Suu Kyi warns of shift to China

The Australian - - WORLD - NAYPYIDAW:

Aides to Aung San Suu Kyi have been warn­ing West­ern am­bas­sadors that their pres­sure on Myan­mar in sup­port of eth­nic Ro­hingya Mus­lims is push­ing the coun­try closer to China — a sign of the re­sis­tance that awaits US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son when he vis­its this week.

Wash­ing­ton and oth­ers are press­ing Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar and its No­bel Prizewin­ning leader to do more to ad­dress a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis caused by a mil­i­tary crack­down on the Ro­hingya that drove more than 600,000 peo­ple across the bor­der into Bangladesh.

Mr Tiller­son in Septem­ber con­demned the “hor­rors that we are wit­ness­ing” in Myan­mar, amid re­ports the mil­i­tary had burned Ro­hingya vil­lages and killed and raped vil­lagers. Pro­posed leg­is­la­tion in the US congress seeks to block the as­sets of mil­i­tary lead­ers and ban their travel.

Mr Tiller­son in­tended to meet lead­ers and of­fi­cials on ac­tions to ad­dress the cri­sis and US sup­port for the demo­cratic tran­si­tion in the for­mer mil­i­tary-ruled coun­try, the State De­part­ment said.

Myan­mar de­nies refugee ac­counts of atroc­i­ties dur­ing the se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions, which came af­ter a Ro­hingya mil­i­tant group at­tacked mil­i­tary out­posts near the bor­der in Au­gust. Ms Suu Kyi’s govern­ment ac­cuses West­ern lead­ers of fall­ing for what they say are bi­ased re­ports.

Ms Suu Kyi’s aides said she would not change course in re­sponse to West­ern sanc­tions. “We are used to be­ing un­der pres­sure — first it was the mil­i­tary, now it’s the West,” said Win Htein, a party leader close to Ms Suu Kyi.

Mr Win Htein said he had told West­ern diplo­mats that if such pres­sure con­tin­ued, “it’s in­evitable” that Myan­mar will move closer to its neigh­bour China.

Bei­jing has been Myan­mar’s most vo­cal de­fender, last week block­ing West­ern ef­forts for a res­o­lu­tion in the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which set­tled for a non­bind­ing state­ment that de­manded an end to vi­o­lent treat­ment of Ro­hingya and ac­cess for hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies. Ms Suu Kyi’s of­fice later thanked those “who up­held the prin­ci­ple of non-in­ter­fer­ence in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of sov­er­eign coun­tries”.

West­ern of­fi­cials said they had failed in dozens of meet­ings to push Ms Suu Kyi’s govern­ment to take steps that would help ease the global out­cry. A West­ern diplo­mat said the US and Europe had lit­tle lever­age be­cause China, Ja­pan, In­dia and other Asian na­tions had in­di­cated they would re­main en­gaged with Myan­mar.

Ad­vis­ers to Ms Suu Kyi said they ex­pected the US to reim­pose some of the re­stric­tions lifted last year af­ter Ms Suu Kyi’s Na­tional League for Democ­racy came to power in Myan­mar’s first free elec­tion in half a cen­tury. The pre­vi­ous sanc­tions were re­moved to en­cour­age Myan­mar’s demo­cratic tran­si­tion. Some US of­fi­cials said they were wor­ried that re­in­stat­ing sanc­tions would un­der­mine that process and de­ter West­ern in­vest­ment that they say could di­lute mil­i­tary in­flu­ence.

Ms Suu Kyi’s aides are also send­ing the mes­sage that sanc­tions could worsen her re­la­tion­ship with the army and cause the gen­er­als to tighten their grip.

Aides said Ms Suu Kyi’s pri­or­ity was to be able to work with the mil­i­tary to achieve long-term goals, which in­clude con­sti­tu­tional change to­wards a fuller democ­racy.

Ms Suu Kyi’s party is op­er­at­ing on the be­lief that mil­i­tary lead­ers ex­pect her to shield them and would see re­newed sanc­tions as a sign of her in­tent to un­der­cut them, ac­cord­ing to a party of­fi­cial and a Suu Kyi ad­viser.

Aides also said Ms Suu Kyi felt be­trayed by the West and had sunk into siege men­tal­ity, re­flect­ing the shift­ing at­ti­tudes of many cit­i­zens who view the US as a preach­ing for­eign power.

“Na­tion­al­ism is go­ing up be­cause our small coun­try is un­der so much pres­sure,” said democ­racy ac­tivist Ko Ko Gyi.

For China, Myan­mar is a strate­gic prize. Gas and oil pipe­lines run through the coun­try to China’s Yun­nan prov­ince. A Chi­nese-led con­sor­tium is in fi­nal­stage talks for a deep­wa­ter port — a key piece of Bei­jing’s Belt and Road in­fra­struc­ture project.

The port would give China ac­cess to the In­dian Ocean, re­duc­ing its de­pen­dence on the nar­row and eas­ily block­aded Strait of Malacca for its oil sup­plies.


Aung San Suu Kyi has de­vel­oped a ‘siege men­tal­ity’

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