Suu Kyi underlines India’s strategic approach to Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmarese pro-democracy leader who was released from seven years of continuous house detention on Nov 13, used her first interview with an Indian media organisation to criticise the world’s largest democracy for its foreign policy towards the military junta-ruled nation.
“I am saddened with India. I would like to have thought that India would be standing behind [the pro-democracy movement]. That it would have followed in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru,” Suu Kyi told the Indian Express on Wednesday.
“I do not oppose relations with the Generals but I hope that the Indian government would talk to us as well. I would like to see talks begin immediately. I would like to see close and friendly relations, like those that have not been seen recently.”
India has developed close ties with Myanmar over the past two decades, largely in reaction to China’s strong presence in the country and New Delhi’s fears that large Chinese investments in the wider region are part of a plan to encircle India in a “string of pearls”.
Suu Kyi’s comments follow similar remarks from U.S. President Barack Obama, who chastened India for shying away from “violations of human rights” during his landmark speech to parliament in New Delhi last month.
“When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed — as in Burma — then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent,” Obama told the assembled lawmakers.
Having initially supported Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, New Delhi shifted its strategy in the early 1990s to court the military regime.
Since then, it has funded the development of a port on the country’s northwestern coast, built roads and railways there, and has supplied arms to Yangon as it competes with Beijing for Myanmar’s oil and gas resources. India, which shares a 1,645-km (1,000-mile) border with Myanmar, is the country’s fourth largest trading partner.
India has also refused to heed calls from other international democratic nations to exert pressure on the military regime. In 2009, India refused to support International Labour Organisation criticisms of forced labour in Myanmar, while in 2007, then-Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee appeared to ignore widespread protests and the tough military crackdown in the country by repeating word-for-word the same speech on the need for closer ties he had delivered earlier that year.
Human rights organisations have said India has “mortgaged its voice on political and human rights issues” for economic gain, while this month former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor wrote that “from standing up for democracy, India had graduated to aiding and abetting the military regime.”
It is an approach that Suu Kyi, who graduated from New Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College and lived in India prior to her return to Myanmar in 1988, hopes to shift away from pure economics:
“I would like India to remember that the two countries have been through thick and thin together. We have fought together against colonialism. It is now time to maintain steady in that direction and encourage a valuable friendship,” she said.
But with Chinese investment in the country soaring to over $8 billion this fiscal year and New Delhi anxious of its rival’s expanding influence in the Indian Ocean region, will India risk its ties with the junta in standing up for democracy?