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At UN in July, China's Changed Position on Myanmar and Faith in Somali "Brothers" Among Tests

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 3 -- China's Ambassador to the UN Wang Guangya on Tuesday explained this country's foreign policy, and relatedly his seeming flip-flop this year on the right approach to Myanmar.

            In January, China along with Russia cast vetoes opposing a resolution to put the situation in Myanmar on the agenda of the Security Council. In his explanation of vote, still available online on the Chinese government's website, Amb. Wang said that "the tenth ASEAN summit will be held soon. China will, as always, support ASEAN to play a leading role in addressing the issue of Myanmar."

            But after the May summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations called on Myanmar's military-based government to release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Chinese did not "support ASEAN to play a leading role in addressing the issue of Myanmar." A day after the ASEAN summit ended, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a contrary statement, that "the Aung San Suu Kyi matter is Myanmar's internal affair."

            Tuesday at Amb. Wang's press conference to open China's month at the head of the Security Council, Inner City Press asked "what changed between January and May?" Amb. Wang did not directly address the change, but rather noted that "Myanmar is China's neighbor" and that "any efforts by the Myanmar authorities to improve their situation should be appreciated." Video here, from Minute 10:59 to 13:06.

            Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross strongly criticized Myanmar's army's use of detainees as porters and, essentially, as involuntary human mine sweepers. The ICRC nearly always refrains from such criticism, in order to maintain humanitarian access -- making its rebuke of Myanmar all the more striking.

            One might have asked, and still might this month ask, Amb. Wang what exactly are the "efforts by the Myanmar authorities to improve their situation" which "should be appreciated"? Whose situation is being improved?

            On the other hand, in another now-signature Chinese diplomatic move, the Chinese government last week arranged for meetings between Myanmar and the United States, in Beijing. Inner City Press Tuesday asked questions about this, first to Chinese mission staff then to Amb. Wang, who said this was consistent with China's "work to bring dialogue between main parties" in the effort to bring "peace and stability." It is analogous, then, to China's role in the Six Party Talks with North Korea. In fact, China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi met Tuesday in Pyongyang with Kim Jong-il.

Amb. Wang in the UN Security Council

            At his press conference on Tuesday, to his credit, Amb. Wang took more than a half an hour of questions, the majority on Iran, Lebanon and Darfur.  On Iran and the Middle East, Amb. Wang deferred to the International Atomic Energy Agency and to the Quartet, respectively. The briefing began with a question on Kosovo. Amb. Wang in response distinguished between "status" and "standards," which will be discussed in the Council on July 8. Asked if Kosovo's contested status is now a matter between the U.S. and Russia, Amb. Wang said that if Serbia and Kosovo could agree, all else would follow.

   This echoed Amb. Wang's answer on May 30, again to Inner City Press, on questions on Kosovo and Darfur:

Inner City Press: Ambassador, could you say what China's thinking is on Kosovo, the pending Kosovo proposals?

Amb. Wang: I think that, of course, that for China for many -- for a number of years will support the effort by Mr. Ahtisaari to try to move forward with these status negotiations. But I think that so far, the two main parties have not reached agreement, so I think it will be difficult for China before the two parties agreed on a common formula. 

Inner City Press: And with the U.S.'s sanctions against Sudan yesterday, what is the timing here in the Security Council? What do you think the timing -- do you think -- do you envision a resolution coming forward? What is China's position?

Amb. Wang: I've noticed that -- what the United States had decided yesterday. But I think that it is quite unfortunate, because for China we believe that there are three fronts. The humanitarian side, of course -- the situation not satisfactory. There are many problems. But many see that over the last couple of months, there has already been improvements. Secondly, on the political process, as -- we see that the two special envoys of the secretary-general and of the AU are carrying out their negotiations to promote this political process.

 Thirdly, on the peacekeeping, I think that now with the deployment of the second stage, and now the secretary-general has sent letters to the Sudanese explaining to them his ideas about the third stage, about hybrid, I think that on all three fronts, there are a lot of efforts in trying to push forward a diplomatic solution to the problems in Darfur. So therefore I think under such circumstances, the moves taken by the United States, particularly the announced -- the sanctions and also talking about having a Security Council resolution on the sanctions -- I think that this might make the fragile situation a bit more complicated, so I think we are a bit concerned.

Inner City Press: Thank you.

Amb. Wang: Thank you.   [Streaming video here.]

            Tuesday on Darfur, Amb. Wang quoted Ban Ki-moon's recent claim of "credible progress." He took issue with the statement that China is Sudan's main supporter, saying that "China does not feel shy about its good relations" with its "African brothers." In response to another question on Darfur, Amb. Wang repeated his previous statement on Myanmar, that China believes in "no interference in internal affairs" of other countries.

            Inner City Press asked Amb. Wang for his view on requests for a UN force by the UN- and Ethiopia-installed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia. Amb. Wang cited to the request by "the government, the authorities" for such troops -- an implicit though not necessarily accurate distinction with Darfur -- and said that the Council members should "be aware of the desires of the African countries."

            One is left wondering why armed conflict between government "authorities" and insurgents in Myanmar is an "internal matter," but in Somalia it is not. Does Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia de facto make it a more of a matter of international peace and security than is Myanmar? Perhaps this month Amb. Wang will answer this question; perhaps events in the wider world will cast light on it.

            Inner City Press asked what Amb. Wang and the Council will do if on July 15 the Somali Reconciliation Congress is postponed, for what would be the third time.  Video here, from Minute 37:01. "Prime Minister Gedi gave firm assurances to Council members that there will be no delay," Amb. Wang responded. "We have to count on his assurances." We'll see.

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