The ‘None’ Outcome of Gambari’s Visit in Myanmar?

Updated On: Oct 05, 2007

Flush with the apparent success of its crackdown on the protestors, the Myanmar government has now gone on the offensive to show the international community that it is still very much in control.  

BBC world news reported late Thursday that the Myanmar state media announced that Senior General Than Shwe has even agreed in principle to enter into dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi if she “dropped her support for international sanctions” and adopt a “non-confrontational” attitude.

Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday (1 October) was defiant and said that his government is the victim of an international neocolonial effort to derail Myanmar’s goal of establishing a ‘disciplined democracy.’ He said, “When protesters ignored their warnings…..  [government forces] had to take action to restore the situation. Normalcy has now returned to Myanmar.”

Furthermore, there is also scepticism over the results of United Nations (UN) special envoy Ibrahim Gambari’s mission to Myanmar. Although Gambari was able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, General Than Shwe as well as other government leaders, he did not seem to have accomplished much. 

Gambari was kept waiting for four days for an audience with Senior General Than Shwe and his deputies in the isolated bunkered capital Naypyidaw. He was also taken to a pro-government rally by Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu before meeting Senior General Than Shwe.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday in New York that Gambari, had delivered ‘the strongest possible message’ to Myanmar's military leaders about their bloody crackdown on democracy activists. However, he acknowledged that four-day trip could not be called ‘a success.’ Gambari is to brief Ban on Thursday. Ban will then discuss Myanmar with the Security Council on Friday.

Razali Ismail, the former UN envoy to Myanmar warned that ASEAN needed to do more on the Myanmar problem. He said, “The problem isn’t going to be solved by making statements and following them up at the next Asean conference,” Instead, “Asean should seriously consider sending its own observer to Myanmar. That will turn up the heat on the military rulers and help the UN efforts.” A former Singaporean diplomat, Barry Desker has gone a step further and urged the other ASEAN members to suspend Myanmar’s membership in Myanmar. After all, Myanmar has neither been effective within ASEAN nor in ensuring Myanmar’s economic development.

Previous UN envoys has had limited success.  Tan Sri Razali, who served for six years as UN point man in Myanmar under former secretary-general Kofi Annan, resigned from his position in January 2006, in frustration after being denied a visa to visit Myanmar for 23 months in a row.

Kyaw Zwa wrote a commentary in the Irrawaddy criticising the UN for allowing the UN to be used as a propaganda tool by the military junta.

Only the Chinese seem somewhat positive. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, “China has made its efforts to support the mediation efforts of the UN Secretary General and his Special Envoy. We feel gratified for the results achieved by Gambari's visit.”

Myanmar’s domestic problems are spilling over to China as the latter is coming under increasing pressure to use its diplomatic influence in Myanmar to push the junta. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have urged their respective governments to boycott the Olympics hosted by China unless China intervenes in Myanmar.

This strategy has obviously touched a raw nerve. The spokesman for the Chinese Embassy at Washington, Wang Baodong, held a press conference making a strong statement that linking the two (Myanmar and Olympics) is ‘totally irresponsible.’ He explained that the Olympics is based on ‘non-politicalization,’ and that China's “consistent stance is that irrelevant issues should not be linked to the Beijing Olympic games.”

The Chinese government is most reluctant to intervene directly in Myanmar lest it sets precedence for other pressures both domestically and internationally.  It is also doubtful as to how useful “intervention” can be though there is perhaps more room for using its influence to get the political process going.  As Steve Tsang points out in his commentary in the Straits Times (‘Rising China Faces Myanmar Challenge’), ‘any change of regime in Myanmar will not be the result of international intervention, but of political negotiations between the junta and its domestic opponents. China should thus recognise that using its influence would not imply accepting as a matter of principle intervention in other countries’ domestic affairs.’

Another commentator, Bernt Berger noted that, “If China appears now as a progressive force toward influencing political change in Myanmar, potential future democratic governments will be less likely to exclude Beijing from their list of preferred trading partners.” For its own and the people of Myanmar’s interest, China should do something on Myanmar

Elsewhere, in Brussels, the European Union agreed to expand sanctions against the military regime. Extra sanctions would include an expanded visa ban for members of the military junta, a wider ban on investment and a ban on trade in metals, timber and gemstones but the new measures do not include a specific ban on European oil and gas companies from doing business in Myanmar.  (4 October 2007)


Burma sets conditions for Suu Kyi (BBC World News online, 4 October 2007)

Myanmar Junta Steps Up Propaganda Machine; U.N. Chief Says Envoy's Trip Was Not A Success (Associated Press, 4 October 2007)

Junta blames political opportunists for crisis (The Nation, 4 October 2007)

China Applauds UN Special Envoy's Myanmar Visit: FM Spokesman (Xinhua News, 4 October 2007)

Suspend Myanmar from Asean (Straits Times, 4 October 2007)

Monks ‘Trying to Escape Rangoon’ (BBC News, 3 October 2007)

UN Envoy Tightlipped About Democracy MissionIn Myanmar (Dow Jones, 3 October 2007)

Former UN Envoy Urges Asean To Turn Up The Heat(Straits Times, 3 October 2007)

UN EnvoyMyanmarLeader Meet As Crackdown Continues (Straits Times, 3 October 2007)

Why China Has It Wrong On Myanmar (Asia Times, 3 October 2007)

UN Getting Nowhere With The Generals (IPS, 2 October 2007)

China Rejects Attempt To Link Developments In Burma To Beijing Olympics (Washington Post, 2 October 2007)

Rising China Faces Myanmar Challenge (Straits Times, 29 September 2007)

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