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21 May 2009

EU wants China to pressure Myanmar

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The European Union may ask China to pressure Myanmar’s military junta to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces five more years in detention after being held for 13 of the past 19 years, Bloomberg News reported.

Suu Kyi, 63, went on trial two days ago, accused by the government of violating a house-arrest order for sheltering an American for two days. She was detained after her National League for Democracy won a landslide election victory in 1990, only to be denied power by the military in the country, formerly known as Burma.

The 27-nation EU, which outlaws weapons sales to Myanmar, curbs financing for its state-run companies and won’t allow junta leaders to visit Europe, wants Asian powers such as China and India to pressure Myanmar’s ruling generals to free Suu Kyi.

EU officials may ask their Chinese counterparts including Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to use their influence with Myanmar’s junta when they meet to discuss EU-China ties Wednesday in Prague.

“We have to reinforce the dialogue with Burma’s neighbors,” said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external relations commissioner who will participate in the summit. “It should at least be always a discussion point with China, with India and with others.”

The EU agreed to “investigate more sanctions” against Myanmar, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on May 18 after foreign ministers met in Brussels.

The annual EU-China meeting was originally set to take place last December but was canceled because French President Nicholas Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader.

While relations between the EU and China have warmed since then, the reaction in the region to Suu Kyi’s trial has been muted so far and the bloc’s demands for the Chinese government to pressure Myanmar may fall on deaf ears.

“Myanmar’s issue should be decided by the people of Myanmar,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told reporters in Beijing yesterday. “As a neighbor of Myanmar, we hope that relevant parties in Myanmar can realize reconciliation, stability and development through dialogue.”

Opposition activists say the junta is looking for a legal pretext to keep Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in detention when her current house-arrest order expires in two weeks. They want China, India and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, to use their economic influence to pressure the junta.

Along with the Myanmar issue, the EU and China will also present their cases on a Copenhagen climate deal, though no changes are expected in either side’s position.

They will also sign partnership agreements on research and technology and a memorandum of understanding on a 10 million-euro ($14 million) clean-energy facility for China.

At high-level talks in Brussels earlier this month, EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan agreed that trade and investment will lead the way to economic recovery.

Trade volume between the two countries grew to more than 326 billion euros last year, according to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, and the EU is the top destination for exports of Chinese goods such as shoes and textiles.






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