Aung San Suu Kyi and Dalai Lama visit puts China in focus
In November 2010, the Dalai Lama hailed the release of Burmese pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi as a positive and “good” move by the military junta. “Hopefully she can carry on her work without restrictions,” he said. Then he aired an interesting afterthought: “After all Burma’s a Buddhist country and I’m sure its military leaders are also Buddhist. In their political work they should carry the Buddhist principle of compassion.”
Now, the Tibetan and the Burmese – both Nobel peace prize winners – find themselves in the same place at the same time. The Dalai Lama is in London for his sought-after lectures that have become an annual feature of life in the British capital. Aung San Suu Kyi is returning to the UK after 24 years in Burma, 15 of them spent under house arrest.
The parallels are striking between a man who was forced to flee from his home in 1959 and has not been allowed to return, and a woman who was an internal exile in her homeland.
The twin shadows of China and one-party rule will loom over their visit. The Dalai Lama will be speaking on ‘The Values of Democracy and Tibet’ in an address to students and others at Westminster University. Suu Kyi will be kicking off her tour with a roundtable discussion on the rule of law at the London School of Economics. She will also address joint sitting of the two house of parliament – an honour usually reserved for heads of state.
Given the context of their respective struggles, both the topics – democracy and the rule of law – are sensitive and a reminder the iron grip of the military in Burma and the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. So far, the military junta in Rangoon has kept quiet about Suu Kyi’s visit (although it remains to be seen how they respond once she is back in Burma).
Not so China. Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama, prompting Beijing to freeze diplomatic exchanges with Britain. British officials visiting Beijing are reported to have been snubbed.
On the current visit, the Chinese protested a decision by the city council of Leeds to invite the Dalai Lama to address the Yorkshire International Business Convention. China has selected Leeds as the official training city for Chinese athletes for the London Olympics. Some 200 Chinese athletes are expected to train in this northern English city but the BBC reported that Chinese officials had warned they might move their athletes to another city if the Dalai Lama address went ahead.
In the event, Leeds Council stood its ground and the Dalai Lama’s speech went ahead despite the reported Chinese threat.
Suu Kyi has not mentioned China in her speeches and comments so far, but there are plenty of references. She made a strong plea for multinational oil and gas companies to be mindful of ethical considerations when investing in Burma’s oilfields. She told the International Labour Organization in Geneva that she favoured “democracy-friendly growth” – i.e investments that would promote democracy in Burma by making sure they benefited the larger population, rather than the “already privileged few.”
She wants oil companies to pressure the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise to sign up to the IMF’s code of conduct for financial transparency – and for these companies themselves to adhere to the code. She told a news conference that it was impossible to evaluate the merits of Myanmar’s oil and gas alliance with China without knowing the terms of the pipeline contracts signed with China’’ state-owned CNPC.
“A lack of transparency has led to all kind of suspicions and that sets up trouble for the future,” she said.