may have under-estimated the humiliation and legitimate economic anxieties that could be generated in a country that is so dependent on steel.

If there was a single turning point, it probably occurred at a conference room at Baosteel's sprawling factory and corporate headquarters in north-eastern Shanghai, on June 23 last year. It was there that the lead negotiator, Will Malaney, and his negotiating assistant and translator, Stern Hu - with Bauert giving instructions from backstage - secured a jaw-dropping 79 per cent price rise for iron ore ''fines'' and 96.5 per cent rise for ''lump''.

At 6pm, after four months of deadlocked negotiations and a tense four-hour stand-off in that room, Malaney and Hu jumped up and clasped hands with Baosteel's Ding Shouhu and the three members of Ding's team. They cracked a bottle of fine champagne.

For Ding, the spontaneous joy was borne of relief that his torture was finally over, seven days before the majority of China's iron ore contracts would technically expire. But Baosteel's public and political standing had crumbled because the costs of Chinese steel production, the nation's inflation problem and its nationalistic sensitivities had all been raised.

The initial relief and exhilaration at Baosteel headquarters subsided as one of the four Baosteel representatives in the room phoned both the China Iron & Steel Association and the Ministry of Commerce to get final authorisation. News leaked out between the cracks of China's political bureaucracy before Rio had a chance to tell the stock exchange.

It was an ominous interregnum that hinted at the turf wars to follow. Steel officials saw the opportunity to secure new political patrons and try to balance Australia's iron ore "monopoly" by marshalling China's buying power - something that Japan had done successfully in the past, if not in such heavy-handed terms.

It is not just the Ministry of State Security that has intruded in this year's iron ore wars. A new super-ministry of industry and information technology has supplanted the Ministry of Commerce. And Baosteel, the innovative national champion that understands how both politics and markets work, has been pushed out by the retired steel mill officials and bureaucrats who run the China Iron & Steel Association (CISA).

Steel executives and industry analysts enjoy nothing better than belittling association officials behind their backs. But influential Chinese analysts, such as the steel consultant and academic Xu Zhongbo, are now prepared to do it publicly. This is his appraisal of the association's secretary-general, Shan Shanghua, its deputy president, Luo Bingsheng, and its director of iron ore, Chen Xianwen:

"Shan was a director of steel planning initiatives in the past, when he was part of the Ministry of Metallurgy [now disbanded]. He has good experience for planning economics but not for international co-operation and business," Xu says.

"Luo is also a very stupid guy. If someone has a higher position than him, then he will always follow that position. And he can change his position very quickly. He did very poor work when chairman of Shougang [Capital Steel].

''And Chen Xianwen was director of iron ore purchasing at Wisco [Wuhan Iron & Steel Company]. But iron ore purchasing was an easy task five years ago; every iron ore miner wanted to make friends with him."

These three men, masters of a different era, have been endorsed this year to harness China's hugely fragmented steel industry and leverage their buying power. So far, the experiment has not worked.

Malaney, Hu and their boss, Ian Bauert, were no doubt bemused at the association's negotiating tactics. Rio would refer to what was happening in the underlying data about profits and production in the Chinese steel and iron ore mining industries. But negotiators across the table, including Chen Xianwen, would reply with political diatribes.

CISA seemed to think that asserting steel production would slip would ensure that iron ore prices would also fall. These days Rio thinks China will produce about 570 million tonnes of steel this year, based on Chinese steel production and iron ore imports rising to new records almost every month.

But CISA has gone out of its way to ignore official public information - including the People's Bank of China's estimate that GDP grew 4 percentage points between the March and June quarters - to forecast 2009 production at just 500 million tonnes. CISA persists in arguing that this time, unlike every other year, it will be able to "control" the steel industry in accordance with Government directives by closing down small and allegedly inefficient mills and preventing new capacity from being installed.

In May the association missed its chance to follow Nippon Steel in agreeing to a 33 per cent cut in the benchmark contract price. The June 30 negotiating deadline came and went, and spot market prices soared higher.

Ironically, on July 6 the steel association held an internal meeting where it agreed to accept the Nippon Steel benchmark price subject to face-saving clauses that would allow them to renegotiate later if spot prices fell, according to senior Chinese journalists who spoke with the association's president, Shan Shanghua, that evening.

But news of the detention of Rio's Stern Hu broke the following day, July 7, before the association had an opportunity to inform the Anglo-Australian miner of its change of heart. Shan must have known about the Ministry of State Security's ongoing investigation - Rio's iron ore tendering results were being covertly supplied to CISA - but he evidently had no idea that Mr Hu and his colleagues had been detained.

If the detention of Rio's China iron ore team on national security grounds was a sign that China was drifting back towards central planning and tighter political control, then the downgrading of the Rio charges to stealing commercial secrets and receiving bribes may indicate the tide has since turned the other way.

China's leadership appeared to form the view that heavy-handed attempts to impose its will on the country's iron ore market was not working and not worth the costs to its international reputation.

Zhang Peihong, the lawyer for Rio Tinto's Wang Yong,said this week that China's top intelligence agency has handed the case to criminal authorities.

"The Ministry of State Security has handed the case to the Public Security Bureau," he said.

The politics of the Stern Hu case have largely been defused ahead of what may turn out to be relatively transparent legal proceedings. Rio Tinto's chief executive, Tom Albanese, said yesterday that "the grounds for [Hu and the others'] arrest do not seem to be as serious as first reported".

But Fortescue's Andrew Forrest gambled this week that the political winds continue to favour the steel association and its attempts to control the market.

"CISA was once viewed as a dog with a lot of bark. I think it is now viewed across China as a dog with a lot of bark and bite," Forrest told Australian journalists in China, after agreeing to a slightly larger price cut of 35 per cent on the condition of up to $US6 billion ($7 billion) in finance from an as yet undetermined Chinese institution.

Forrest said CISA has the political leverage to enforce the Fortescue price as the new benchmark price for all imported iron ore.

"There have been hundreds of other contacts and actions taken where there is a discipline being asked of steel companies to cease short-term profit-taking and encourage long-term price stability and move towards a uniform price," Forrest said.

"China's actions have gone way, way beyond Stern Hu."

But so far the big miners, led publicly by Rio, have ignored the Fortescue settlement and continued selling ore into China at the slightly higher price set with Nippon Steel.

This year's price negotiations are being seen as a costly debacle in Chinese industry circles, with the steel association wearing most of the blame. The drumbeat of discontent is getting louder.

A report this week by a Shanghai steel consultancy,, slammed the association's inability to comprehend economics. It pointed out that its 2 percentage point face-saving price deal with Fortescue would save China $US35 million, based on Fortescue's 10 per cent import market share, and contrasted this with the $US6 billion that the association had agreed to arrange to pump into Fortescue.

"The iron ore negotiations turned into a political struggle which China must win and cannot lose," the report said. "It is about the credibility of [CISA] in the whole industry. This is no longer about the simple issue of dozens of steel mills signs agreements with miners when prices are acceptable."

The Umetal report said that the Fortescue deal was an irrelevant face-saving deal for the association, as the big miners and Chinese steel mills were buying ore at the Nippon Steel price regardless.

"What is not important is that China gets the final say," it said.

Xu Zhongbo, the steel consultant, supports efforts to resist Australia's dominant market power. But he also believes the association has dealt itself out of play.

"This year CISA has lost power, it took too long to reach an agreement," he says. "Maybe next year Baosteel will have the power again."

Some reports say the decision has already been made to restore Baosteel's role as China's lead negotiator and boot aside CISA.

But CISA fought back this week and revealed the existence of "the State Council's No. 6 document", by which the cabinet-like body had empowered it to "prevent" speculative iron ore trading and "reasonably unify the price".

"It's not true that Baosteel will lead negotiations," a senior association source said yesterday. "Like this year, Baosteel will represent China to talk, under the lead of CISA, also with a group of China's 16 largest steel mills formed to make decisions."

But the iron ore wars are far from over and CISA is sticking to its guns.

READ MORE---> Shock and Ore...

In this Chinese fable the chicken upsets the fox in his lair

The Powerful Right of Sovereignty, Business plus Values
a lesson for Burma

Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
By Peter Hartcher

(SMH) -Kevin Rudd studied China's most famous political prisoner, Wei Jingsheng, for his university thesis. Today Wei Jingsheng studies Kevin Rudd.

"The Chinese Government is putting the Australian Government through a trial with the arrest of Stern Hu," Wei said this week through an interpreter.

Wei has a bit of experience with the Chinese justice system - he spent 18 years in jail and now lives in exile in the US. Stern Hu, an iron ore negotiator for Rio Tinto, was arrested for allegedly stealing state secrets. So was Wei, an electrician at the Beijing Zoo at the time.

"I was locked up because I offended Deng Xiaoping [China's leader at the time]. But of course they fabricated a charge that I stole state secrets - this is the approach the Chinese Government likes to take with people to put them down."

And under the Chinese Communist Party the state can classify anything it likes as a "state secret", even the most innocuous information, at any time and on any whim.

"It's obvious now the Chinese Government is attempting to put down the Australian Government, not Stern Hu. And it's quite evident that it is putting down the Australian Government as a precedent for other governments around the world."

Wei, who is visiting Australia, embraces the metaphor in the old Chinese folk saying - kill the chicken to frighten the monkey. Australia is the chicken. Who is the monkey?

"The first monkey is Europe," targeted after Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France and chair of the European Union at the time, decided to meet the Dalai Lama last year. China reacted with the fury it always employs when heads of government recognise the exiled leader of the Tibetan campaign for autonomy from China.

"And the biggest monkey is the US."

But if China wants to make an example of someone, why choose Australia? Wei lists three reasons: "Australia has a prime minister who thinks he knows a lot about China, when actually he doesn't. Because Kevin Rudd has many relationships with China, the Chinese Government is hoping that because of these ties he will not make a strong reaction.

"Second, historically, Australia is one of the weakest countries in dealing with China. Third, Australia is just a small place."

Wei wants Australia to understand that it is engaged in a high-stakes struggle. "The chicken and the fox" - his animal metaphor for China because it is cunning and invasive - "have co-existed peacefully for years, but now the situation has changed. I think the chicken is in shock. It's still deciding whether it wants to put up a fight. If it doesn't fight it will be killed. But it may not realise it has a sharp beak and it can fight back."

Wei is wrong on these assertions. Rudd and his senior ministers set out very deliberately to change Australia's policy in dealing with China. The Rudd Government understands very well that it is the target of Chinese anger. And the Government is keenly aware that Australia has serious leverage in the relationship - it knows it has a sharp beak.

But Wei's misapprehension is quite understandable. Rudd has never articulated an overall Australian approach. The Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, really only started to speak about the dispute openly this week.

What has changed?

John Howard had an early clash with China. It was inadvertent, not intentional. And it shook him.

As Howard took office in 1996, China was in an angry confrontation with Taiwan. The US deployed two aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Straits in a clear warning to China.

Within days Australia made a strong but lonely public statement of support for the US deployment. Four months later the Howard Government announced the ''reinvigoration'' of the Australian security alliance with the US.

"China feels that the new Government in Australia last year shifted to the US," said a leading Chinese strategic thinker, Dr Yan Xuetong, head of the Centre for China's Foreign Policy Studies, at the time.

"The Chinese interpretation was that Australia had decided to join a US policy of containing China.''

Beijing put Australia into deep diplomatic freeze for almost a year. Howard got the message. He changed China policy dramatically. This is how he phrased it in 1997: "Australia and China are very different societies, our histories have been very different, our political systems have been very different, but our relationship has always been at its very best. Each of us has fully understood the depth of those differences yet resolved to work together to capitalise on the areas of mutual benefit and common interest. It is always important in a relationship between two very different societies that you put aside those differences and you focus on those areas of common agreement."

It became a briskly "business first'' approach. Sometimes it verged on being "business only." Howard put human rights issues into a tank called a human rights dialogue, a lower-level dialogue of the deaf, from which they never emerged.

Rudd made a dramatic departure from this policy. On his first visit to China as prime minister, he addressed Chinese students in Beijing University in their own language. On Chinese soil, and very deliberately, he said the unspeakable. In April last year he said that while Australia recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, "we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet".

He called for dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama to broker a long-term solution to the administration of Tibet. China protested. Rudd stood firm: ''I think this relationship is broad enough to tolerate disagreement, and on these questions I'll be putting my views forthrightly."

Instead of "business first" or "business only", Australia's policy shifted to being "business plus values". It became very clear that this was not a one-off when Smith defied China and granted a visa to the exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer.

Smith told Parliament quite forthrightly this week: "The Chinese authorities at a range of levels, including my counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang, made very strong representations to Australia about the proposed visit to Australia of Rebiya Kadeer and made representations to us that we should prevent her visit. I considered those representations and came to the conclusion that there was no basis for denying her entry to Australia."

China accuses her of being a "separatist terrorist". Smith said that "exhaustive" research showed she was not a terrorist but merely someone with whom China's government disagreed. China protested by cancelling a ministerial visit to Australia.

Smith added: "I vaguely remember the Leader of the Opposition saying to the Government some time ago that we should stand up to China. We did on the Rebiya Kadeer issue."

It was a clear message to China - we will not allow you to veto our sovereign right to set immigration policy. Smith also gave a spirited defence of the principle of freedom of speech. The chicken has decided to put up a fight.

Senior officials in the Australian Government believe that Beijing has four principal grievances against Australia at the moment. First was Rudd's speech on Tibet.

Second was the collapse of the bid by China's state-owned Chinalco to buy a bigger stake in Rio Tinto. It was a rebuff to China's ambitions, and it stung.

Stern Hu was duly arrested. Since then, Beijing has downgraded the charge against him from stealing state secrets to stealing trade secrets. That reduces the potential punishment from the death penalty to a seven-year jail term. But the vengeful anger smoulders still.

Third was Australia's defence white paper, which nominated China as potentially the biggest source of instability in the Asia-Pacific.

Fourth was the visa for Rebiya Kadeer. Taken together, it's enough for Chinese state-controlled media to denounce the "sinophobic government" of Kevin Rudd, as it did this week.

Yet despite the rage in Beijing, the economic relationship is thriving, utterly untouched by the diplomatic storm. This week's gas deal was stunning. China invited the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, for the ceremonial signing of the biggest business deal in Australian history, the $50 billion, 20-year deal to buy liquefied natural gas from the Gorgon field. Ferguson also met a senior Chinese minister, Zhang Ping, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission.

At the same time, China's Commerce Minister, Chen Deming, has agreed to a new round of negotiations for a free trade agreement with Australia. In talks with the Trade Minister, Simon Crean, Chen even proposed a new formula for making progress in the stalled talks.

This is Australia's leverage. For China's successful rise it needs ever-growing quantities of food and fuel in a world that will be increasingly short of both. The chicken has a sharp beak and strong claws.

The Rudd policy of "business plus values" is drawing a lot of noise from Beijing but no real price. Not yet, at least. The next big test will be the Dalai Lama's proposed visit to Australia in November.

As for Wei Jingsheng, asked whether he planned to meet Rudd during his visit to Australia, he said: "I am close to Kevin Rudd, but given his position now I will not make trouble for him." The Dalai Lama will make trouble enough. Wei laughed: "The Dalai Lama and Rebiya Kadeer are good friends of mine. We take it in turns to visit to make trouble." The fox will not be amused. More tests lie ahead.

Peter Hartcher is the Herald's international editor.

READ MORE---> In this Chinese fable the chicken upsets the fox in his lair...

A message to Mr. John Yettaw

Friday, 21 August 2009
by Mizzima News

Dear Mr. John Yettaw,

How are you doing? I hope you are better and ready for a good rest at your home, sweet home. I am glad you were released.

You may not have heard yet about the many speculations of your trial - which ranges from a story that you intentionally collaborated in this because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not accept your first uninvited attempt to visit in November 2008. Or you were innocent at first and then systematically put into the act of conspiracy.

Many wonder at the way you got the visa from the country where your name is believed to be listed in police records due to suspicions over your first trip. You told Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that you swam across the lake in the dark in order to avoid anyone from seeing you. It is a huge lake and not easy to negotiate especially in the dark.

To neutralize these rumours, I would love to read if you or any of your associates can write a true story about both your trips, or just the second one. It would be very interesting and helpful if you could tell us how many people you met and got help throughout your trip from the very beginning, before you left your country. That may help everyone understand things a little better.

The country is being ruled by the regime since 1962 and we have been brutally treated till now. Thanks to internet technology now a days, we have received close attention from the outside world. Your individual action or cooperation with the regime will not create any misunderstanding between the Burmese people and the Americans or anybody.

I congratulate Mr. Jim Webb for being able to point out how Mr. Veto China is sucking neighbouring Burma’s economic blood so greedily. He saved you from being used or abused by the regime. However, Mr. Jim Webb's mission to save you should not be given credit in the same way as that of Mr. Bill Clinton last month with North Korea for two American journalists.

I should let you know that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stands as a good mother for our country. She has been, and will guide us to better lives. She must be released from house arrest as soon as possible so Burma has a chance to listen to her valuable speeches and advices, before it is too late. Do not forget that she won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections.

However, the regime is putting the same wine in a new bottle. She would have been hidden from the public one way or the other even if you did not visit. That’s what the regime has been doing to her. Her life was at risk in Depayin.

Mr. John Yettaw, if you too “really want to use your liberty to promote ours”, please share your experience with us.



READ MORE---> A message to Mr. John Yettaw...

Domestic journals can quote NLD spokesman

by Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Burma’s Censor Board has relaxed its stringent rules and allowed two Rangoon based weekly journals to quote the spokesman of the main opposition party the 'National League for Democracy' (NLD).

The latest issues of 'The Voice' and '7 Days' could cover the news of Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is serving a suspended one and-a-half year prison sentence at her home by quoting party spokesman Nyan Win.

"Previously leave alone quoting him, we could not mention even his name in our publications. It is significant to see the censor board allowing us to cover news by quoting the NLD spokesman," an editor of a weekly journal told Mizzima.

The '7 Days' weekly journal in its latest issue carried an interview by her lawyer and party spokesman Nyan Win after he visited her house a day after the special court pronounced the verdict on her trial.

"I bought and gave two journal copies to her. We could give them to her now. She can also receive guests. So we talked with her today for about an hour, Suu Kyi's lawyer Nyan Win said," the journal reported.

Similarly 'The Voice' covered the same news with the headline 'Despite of arriving back at her home, ongoing house renovation allowed' by quoting Nyan Win.

The inside pages had news of the verdict, news of the renovation of her house, action taken against security personnel deployed at her residence for security lapses and Suu Kyi's release by 2011.

The junta allowed the journalists to visit the court and allowed them to cover the trial but did not allow it to be printed in their publications. One of the censored news, '75-minutes long court pronouncement of judgment' has been published in 'The Voice' now.

But journalists do not view this leniency as the beginning of a free press in Burma just because the Censor Board has allowed the journals to print news by quoting Suu Kyi’s lawyer Nyan Win.

"Sometimes they permit some to be printed. And then they tighten the screw again. So we can't say this is the beginning of press freedom in our country. It's very difficult to comprehend the Censor Board," a reporter from Burma told Mizzima.

The junta has put the Burmese media on a leash and banned mention of the names of pro-democracy activists, politicians and their movements.

21 August 2009

READ MORE---> Domestic journals can quote NLD spokesman...

Webb’s Tangled Message

The Irrawaddy Editorial

When former US President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea earlier this month to win the release of two imprisoned American journalists, he probably didn’t realize that he was setting a trend. But less than two weeks after his high-profile visit to Pyongyang, another US politician had embarked on a similar—but even more ambitious—mission.

Unlike Clinton, Senator Jim Webb was not acting as an official emissary of the Obama administration when he went to Burma last week. This meant that he was free to set his own agenda, which went far beyond extracting an American citizen from a foreign prison. Although the release of John Yettaw enabled him to declare his visit a “success,” it was, in fact, only incidental to his mission, the real purpose of which was to set the stage for US engagement with Burma’s pariah regime.

Webb, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is a prominent critic of US sanctions on Burma who has long argued that they are counterproductive to political progress in the country and not conducive to American interests. It came as no surprise, then, that the Burmese junta welcomed him with open arms.

Although Webb’s objective was clear, the message sent by his visit was not. Coming soon after a junta-controlled court sentenced Yettaw to seven years imprisonment for illegally entering the home of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Webb’s visit blurred the line between “engaging” the regime and rewarding it for egregious behavior.

Certainly, the regime came away from this as the big winner. Webb’s visit and Yettaw’s subsequent release gave the junta an undeserved opportunity to crow about its respect for “the rule of law, as well as humanitarianism and human rights,” at a time when its crackdown on opposition groups continues unabated. It also provided a convenient way to dispose of a pawn that had served its purpose—to prevent Suu Kyi’s participation in next year’s elections.

However, the real danger of Webb’s mixed message is not that it provides fodder for the regime’s propaganda machine, but that the generals themselves may actually see his visit as a vindication of their perverse notions of justice. Since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested in July that the US might be ready to relax sanctions in exchange for Suu Kyi’s release, the generals have been carefully gauging US reactions to their behavior to see how much, or how little, they will have to concede to improve bilateral relations. At this stage, they probably believe that it will take very little to make Washington happy.

It also doesn’t help that Webb, who was allowed a rare meeting with Suu Kyi, got her message wrong, too. Although he claimed that she agreed with him that Burma needed to “interact” more with the West, her lawyer said that her real emphasis was on the need for interaction among Burmese—in other words, she reiterated her longstanding call for dialogue between the opposition and the regime.

If Webb wants to help Burma, he needs to send an unequivocal message to the regime that Washington will not be satisfied with anything less than the release of the country’s 2,100 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi. If he’s not prepared to make that demand, he should congratulate himself on the “success” of his mission, and leave it at that.

21 August 2009

READ MORE---> Webb’s Tangled Message...

Recent Posts from Burma Wants Freedom and Democracy

Recent posts from WHO is WHO in Burma


The Nuke Light of Myanmar Fan Box
The Nuke Light of Myanmar on Facebook
Promote your Page too