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John Metzler Archive
Friday, August 21, 2009

Webb in Burma: What good are talks with Asian dictators?

PARIS — When a kangaroo court in Rangoon slapped an additional sentence on the already incarcerated pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the world winced. To be sure there was the perfunctory outrage, especially in Europe where French President Nicolas Sarkozy called the sentence on this Nobel laureate “a brutal and unjust verdict.” And the European Union presidency demanded her “immediate freedom without conditions.”

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Yet half a world away in the never-never land of Burma’s socialist republic, the ruling junta felt assured they would ride the most recent ripple of world outrage as much as they survived the near political tsunami wave of condemnation over their blundered and callous handling of foreign aid after a devastating typhoon in May 2008 killed over 100,000 of their own people.

Days after the verdict, the UN Security Council, despite laudable pressures from Britain, France, and the United States, could barely summon a mild verbal rebuke to the Burmese generals. Given strong political resistance by China and Russia, a Council statement (not a resolution) expressed “serious concern” over the court sentence, but could not utter the word “condemnation” as many countries including the U.S. had wanted.

At the time of independence from Britain after WWII, Burma held so much promise. A resource-rich and bountiful land, which could and should have been a model Southeast Asian state, sadly instead, the country slipped into the grip of a military rule whose bizarre blend of socialism, nationalism, self-reliance and corruption, made the country now known as Myanmar, a regime isolated save for a few friends like the People’s Republic of China and North Korea.

Burma which has been under military rule since 1962 plans an staged election next year, without of course the pesky participation of opposition politicians like Suu Kyi who may actually win as did her forces in 1990 before the results were overturned. She has since spent 14 of the past 20 years under house arrest.

Much of the international community has been striving for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and many other political prisoners. In Western Europe, Burma’s tragedy has long been a cause celebre much like the cause of Tibet. Significantly during the Bush Administration, the USA pushed hard for political openness but to little avail. And the United Nations has sent numerous envoys to the Southeast Asian land but with little tangible result.

In early July UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Rangoon to try his diplomatic persuasion skills with the ruling generals. He came back embarrassingly empty handed.

U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Virginia) an Obama confident, recently visited Rangoon to try his hand at unlocking the bizarre maze of Burmese politics. On the one hand Webb succeeded in freeing an imprisoned American John Yettaw, an eccentric who triggered the whole fiasco in the first place by sneaking into Suu Kyi’s residence in May and allowing the Junta the perfect excuse to slam the laureate with a new trial for having broken the terms of her house arrest.

But Webb’s mission to Myanmar by the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs, brings a whole new legitimacy to a sordid regime long shunned by the West for good reason. Though Senator Webb has reflected the Obama Administration’s wish for a more “constructive” American engagement with Burma’s rulers, the aftermath of his dialogue with dictator General Than Shwe now faces a number of hurdles, most especially Aung San Suu Kyi’s vocal and politically active supporters in the USA, Europe, and needless to say Burma itself.

On the other hand, Washington’s opposition to the Junta rests primarily on human rights grounds and its lacking freedoms. Let’s face it, while Burma is a totally wretched regime, it does not really pose a regional danger to its neighbors, nor it does have any historic conflict with the USA, as does say North Korea. But this is not the time to end or ease economic sanctions

But why now? Clearly Washington wants to wean the Rangoon rulers from their political and military dependence on People’s China. This may be wishful thinking. Mainland China has a long border with Burma, and uses the Southeast Asian state as a natural resource entrepot for minerals, rubies and timber, as well as a geopolitical backdoor to the Bay of Bengal. In other words this is Beijing’s neighborhood. It is appallingly naive for Washington to assume otherwise.


John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com.


Comments


I disagree. Burma is not a socialist republic, and never was one. Since the military take over of state power in 1962 or for some in 1958, by the military status conscious power class and dictatorial predatory regime, the ordinary working peoples rights and civil liberties were extinguished in Burma. The United States must continue to stand by the ordinary struggling Burmese, to assist in the restoration of basic human-civil rights and democracy in Burma. The ordinary Burmese have been and are always friends of the American people.

Myo Nyunt      12:47 p.m. / Sunday, August 23, 2009


Mr. Metzler's commentary on "Webb in Burma' summed up the situation perfectly in only 11 paragraphs. Mainly as long as the dictators have China as their big brother and China has Burma's resources (mainly oil & gas), the junta can rule for the next century in the same fashion as they have for the past 40 plus years. With their vast amount of cash on hand and protection from China, the junta can import any commmodity or product to their liking for the sole selfish enjoyment of the junta, and just say "to hell" with our people and this thing called Democracy. Sad situation.

Hank      10:47 p.m. / Saturday, August 22, 2009


Democratic Senator Jim Webb's "success" in getting Yettaw freed over the weekend and flying him out to Bangkok has only demonstrated to the Burmese people that the U.S. may provide lip service but when push comes to shove, it will only watch out for its own (white) citizens. The junta had no problems in "surrendering" Yettaw, he was after all a low level pawn who had already served his purpose. The true queen and chess king in this life or death struggle is Aung San Suu Kyi. They aren't letting her go. All the political prisoners are still in jail and the whole of Burma is also one vast jail.

Kyi May Kaung      9:08 p.m. / Saturday, August 22, 2009

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