WATCHING THE WORLD: China courts Myanmar

Jan. 22, 2007
Myanmar has recently been hitting the news, both for its oil and natural gas as well as for alleged human rights abuses.

Myanmar has recently been hitting the news, both for its oil and natural gas as well as for alleged human rights abuses. The two sides of the news meet, of course, since the abuses often involve forced labor or abuse of minorities at oil and gas developments.

Last November, some of these issues came to the fore when the International Labor Organization signaled its intention to take the issue of forced labor in Myanmar to the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, as well as to the United Nations Security Council.

Back then, too, Myanmar had a visit from UN Undersecretary Ibrahim Gambari, who said the country’s generals must take clear steps to demonstrate their interest in cooperating with the international community.

Gambari was granted a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Nobel Prize-winning democracy advocate. She expressed support for deeper UN engagement in Burma, he said, if it could deliver results. He also held what were described as “frank and extensive” talks with Senior General Than Shwe, the country’s ruler.

Gambari gave a mixed review, saying “The outcome of my visit-and the concrete results-are still being awaited” and, “The ball is back in the court of the authorities.”

Authoritarian rules

Well, the authorities in Myanmar have responded, and it is not in any liberal direction, whether for political prisoners or forced labor. It seems they have appealed to countries where their authoritarianism is not an issue.

Last week, the issues discussed by Gambari came to a vote in the UN, and the vote did not go the way he wanted. In fact, China vetoed a US-drafted UN resolution calling on Burma to free political prisoners, move towards democracy, and end attacks against ethnic minorities.

Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador, said, “The Myanmar issue is mainly the internal affair of a sovereign state.” He saw “no need for the Security Council to get involved.”

Before casting what was only Beijing’s fifth veto in UN history, he decried the “arbitrary” highlighting of one country, as “similar problems exist in many other countries as well.”

New contracts

Doubtlessly they do. But it is also noteworthy that just a few days after casting that vote, China was a clear beneficiary as Myanmar signed production-sharing contracts with China National Petroleum Corp. for three offshore blocks: AD-1, AD-6, and AD-8 off the Rakhine coast.

Attending the signing ceremony were a number of Myanmar officials, including Minister for Cooperatives Major Gen. Tin Htut, Minister for Finance and Revenue Major Gen. Hla Tun, Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Brig. Gen. Maung Maung Thein, Minister for Forestry Brig. Gen. Thein Aung, Minister for Electric Power No. 1 Col. Zaw Min, Atty. Gen. U Aye Maung, and Deputy Minister for Energy Brig. Gen. Than Htay.

Kindly note: The Myanmar officials were all military men and mostly generals.