Why did Suu Kyi welcome British foreign secretary?


BRITISH Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has a reputation as a tousle-haired chump who regularly speaks out and rocks the political boat. Unfortunately, after his visit to devastated Rohingya towns and villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine province, Johnson decided to toe the diplomatic line and spout pathetic excuses for Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi .

After making his own tour of the region during which he saw for himself the destruction wrought by Buddhist bigots with the connivance as well as the actual help of the police and army, Johnson announced to journalists he did not believe that Suu Kyi understood “the full horror” of what had happened. He added he did not think that she had been up in a helicopter to see what he had seen.

But he of course knew perfectly well that Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate who has sought to deny the depravities against Myanmar Muslims which continue to be perpetrated since she came to power, had not taken any such helicopter trip. All this woman has managed to do was pay a fleeting visit to Rakhine last November as the storm of international protest gathered. She flew in, met local Buddhist leaders, went for a heavily guarded walk with a leading businessman with whom she talked about investment in the region. It was a pathetic performance that persuaded no one that she cares one little bit about the unfortunate Rohingya, more than 600,000 have been forced to flee their homes and seek a crowded and insanitary refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.

All this said, the very fact that Suu Kyi permitted the British politician to make his trip ought to give pause for thought. She is well connected in the UK. Her late husband was British — which is why the army junta’s rigged constitution banned her from a formal assumption of the presidency. Suu Kyi knew of Johnson’s reputation for outspokenness. And, although he pulled his punches and did not directly criticize her, he did not seek to disguise his disgust at the wrecked communities he visited. “I have seen nothing like it in my lifetime” he said, “Hundreds of villages torched. It is absolutely devastating”. And then he added that he thought what was necessary was “some leadership, working with the UN agencies to get these people back home”.

Given that he had already had talks with Suu Kyi, which she apparently welcomed, it might have been that Johnson was hinting at a solution the pair had already discussed and maybe, even, agreed upon.

The British were the former colonial power — Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, fought against their occupation. But although the UK supplies aid and British investors are seeking to capitalize on new international investment opportunities in the country, it is not clear that London has much in the way of leverage over Myanmar. Yet it is just possible that Suu Kyi is hoping to use the UK, with its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, to head off Myanmar’s potential return to economic isolation, as the fury of the outside world grows at this blatant exercise in ethnic cleansing. It must be hoped that Johnson made it abundantly clear to this tarnished Nobel laureate, that any such cooperation will require the immediate return of the Rohingya, to compensation, security and the full citizens rights which have always been denied them.