China, Japan Join to Help End Myanmar Crisis
BEIJING – Myanmar's deadly military crackdown prompted protests and warnings from the reclusive nation's Asian neighbors, with China and Japan agreeing Friday to join efforts to help end the strife.
Southeast Asian nations issued a statement expressing "revulsion" over the violence and urged the military government to seek a political solution. Officials in neighboring Thailand said airplanes were on standby to evacuate foreigners in case the condition deteriorated.
In Geneva, diplomats said the U.N. Human Rights Council would call an emergency session on Myanmar after a petition led by Western countries gained the support of one third of the body's 47 nations.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said he agreed in a phone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao to work together on international efforts to solve the crisis.
"I asked that China, given its close ties with Myanmar, exercise its influence (to help solve the current crisis) and Premier Wen said he will make such efforts," Fukuda told reporters in Tokyo on Friday.
China is Myanmar's main economic and political ally, while Japan is its largest aid donor.
At least 10 people have been killed in two days of violence in Myanmar's largest cities, including a Japanese cameraman who was shot when soldiers with automatic rifles fired into crowds demanding an end to 45 years of military rule.
Exile groups say the toll could be much higher.
Daily demonstrations that started Aug. 19 have grown into the stiffest challenge to the ruling generals in two decades.
Hundreds of people have been arrested, snatched from their beds at night or pummeled with batons, witnesses and diplomats said, with the junta ignoring international appeals for restraint.
The crackdown puts China in a bind. Its communist government has developed close diplomatic ties with junta leaders and is a major investor in Myanmar. But with the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, China is eager to fend off criticism that it shelters unpopular or abusive regimes.
China has so far refused to intervene, calling the protests an internal affair that didn't threaten regional or global stability, the criteria for action by the U.N. Security Council.
However, Peking University Southeast Asia expert Liang Yingming said China needed a stable Myanmar to ensure order on its southern flank and the delivery of oil supplies via a cross-border pipeline.
"China's diplomacy is more pragmatic. They are concerned mainly about securing a government that is friendly toward China to protect their interests in Myanmar."
However, Liang said the international community may be overestimating China's influence over the regime, echoing earlier statements by Chinese academics and diplomats.
China's Foreign Ministry on Friday issued a notice urging citizens traveling to Myanmar to exercise caution and reconsider their travel plans. A woman who answered the phone at the ministry's news division said she did not know of any plans to evacuate Chinese citizens from Myanmar.
In New York on Thursday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is one of ten members, said the group's foreign ministers "were appalled " by the violence.
"They expressed their revulsion to Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win," the statement said.
Japan said Friday it would press Myanmar for a full explanation of the death of 50-year-old APF News journalist Kenji Nagai during the crackdown Thursday. But the government said it has not decided to suspend humanitarian aid to the impoverished country.
The U.S. Treasury on Thursday said it would freeze any assets held by 14 top officials in the junta within U.S. jurisdiction, and banned U.S. citizens from doing business with them.
In Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur about 2,000 Myanmar immigrants rallied peacefully outside their country's embassy.
They later marched to the embassies of China and Russia, which has joined Beijing in blocking Security Council action.
Cambodia's main opposition leader Sam Rainsy led about 100 activists in a demonstration outside the Myanmar embassy. Seven Myanmar nationals also participated in the rally.
On Wednesday, China refused to condemn Myanmar and ruled out imposing sanctions, but for the first time agreed to a Security Council statement expressing concern over the violent crackdown and urging the country's military rulers to allow in a U.N. envoy.