18 August 2003
Senior Chinese officials say Beijing will strengthen ties to Burma. The move is in stark contrast to Western efforts to isolate Burma's military government over its continued detention of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Guo Boxiong, the vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, said Beijing wants tighter relations with Burma. The announcement came on the second day of a visit to China by the second-in-command of Burma's military government, General Maung Aye.
Beijing does not support international pressure on Burma to release democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma has detained the Nobel Peace laureate in an undisclosed location since May 30 and has essentially shut down operations of her National League for Democracy party. The United States and the European Union reject Rangoon's claim the detention is for Aung San Suu Kyi's personal safety. They and several countries have also imposed new sanctions on Burma. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also pushed for her release.
Political Science Professor Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says the pressure may have little effect. "Burma does not care too much about Western pressure," said Prof. Chayachoke. "This is more of an age-old hatred toward Western countries since the colonial period."
China's diplomatic relations with Burma stretch back 50 years. Beijing says it will not interfere with Burma's handling of Aung San Suu Kyi, calling her detention "an internal affair," using language that echoes China's position on its own detention of dissidents.
On Saturday, China agreed to lend Burma $200 million, indicating a willingness to put its economic clout behind its support of the government. But the situation may not simply be one of China and Burma versus the West: Beijing is also reported to support a Thai government plan to secure Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom, and put Burma on a path to democratic rule.