East Meets West Over Burma

A remarkable snub was given to Burma's ruling generals this week - remarkable in that it came from other Asian nations.

Burma, aka Myanmar, was forced to give up the chairmanship of next year's meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose leaders meet yearly and invite European and US officials.

A meeting in Rangoon would have been boycotted by the West, given the junta's human rights abuses and the detention of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi. ASEAN needs the West, both financially and militarily, as a counter to China's growing influence.

ASEAN's pressure also reflects a recognition that Burma's problems - AIDS, drugs, refugees - are spilling over its borders. It's also a nod to the West's increasing desire in the age of terror to not let antidemocratic nations become terrorist havens.

But by pressuring Burma to give up the group's chair, ASEAN had to violate its own policy of not meddling in each other's internal affairs. The move also puts a hole in the group's longstanding policy of simply "engaging" Burma with smiles and economic carrots to change its ways.

China's meddling in the region was made quite clear when its foreign minister skipped an ASEAN meeting Wednesday to go to Burma in a move of solidarity with a regime whose penchant for power is not unlike that in Beijing.

Still, despite ASEAN's shift, neither the West's get-tough stance nor the heretofore softer Asian touch appears to be having an effect on the entrenched generals. Only a Burmese uprising, as occurred briefly in 1988, with Buddhist monks leading the way, is likely to topple the regime. That can happen if democracies in both Asia and the West project a moral course for Burma's suppressed people.

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