Sat, May 27, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time to really stand up

Today is the 10th anniversary of the last general elections held in Myanmar, which were won handily by the National League for Democracy (NLD), with 82 percent of the vote. Sadly, the elected parliament has never met, victim of a rapacious military junta which refused to release its grip on the country.

The human rights record of the military regime is abysmal by any standard. The contrast with the charismatic and peace-loving leader of the NLD, Aung San Suu Kyi, could not be greater. For her courageous struggle, Suu Kyi was honored with the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize.

These facts alone should be sufficient for all Taiwanese who cherish their own hard-won human rights and democracy to support the Burmese people in their time of need. But in fact there are also hard-nosed national security considerations that point in the same direction.

Myanmar under the generals is a client state -- some would say a colony -- of China. As such, it provides Beijing with an important lever to increase its influence over Southeast Asia. Collusion with the junta allows China to apply direct pressure on Thailand across that disturbed border. Now that it is a member of ASEAN, Myanmar acts to block any anti-China consensus forming in that group, weakening, for example, the ability of the Philippines and Vietnam to resist Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. Currently, China is constructing a port in Myanmar that will provide the PLA with naval access to the Indian Ocean, flanking ASEAN and challenging Indian influence there.

The emergence of a pro-Western and/or democratic government in Yangon would be a major setback to China's strategy of regional hegemony and a clear benefit for Taiwan. Therefore, national security considerations should prompt Taiwan to consider a more pro-active effort to support Burmese pro-democracy elements. Myanmar is in fact a key fulcrum point, where a modest application of resources by Taiwan could have a magnified return.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the new government have repeatedly said that they will emphasize democracy and human rights in their foreign policy. Such a policy would not only set the government apart from its predecessors, but would earn Taiwan increased respect and understanding from all other democratic countries. As Chen proclaimed in his inaugural address: "We firmly believe that in any time or any corner of the world, the meaning and values of freedom, democracy and human rights cannot be ignored or changed."

Myanmar, being perhaps the most egregious violator of these norms in Asia, would seem an obvious place to make such a new effort, and today's anniversary would be an auspicious day to begin. All it would take to get started would be a simple statement, a telegram or a letter, either from Chen or from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expressing support for Suu Kyi and her cause. We could do worse than to reiterate the recent statement by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "We renew our commitment to Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League of Democracy. As long as you struggle, we will do all we can to assist. And we know that you will not stop struggling until you prevail."

By making such a comment and by following it up consistently, Taiwan can send a message to the world that it plans to live up the ideals that Chen has set forth so clearly. At the same time, Taiwan can take a step toward diminishing the overbearing shadow of Chinese domination in Asia.

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