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The court’s decision to extend the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was received with a chorus of condemnation from the international community and governments around the region and beyond.
While the Philippines government called the sentence “incomprehensible” and “deplorable,” the European Parliamentary Caucus on Burma called the military generals “the real criminals.”
However, despite all the disappointment and shock that was expressed, it can be no secret that Tuesday’s verdict was a decision that was made by the junta long ago.
Snr-Gen Than Shwe made up his mind as far back as the 1990s to keep his perceived nemesis, Suu Kyi, under house arrest for as long as he could get away with it.
The general had no doubt prepared for condemnation from abroad. He anticipated it and decided to use the occasion to act arrogantly while speaking magnanimously.
Than Shwe knows only too well how to manipulate the opinion of his friends and foes. He has done it before. Now he can again pat himself on the back when he sees how the international community is divided and has misread the mixed signals of his verdict.
Most predictable of all is China, Than Shwe’s most pragmatic ally.
In reaction to the regime’s decision to prolong Suu Kyi’s house arrest, China on Wednesday urged the international community to respect the decision.
“The international community should fully respect Myanmar’s judicial sovereignty,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.
Indeed, as long as the Burmese military regime sells gas and allows the Chinese to extract Burma’s natural resources while providing them a strategic interest in the Bay of Bengal, China won’t hesitate in backing one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Meanwhile, at a United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday, China successfully drew a halt to an emergency meeting on Burma by refusing to accept the draft proposal of the US government condemning the Burmese junta’s decision. Russia backed China and, although the meeting was postponed until Wednesday, the Security Council was once again rendered ineffective against the regime.
Of course, US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon all issued statements deploring the Rangoon court’s decision.
But Than Shwe won’t be alarmed when he reads the statements from the US and its allies. He would not have expected anything less.
British premier Brown said, “Now comes our greatest test. In the face of this arrogance, we cannot stand by and effectively sanction the abhorrent actions of a violent and repressive junta—but show them that the international community is united and coordinated in its response.”
Brown is correct in pointing out that this is the West’s greatest test with regard to Burma. However, his calls for international unity and an effective arms embargo are political mountains that his government does not look capable of scaling.
Nonetheless, we say “Good luck, Mr Brown!” We hope you can bring down the regime in the process.
In the region, the reaction to the verdict was unsurprisingly mixed. Thailand, as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), expressed its “disappointment” over the court ruling.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia also condemned the verdict, but Singapore, haven of the Than Shwe family and shopping hub for generals’ wives and cronies, took a somewhat hypocritical stance.
The Singaporean foreign ministry expressed “disappointment” at the guilty verdict, but said it was “happy that the Myanmar government has exercised its sovereign prerogative to grant amnesty by halving her [Suu Kyi’s] sentence and that she will be placed under house arrest rather than imprisoned.”
The island state actually praised the regime for being lenient with Suu Kyi as opposed to decrying the bizarre trial and entire charade in the first place.
As though allowing her to read state newspapers and have access to paper when she needs it is compensation for a woman who has given her life for democracy and justice.
Is it too much trouble for Singapore’s leaders to remember back to the killing of monks and activists on the streets of Rangoon in September 2007?
The only political concession Than Shwe has made since then was to cleverly create a new post for labor minister Aung Kyi, making him “minister for relations” to the detained NLD leader. Was it really wishful thinking at the UN and among foreign experts that the regime was moving in the right direction?
After all, such a statement from an authoritarian state like Singapore is a sure sign that Asean is sending a mixed message to the regime.
Let’s face it … Than Shwe has been vindicated again.