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Myanmar marred by double standards, dodgy analysis

THOSE who claim to speak with authority about Myanmar invariably speak through their backside.

The best that can be done to assess that nation’s affairs is to check what the handful of decent observers suggest, then postulate possible interpretations.

With that in mind, let’s recap recent events involving Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi (her name is pronounced “Su Chee” and her British chums just call her Sue).

Having interviewed her at length, I regard her much like Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra.

She has the same intelligence and steely determination, combined with a stubborn streak that makes divergent views hard to accept.

Still, whatever her virtues and vices, she deserves to play a leading role in the modern nation that her father, General Aung San, founded.

And it now looks like she may indeed play such a role – and play it with the tacit approval, if not open endorsement, of the newly elected, but militarily dominated, government.

Earlier this month, she announced she would travel outside Yangon to address her supporters and make political speeches.

It was a provocative move, as her party, the National League for Democracy, has been outlawed after deciding, at her behest, to boycott last November’s general election.

Yet the authorities reacted in a muted and rather phlegmatic fashion, as if they were following a pre-arranged script designed to find a political rapprochment.

So, in a 36-car convoy with 100 journalists, Suu Kyi went off to Bago, a temple town two hours north of Yangon.

It was big news. Bigger news was that nothing happened, aside from her warm reception by modest crowds.

Some of the sensationalist Western media claimed she had “defied” the authorities by making the trip.

This was nonsense, given that just before setting off, she had met Labour Minister Aung Kyi, and he had not only raised no objections, but had invited her to visit Myanmar’s  new capital, Naypyidaw.

Less than a week later, Suu Kyi did, in fact, have an hourlong confabulation with President Thein Sein up in Naypyidaw. She also met other ministers and senior government officials.

Later, Thein Sein and his wife, Khin Khin Win, had dinner with Suu Kyi at the presidential palace.

There was no defiance or animosity from either side.

So we must ask: What is the reason for this unprecedented overture to the Lady? And why is she embracing it?

For once, we can answer with a smidgeon of confidence.

It concerns the raft of economic sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Myanmar.

For the moment, Suu Kyi still supports them, and Naypyidaw knows they will be lifted only when she gives the word for them to go.

Most Asian countries deplore them and view sanctions as counter-productive, as do many impartial organisations.

Said the International Crisis Group’s regional director, Jim Della-Giacoma: “The political change desired in Myanmar will not come about by the US wagging its finger and imposing more sanctions.”

There is a growing sense that even Suu Kyi now accepts this.

These days, she and Myanmar’s new leaders appear to be trying to upstage each other in being more open and conciliatory.

As well as catering to Suu Kyi’s wishes to travel freely and meet supporters, Naypyidaw’s parliamentarians have now proposed an amnesty for political prisoners.

This contrasts markedly with what happens in Vietnam and Laos, for example.

Last week, Hanoi sentenced Lu Van Bay to four years in jail for peacefully espousing a multi-party system. He was the eighth dissident jailed in less than a month.

No sanctions were imposed on Vietnam.

The West’s horrid double standards make the Myanmar government look honest and trustworthy.

So let us hope the trust is reciprocated and that an accord with Suu Kyi can be reached that leads to the lifting of sanctions.

Then, rich and bounteous Myanmar will be able to thrive again at last.

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