KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Giant Asian neighbours India and China must take a greater role in pushing military-ruled Myanmar towards political reform, a group of Southeast Asian lawmakers said on Monday.
The United States, the European Union and Japan have sanctions in place against Myanmar, but the junta has avoided total isolation by using its vast natural gas reserves to befriend energy-hungry China and India.
“All of us — ASEAN, China and India — will benefit from genuine reforms in Myanmar, just as all of us will suffer if Myanmar’s situation continues to deteriorate,” Charles Chong, a Singapore lawmaker, told a meeting in the Malaysian capital where deputies are gathered for an ASEAN interparliamentary assembly.
“It is in our individual and collective interests to work together to motivate the Myanmar authorities to act more responsibly.”
Some pro-democracy activists blame China and India for the failure of efforts to isolate the military regime.
Beijing has been a long-time supporter of Yangon, selling it arms worth millions of dollars, buying large amounts of timber and minerals and exploring energy projects there.
New Delhi supported opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in the early 1990s, but altered tack to court the military regime in what some analysts see as a strategy to counter China.
It has invested in developing ports, building roads and railways and is also competing with Beijing for Myanmar’s oil and gas reserves. Yangon is also helping New Delhi fight militants across the border in India’s troubled northeast.
Critics say a plan by Myanmar’s generals to draft a new constitution and eventually hold elections is a sham aimed at entrenching military control of the country’s 54 million people.
“The Myanmar authorities have been intimidating ethnic groups to go along with a proposed constitution that will give the military control over the future parliament and government,” said Malaysian lawmaker Zaid Ibrahim.
“This is worsening tensions in the country,” said Zaid, who is president of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus on Myanmar. “Even China is getting concerned that war may break out along the China-Myanmar border during next year’s Olympics.”
Ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations last month urged Myanmar to restore democracy and release political detainees, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
An estimated 1,100 political prisoners are believed to be behind bars in the former Burma. Suu Kyi, 62, has now been confined for more than 11 of the past 17 years. Her latest detention began in 2003.