China rejects call for action against Burma as Suu Kyi meets junta

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The Independent Online

China has rebuffed international demands to take tougher action against the Burmese regime, saying the recent demands for democracy and their violent repression by the authorities were issues that had to be resolved by Burma's "own people".

The rejection of the UN's request came as the imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi met a representative of the regime for the first time in several years.

While the Chinese authorities told UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari they were prepared to support the international community, they made clear they were only prepared to put limited pressure on its neighbour, an increasingly important source of oil and gas.

"The Myanmar [Burma] issue, after all, has to be appropriately resolved by its own people and government through their own efforts of dialogue and consultation," state councillor Tang Jiaxuan told Mr Gambari. "The international community should provide constructive help for that end and should not only stick to imposing sanctions and pressure."

Campaigners say China, and to a lesser extent, India, hold the key to putting pressure on Burma, but that the two countries have been reluctant to antagonise the regime for fear they will lose potential energy deals. This week the Labour MEP Glenys Kinnock, who has twice met Ms Suu Kyi, said: "China funds the Burmese regime, arms the regime, and protects it from international pressure. It is China that holds the key to Aung San Suu Kyi's freedom and the freedom of the people of Burma."

But China shows little sign of moving. A report published this week by a group representing the Kachin indigenous people of Burma, said that work had started on a 152m-high dam on the Irrawaddy river that the Chinese are building for the Burmese regime. The report, by the Kachin Development Networking Group, said the project would transmit electricity to China and potentially generate over $500m (£1bn) a year. It said the social and environmental costs to the Burmese people would be considerable.

India has also made clear it is not prepared to act. "We have shared our views and we have commonality of the approach, and let the process which began in Myanmar for the political reforms and national reconciliation, let it be taken to its logical conclusion," the Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said yesterday.

One possible hint of progress came yesterday when Ms Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), met the regime's newly appointed liaison minister, Aung Kyi, for an hour. The retired general has been given the task of speaking with the 62-year-old democracy leader and creating "smooth relations" with her.