Myanmar's Suu Kyi calls for China openness amid clampdown

Reuters News
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Posted: May 30, 2011 7:48 AM
Myanmar's Suu Kyi calls for China openness amid clampdown

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged China's Communist leaders on Monday to be more open and tolerant amidst a heavy clampdown on dissidents and government critics in recent months.

"My message to China's leaders will be very simple," said Suu Kyi who was released after years of house arrest last November by Myanmar's military junta and is widely seen as a voice against political repression worldwide.

"China is a great country, the Chinese people are a great people with a marvelous and long history behind them. They can afford to take more steps, they can afford to be daring, they can afford to allow room for all kinds of opinions," said Suu Kyi during a video conference with an international audience at the University of Hong Kong.

With Myanmar subject to widespread international sanctions, China has remained its biggest economic and political ally and has maintained a no strings investment policy.

Myanmar, a former British colony also known as Burma, is widely considered to have one of the world's most autocratic governments despite releasing Suu Kyi and holding elections last year that were widely criticized as a sham.

Uprisings across the Arab world have made Chinese authorities jittery about any sign of instability and several prominent dissidents have been detained in recent months.

Suu Kyi's comments come days before the 22nd anniversary of a bloody crackdown in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, when Chinese troops were ordered to fire on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The previous year, the military in Myanmar crushed a student-led protest movement.

While any public commemoration of June 4 is banned in mainland China, pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong are gearing up for a candlelight vigil that organizers expect to draw an especially large turnout given the ongoing clampdown.

"I don't think that we should despair," said Suu Kyi. "The Chinese people are so interested in economic progress that they have not quite reached the political side of the matter. I think that will come, and perhaps sooner than people imagine."

As for her own plans, Suu Kyi said she intended to make a trip around Myanmar in the next month or two to meet supporters, but she declined to give details.

On the Middle East uprisings and whether they might hold lessons for Myanmar's long struggle for democracy, Suu Kyi said it was too early to deem such populist uprisings a success, though she said she was against foreign military intervention of the kind seen in Libya.

"This is not something that we particularly want (in Myanmar). What we want to achieve is national reconciliation."

Myanmar's new president Thein Sein, who took office last month, is seen as a stooge for former junta supremo Than Shwe and analysts expect little change.

Western governments are pressing for reforms and the release of hundreds of political prisoners in Myanmar.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)