US zeroes in on China’s clout in Burma

Brian McCartan
Asia Times online
October 24, 2009

A high-level American delegation will travel to Burma in coming weeks on a fact-finding mission as part of the United States’ new engagement policy with the military ruled country. The talks will center on improving Burma’s human-rights situation and its claimed intention to move towards democracy, but the subtext will be improving diplomatic relations and fostering influence in a country widely viewed as a key regional ally of China.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Kurt Campbell, said on October 21 during hearings before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he will lead a fact-finding trip to Burma in coming weeks to hold discussions with the regime and meet with democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as ethnic group representatives. Campbell said the trip is designed to build momentum behind the policy shift, however, no other details or dates were publicly disclosed.

During the hearings, Campbell reiterated that the new policy does not mean the end of US economic and financial sanctions against the regime and its members. “Our dialogue with [Myanmar] will supplement rather than replace the sanction regimes that have been at the center of our Burma [Myanmar] policy for many years,” he told the committee.

The US says sanctions will only be removed when the regime makes tangible steps towards starting a dialogue with the democratic opposition and ethnic groups, as well as release over 2,000 political prisoners, including Suu Kyi.

There is, however, more to the new policy than mere democracy and human-rights promotion. A desire to build stronger ties with Southeast Asia became clear during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s inaugural tour through Asia in February when she attended the opening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat in Jakarta.

This was followed by her attendance at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Phuket, Thailand, in July. Policy analysts say a major reason for this new gambit is a realization that Chinese influence in the region has blossomed in the past decade while US attention was largely diverted elsewhere, especially on the “war on terror”.

Washington has become increasingly concerned about China’s growing power and influence in the region. While much of the focus has been on China’s rapidly modernizing military and its growing capacity to project power beyond its immediate borders, including towards nearby US ally Taiwan, a quieter competition is emerging between Washington and Beijing for influence in Southeast Asia.

In the late 1990s, China switched to a strategy of improving diplomatic relations and investing heavily in economic and infrastructure development projects in Southeast Asia, a gambit many analysts have referred to as China’s “soft power”. The strategy is a departure from its previous approach to the region which emphasized confrontation and even armed struggle as a way of pushing its interests. Continue reading “US zeroes in on China’s clout in Burma”

Rangoon Institute of Technology) in Burma in July 2009-VDO

I visited former RIT( Rangoon Institute of Technology) in Burma in July 2009.
It was Tuesday..but the university was totally deserted…and ruined…Only a lecture was going on with few students at one classroom (1-3/16).
It was the sad reflection of how our education system in Burma is badly neglected today…
I took some photo and video share with all ex-RITians..

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) will expand its operations in Burma

Chinese energy firm to expand exploration
Rangoon (Mizzima) – The China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) will expand its operations in Burma, christening three new drilling wells off the gulf of Martaban, according to an informed source within the energy sector.

The corporation, China’s third largest national oil company, will undertake exploration from November 1st to December 31st, investing more than US$40 million in the process, the source added.

The operation is located at an offshore block named M-10, bordering to the south of the M-12 and M-13 blocks, site of the Yetagon natural gas field, and to the east of M-9, a commercially viable gas deposit uncovered by Thailand’s PTTEP.

The source said a similar well was drilled at the same block in early last year but, while finding a gas deposit, was deemed not commercially feasible.

CNOOC is one of the major investors in Burma’s oil and gas sector, operating in five onshore and offshore blocks.

So far, four Chinese oil companies – SNOPEC, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), CNOOC and Chinnery Assets – are active in a total of ten onshore and offshore blocks in Burma.

According to official figures, as of March 31, 2009, China has invested $1.33 billion into Burma’s economy and infrastructure, with the oil and gas sector placing third in the list with investment of $124 million dollars – while the mining sector ranks as the most prominent target of Chinese development funds, claiming some $866 million dollars of the sum.

Myanmar let off hook again

HUA HIN (Thailand) – ASIAN leaders barely mentioned Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at a weekend summit, making a mockery of the region’s grand claims for its new rights body, analysts said.

Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which includes Myanmar, devoted just three lines to the military-ruled nation’s political situation in the nine pages of their final declaration.

While the statement called for elections promised by the junta in 2010 to be ‘fair, free, inclusive and transparent”, it made no mention of the opposition leader, who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years.

The summit at the Thai resort of Hua Hin opened with the inauguration of Asean’s first human rights body, hailed by members as ‘historic’ but widely derided by activists, given the lack of action on Myanmar.

‘The whole thing is a bit of a farce,’ David Mathieson, a Myanmar expert at Human Rights Watch, told AFP. ‘There were pretty low expectations for the human rights commission and Asean has probably fulfilled these expectations. There’s no way Asean can maintain any credibility while kowtowing to the Burmese leaders.’

Burma is Myanmar’s former name. Suu Kyi had her house arrest extended in August for 18 months after she was convicted over an incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her home and it effectively keeps her out of the way for next year’s elections. –

Myanmar could ease Suu Kyi detention: Japanese official

Myanmar’s prime minister told Asian counterparts on Saturday that the ruling junta could relax the conditions of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention, a Japanese official said.
The Nobel Peace laureate had “softened” her attitude towards the military regime since her house arrest was extended in August for a further 18 months, the official quoted Myanmar premier Thein Sein as saying.

But while Thein Sein announced at a regional summit in Thailand that Myanmar also wants elections next year to be “inclusive”, he would not say if Suu Kyi would be allowed to participate, the official said.

“(Myanmar’s government) believes that Aung San Suu Kyi seems to have softened her attitude towards the authorities,” Japanese delegation spokesman Kazuo Kodama quoted Thein Sein as telling leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China, Japan and South Korea.

Kodama said that the Myanmar regime “thinks if Aung San Suu Kyi maintains a good attitude it is possible that the Myanmar authorities will relax the current measures.

“The Myanmar government is… Making preparations to make (next year’s) election (an) inclusive election. The Myanmar government would like to ensure all the stakeholders will take part in such a process.

Burma generals signal flexibility on Suu Kyi

There are signs that the beleaguered government in Burma is warming to new approaches from western governments, with Asian diplomats reporting that the generals are willing to consider releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who marks 14 years under house arrest on Sunday.

Kazuo Kodama, the official spokesman for Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, said Thein Sein, the Burmese prime minister, had told an Asian summit being held in Thailand that restrictions on Ms Suu Kyi may be relaxed.

“She is under house arrest and the prime minister [said] if she continues to take a good attitude then it is possible that there will be a relaxation of the measures on her,” said Mr Kodama.

Ms Suu Kyi has hinted that she might be willing to lend her moral support to the general’s efforts to have western sanctions lifted, a political gambit which won her a rare visit with western diplomats earlier this month.

Mr Kodama also said that the Burmese authorities had said that next year’s controversial elections had to be inclusive while ensuring the maintenance of law and order.

”The Myanmar [Burma] government would like to ensure that all stakeholders will take part in such a process,” he said. Continue reading “Burma generals signal flexibility on Suu Kyi”