Beijing calls for restraint; Seoul impatient
The USS George Washington leaves its base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Wednesday morning. (Hirotaka Kawakami)
China has been urging restraint in dealing with the exchange of artillery fire between the two Koreas on Tuesday, but Seoul is showing signs of impatience with Pyongyang's ally.
Washington indicated it was still hoping Beijing would use its influence over North Korea to bring it into line.
But the United States and South Korea agreed to hold a joint military exercise in the Yellow Sea near Daeyeonpyeongdo island, which was hit by North Korean artillery fire, killing four people. The inclusion of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington in the exercise is seen as a subtle U.S. message to China that it has not done enough to rein in North Korea.
China has consistently criticized the presence of any U.S. Navy ships in the Yellow Sea.
South Korea had previously been cautious about holding such joint exercises in the Yellow Sea. It had also stressed stronger economic ties with China as a way of encouraging Beijing to help resolve issues related to North Korea.
However, with the possibility of an escalation in the conflict with North Korea still present, South Korea appears unwilling to wait for Beijing to take action.
"Look at China," a high-ranking South Korean government official said. "It is prepared to listen to what North Korea has to say even in this artillery attack. China cannot be trusted."
Diplomatic sources in Seoul said if North Korea continued to take provocative measures, South Korea would likely move further away from China and toward the United States.
South Korean officials said Thursday that China postponed a visit to Seoul by Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that was scheduled to begin Friday.
In addition, South Korea has indicated it would not formally seek to have the artillery attack taken up at the United Nations Security Council. China, with its veto power on the council, has watered down or blocked resolutions against North Korea's belligerence in the past.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei issued a statement Wednesday that said, "We are opposed to all acts that damage peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."
Piao Jianyi, a professor specializing in matters related to the Korean Peninsula at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was quoted in the Chinese media as saying: "It is still too early to criticize the side that carried out the first attack. South Korea was conducting a military exercise."
But frustration among Chinese officials seeking a resumption of the six-party talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program was evident in other media reports.
"The artillery attack was a disgrace to the diplomacy (of China) that had spent so much energy on the issue," the Global Times said in an editorial Wednesday.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Wednesday that discussions would be held with Chinese officials on the North Korean issue in the near future.
"China is pivotal to moving North Korea in a fundamentally different direction," Crowley said. "China, together with the United States and other countries, have to send a clear, direct, unified message that it is North Korea that has to change."
However, the fundamental stance of Beijing continues to be one of seeking stability in North Korea through economic cooperation rather than increasing pressure in the form of sanctions.
The two visits to China this year by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il underscore the close ties between the two neighbors.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, considered by many to be the future successor to President Hu Jintao, attended a ceremony in late October in North Korea to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, which he described as a "war of justice to stand up against an invasion."
Xi made the remark despite knowing it would aggravate South Korea.
On Tuesday, when the artillery fire was exchanged, delegations from North Korea and China signed an agreement in Pyongyang on economic and trade cooperation.
While China continues to urge restraint, it is unclear how it will react to the joint U.S.-South Korea naval exercise in the Yellow Sea scheduled to begin Sunday.
"We are resolutely opposed to any act by a foreign naval vessel in the Yellow Sea that could affect China's national security," a high-ranking Chinese Foreign Ministry official said.
Suu Kyi says compromise needed
BY TAKESHI FUJITANI CORRESPONDENT
Aung San Suu Kyi (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
BANGKOK--Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said both her own movement and the country's military junta would have to compromise in any effort to build a democratic Myanmar (Burma).
Aung San Suu Kyi made her comments in a telephone interview with The Asahi Shimbun on Wednesday from her home in Yangon (Rangoon).
Aung San Suu Kyi indicated that she was prepared to take a more flexible stance on issues that have led in the past to confrontation with the military junta, including its refusal to allow the results of the 1990 election to stand and the new Constitution implemented by the junta.
"If one believes in dialogue, one has to believe in compromise as well," Aung San Suu Kyi said.
The interview came 11 days after Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest.
"During the last 10 days or so since I was released, it has become quite clear that people are absolutely reaching for change," she said.
She said the military junta had recognized the necessity of at least presenting the appearance of moving toward democracy. The recent elections, though they were criticized for being unfair, demonstrated that recognition.
When asked about divisions within the pro-democracy movement before those elections, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was committed to cooperation.
"If you believe in democracy, you have to accept that there is such a thing as diversity," she said. "We have to try to bring about democratic institutions and democratic practices, which will make it possible for us to disagree without upsetting the whole nation."
Asked about relations with other nations, Aung San Suu Kyi said she would seek greater dialogue with China and India, Myanmar's powerful neighbors.
She said there would also be a need to assess the effect of economic sanctions imposed by the West, and that calls could be made to revise the sanctions regime.
She said that the Japanese public were much more supportive of the democracy movement in Myanmar than their government. "We always think that the Japanese government could contribute more," she said.
She said she had applied to the Myanmar government for permission to access the Internet from her home. She said she wanted to use Facebook to get in touch with young people across the world.
Following is a full text of the interview:
* * *
Question: You were able to meet your son. At the same time, there are 2,000 people being detained and who do not have access to their families. Could you share your thoughts on the situation facing those people?
Answer: I'm so glad that you asked this question. This is precisely what I want to say. I very much appreciate the fact that the authorities issued a visa to my son so he could come to see me, and I would like them to do everything they can to make it possible for all those families who have been separated because of the arrest of members of the family to be able to come together again happily.
Q: How do you feel about the younger generation? Maybe it's the first time they saw you, the real Aung San Suu Kyi. Did you expect this kind of crowd, with so many young people, to come to see you and cheer you?
A: It is different from previous occasions when there have been fewer young people in the crowd, but I can't say it is a total surprise because there have always been young people. It was the increasing numbers that I found very invigorating and encouraging. I'm very, very happy that there have been more young people getting involved in the political process.
Q: On the subject of this political process, you have emphasized repeatedly that civilian participation is a must and that without it, nothing can be achieved. I would like to ask what is your plan or platform to get those voices involved?
A: Well, we have started in a very practical way. First, we started by meeting with some of the independent candidates who have contested the elections, because they too are part of our citizen body, if you like. And just because you do not belong to a political party, it does not mean we cannot work together. At the same time, we are trying to strengthen our social services, our humanitarian projects. In that way, we get to be in closer touch with the people, and people will learn to help themselves. We want to help them to help themselves, and at the same time we would wish them to help us to achieve our political goals, which are the same as theirs.
Q: How can you consolidate these political forces, including the National Democratic Front (NDF)?
A: If you believe in democracy, you have to accept that there is such a thing as diversity. I do not think that there is any country in the world, however democratic, where everybody agrees. After all, in your country, too, there are many political parties. And after many, many years of democracy in practice, they still are not agreed on every point. So I think one has to accept that there will always be disagreement because that is only human. But, at the same time, we have to try to bring about democratic institutions and democratic practices, which will make it possible for us to disagree without upsetting the whole nation. You should understand that disagreement does not mean that you tear the nation apart. You talk away your disagreement, and sometimes you simply have to agree or disagree.
Q: You emphasize national reconciliation. Does that include the junta? How would you expect them to have dialogue with you?
A: Diversity is not something that comes easily to the military mind-set. But, at the same time, even this regime, as we have noticed, has had to say that they are working for democracy, even if they do qualify it by saying "disciplined democracy." So the trend in this world is such today that, at least nominally, even dictators have to accept that the democratic rule is the most desirable one. Well, that's the first step: the fact that they have to accept that democracy is desirable, even if they do try to qualify it in some way or the other. And then, of course, when people keep asking me, "How can you achieve reconciliation with them when there are so many differences," my answer is that it is particularly because of these differences that we have to try to achieve reconciliation. There are differences to be reconciled. If there were no differences, then there would be no need for reconciliation.
Q: Have you had any contact from them so far?
A: We have not, no, if you mean high-level contact from them, we haven't had any of this at all.
Q: If look back at the past 20 years, I wonder if it is too optimistic to expect some kind of compromise?
A: Oh, I'm very sure that I'm a cautious optimist. And I think there is a strong reason for at least cautious optimism, because the people are so desirous of change. And over the last ... well, it's more than 7 days now I think since I was released ... during the last 10 days or so since my release, it has become quite clear that people are absolutely reaching for change.
Q: Would you like to talk to Senior General Than Shwe?
A: Oh, I would like to talk to anybody who is in the position to try to institute genuine change.
Q: What is the bottom line for you? You have big differences in terms of the result of 1990's elections and also the Constitution, are you ready to make some kind of compromise on these particular points?
A: If one believes in dialogue, one has to believe in compromise as well. If you are not prepared to compromise, then it is no use saying that you want dialogue, because it cannot become a genuine dialogue. But we don't say what the bottom line is, because I think it's very dangerous to go into any negotiations, before there has even been a whisper of an approach to negotiation, by saying this is a bottom line.
Q: Sometimes the media label you as very inflexible, but this sounds very flexible.
A: Well, when the media say that I'm inflexible, I ask them to give me a specific example and then they don't know what to say. So, I have to ask you what you meant by saying I'm inflexible. Please give a specific example? What did I do that you consider inflexible? Usually I get no answer at all.
Q: Then, let me talk about the issue of sanctions. I think you have said previously that you need to study or evaluate the effect of sanctions before making any judgments?
A: Of course, I don't think this should have come as a great surprise, because, after all, about a year ago I made an offer to the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) to talk to them about the removal of sanctions. I said that I was prepared to work together with them to remove sanctions that were hurtful to the people at large. The response was not what we would have wished for. But our feelings on the subject, our stand on the subject, has not changed at all. If sanctions are truly hurting the people, then we must review the situation because we do not want the people to be hurt unnecessarily. But, of course, there are many different opinions about that. Very respectable economic institutions have said that the sanctions have hardly any impact on the economic situation in this country.
Q: Are you aware of any adverse effect on poor people?
A: This is exactly what I'm trying to find out. I have heard that the shutting down of certain textile factories has created a number of job losses. The statistics differ from organization to organization; some say some tens of thousands, some say a hundred thousand. But there is no proof either way that so many people were made jobless. And then, of course, there are some who say that all the women laborers who lost their jobs all became commercial sex workers. That also is open to question. It is not as simple as all that: that every single woman worker who lost a job, became a commercial sex worker. This, to me, sounds like a rather extreme position.
Q: Now, we have a totally different political landscape in the region. One of the factors is China and India, which are emerging powers and are really quite influential in the Burmese economy and Myanmar politics. How would you communicate with them? They haven't had much contact with you.
A: Well, we will have to try talking to them, won't we? (We will have to) persuade them to talk to us in return.
Q: What kind of roles would you expect those (countries) to play?
A: It depends very much on what they are prepared to do and what we might be able to persuade them to do. It's not something that we can decide on our own.
Q: What is your evaluation of the role of so-called Western countries, including Japan, and also the United Nations? At one point you were quite critical of the U.N., as I understand.
A: I think the U.N. should be able to play a bigger role in what is happening in our country, and I think there are many things that we need to discuss on this subject.
Q: What about Japan? Is there anything the Japanese government could contribute?
A: Well, we always think that the Japanese government could contribute more. I find the people of Japan, in general, are far more supportive than the government, although I want to make it quite clear that we do think that this government is doing more than has been done for a long time by other governments. So, we appreciate what they have done to try to help the situation in Burma, but we would still like them to try to do more.
Q: Did you ever have contact with the Japanese Embassy in Yangon during the house arrest, for example?
A: No, not during my house arrest. I don't think it would have been possible for them to contact (me).
Q: Talking a little bit about new technology, at one point you expressed interest in using Twitter, and Facebook. I wonder how you could utilize such digital tools to disseminate your ideas and thoughts?
A: Well, I just want to get in touch with young people from all over the world; not just Burmese people, but young people outside Burma as well. And I thought that Twitter ・of course, you see, I've never used Twitter myself, nor Facebook, because I was not allowed to have the Internet while I was under house arrest, but I've heard of them on the radio, and I thought it might be a good idea to contact young people in this way. But the reaction from most of the Burmese young people was Facebook was easier for them. It was more easily accessible to them. And, anyway, I have applied to the authorities concerned to have an Internet link-up, if you like. You have to ask for permission in Burma, you know? So, I'm waiting to find out if the application will be handled positively.
Q: So you mean that you want to have Internet access at home?
A: I don't have any at all. I've made an application. I'm waiting to find out whether I will be able to have access. It's like that in Burma.
Q: Do you really feel freed now? Do you feel free from worries about house arrest or intimidation?
A: I can't say for certain what will happen and what will not happen. I hope that there will be no more violent incidents of any kind in the future, and I certainly hope that I won't be put back under house arrest, but I cannot guarantee that, because I'm not the one who makes those decisions.
Q: Do you have any plans for you to go outside Rangoon, or even outside the country?
A: Not at the moment, because I haven't even been able to get through the backlog of work in Rangoon.
Q: Do you expect to see big changes in the near future?
A: Well, let's put it this way. We hope that there will be changes for the better, and let's not think of it in terms of "big" or "small" to begin with. Let's just hope that, whatever changes there are, are good ones.
Q: The day before yesterday, the supreme court rejected your appeal about the dissolution of the party. Will this affect your activities in the future?
A: I don't think it will really affect our real standing, because that has to do with the support of the people, which remains very strong. There are two parts to the position of the appeal. It was not an appeal, so they could not have rejected it under the law. This was an original civil case, and that is not open to admission or non-admission. It has to be admitted. So, what we have done is to appeal the decision that this was to be treated like an appeal, rather than as an original case.
Q: Do you think that the National League for Democracy (NLD) is a legitimate institution?
A: The NLD is very much a legitimate institution if we go according to the law. If we do not go according to the law, then of course nothing is legitimate.
Q: Then, your activity will be based on this organization, the NLD?
A: Of course. Certainly. We hope to have a network of people, a movement for democracy, so that we are part of that network, rather than an isolated political party.