Gap between Suu Kyi and West expands


Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the last day of the Myanmar traditional Thingyan water festival in Naypyitaw on 16 April 2017. Photo: Min Min/Mizzima

The Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) took over Myanmar's government from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in late March 2016. After one year in power, Suu Kyi talked about public disappointment with the NLD government during a TV speech last month. Apart from the Myanmar public, the US and Western public opinion are also critical of the NLD governance.

From the perspective of the US, a unified, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Myanmar that respects its citizens' rights conforms to the US' national interests. Therefore, Washington is attaching great importance to Myanmar's democratization process and human rights issues such as constitutional amendments, multi-party election, delegating central power to lower levels, rule of law, ethnic groups and national reconciliation.

Indeed, the US had high expectations for Myanmar in the last year. This is connected to the NLD's victory in the 2015 election, and Suu Kyi's long-term interactions with the West. 

After Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she has become one of the most important factors in Washington's Myanmar policy, and has exerted significant influences on the US officials and public. David Steinberg, an expert on Myanmar, once said that "No living foreigner has shaped contemporary United States policy toward a single country more than Aung San Suu Kyi."

In the meantime, Suu Kyi, with the halo of the Nobel Peace Prize, was regarded as the "beacon of human rights" by US and Western public opinion. Americans believe that Suu Kyi should voice concerns on human rights agendas and stressed that Suu Kyi must be aware that Myanmar government has responsibilities to help the Rohingya people. 

The West had high expectations for Suu Kyi in the promotion of Myanmar's democracy and human rights. However, the West thinks there was no positive response from Myanmar's de facto leader. 

In fact, Myanmar's actual development has triggered increasing criticisms from the US and other Western countries, especially after Suu Kyi was actively involved in the country's political arena again. The Rohingya issue was harshly denounced. The issue simmered in the 2014 nationwide census, and the Myanmar government's attitude toward the Rohingya people has sparked widespread criticisms from the West. Suu Kyi's response was reprimanded as well, with The New York Times accusing Suu Kyi of silently standing by outright abuses. 

Washington and Nay Pyi Taw saw a diplomatic spat on whether the term "Rohingya" should be used last year. Shortly after the NLD took office, the US embassy in Myanmar mentioned "Rohingya" in a statement, which later incited protest from the Myanmar public. Later, then US secretary of state John Kerry continued to comment on "Rohingya" during his Nay Pyi Taw visit, and, as a result, Myanmar's foreign ministry and Suu Kyi complained about the use of the term. This demonstrates that Washington takes a firm stance on the issues of human rights and religious freedom, and, at the same time, is dissatisfied with the NLD government's policies and attitude toward ethnic groups.

The Rohingya issue and the situation in Rakhine State are jeopardizing the relationship between Suu Kyi-led NLD government and Western public opinion. Myanmar's army are accused by the West of sexually assaulting and slaughtering the Rohingya people. Although it was denied by the NLD government and Suu Kyi, the Western public opinion believes that Suu Kyi is dodging the issue.

The US has also attached great importance to the conflicts in northern Myanmar, and correlates the conflicts to the country's democracy and human rights conditions.

Admittedly, no substantial progress has been made on the issues of Rohingya and northern Myanmar conflicts during the NLD's first year in office. These issues have not only put a heavy burden on the NLD government, but also created divergences between the US and Suu Kyi. Apart from high expectations, the failure to understand Suu Kyi's conundrums in handling these issues is the root cause for Western disappointment. 

Given the current domestic situation, Suu Kyi still has a long way to go in addressing the abovementioned issues. While the problems are tough to handle, Suu Kyi, as a nationalist, will not cater to the West, and thus, tension between her and the West will continue in the future.

Courtesy Global Times

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