Cablegate: Chinese Losing Patience with Burma
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #0044/01 0181034
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 181034Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7059
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0842
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 4402
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7933
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5494
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1282
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
Friday, 18 January 2008, 10:34
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000044
DEPT FOR P, EAP/MLS AND IO
PACOM FOR FPA
EO 12958 DECL: 01/16/2018
TAGS PGOV, PREL, BM
SUBJECT: CHINESE LOSING PATIENCE WITH BURMA
Classified By: CDA Shari Villarosa for Reasons 1.4 (b) & (d)
1. (C) Summary: Charge hosted the Chinese Ambassador for lunch on January 17. We discussed the lack of political dialogue and the need for all countries to speak with one voice to persuade the generals to start talking and quit dragging their feet. The Chinese Ambassador no longer tried to defend the regime, and acknowledged that the generals had made a bad situation worse. The Chinese have used their access to the generals to push for change, without much observable result, but remain interested in working with us to promote change. The Ambassador indicated that fear of losing power and economic interests may be the key obstacles keeping the generals away from the negotiating table. End Summary.
Chinese Fed Up
2. (C) Ambassador Guan Mu no longer tries to defend the regime as making any progress on political dialogue. He admitted that he did not know why the dialogue apparently stopped last November, although he added that some in the senior leadership understand that they must open up to the outside world. He acknowledged that accurate information about the current situation does not get passed up to the senior levels. Although claiming that it was un-Buddhist for monks to become involved in politics, Guan agreed that the monks’ involvement indicated how bad the situation had become in Burma. He pointed out the designated liaison officer met with Aung San Suu Kyi last week after a two-month hiatus, but quickly admitted that this gap was “too long.” Charge pointed to Senior General Than Shwe as the main obstacle to moving forward. The Ambassador responded that he believed that Than Shwe would be ready to open up in a few more years. The Burmese people can’t wait that long, the Charge warned, stressing that further delays would only increase the possibility of further turmoil.
3. (C) Ambassador Guan stated the various Chinese officials traveling to Burma have counseled the senior generals to speed up the political dialogue and warned them that the international community would not accept any backtracking. He agreed that the various parties just needed to start talking, and urged us to offer positive, constructive comments. Charge said “start talking now” was very constructive advice, and real dialogue would be welcomed by the whole world. If the generals were serious about a dialogue, they should be meeting everyday, not just with Aung San Suu Kyi, but with ethnic leaders, and other interested citizens as well. A one hour meeting with one person after two months was just for show, claimed the Charge, not serious. In addition, she continued, the regime has not permitted ASSK to meet with anyone else. The regime should be easing the restrictions on her, so she can get advice and counsel from a wide variety of people.
Control vs. Turmoil
4. (C) Guan cited two concerns that might be hindering the political dialogue from getting started: losing power and economic interests. Guan suggested, if the senior leaders could be offered assurances that they would not “lose their lives” and could keep their economic interests, they might be more amenable to ceding power gradually. He implied that the economic interests were of higher priority for the generals and their families. Charge replied that this could all be negotiated, reiterating the need to get started now. If turmoil breaks out as people’s frustration continues to grow, there might be nothing left to negotiate, she added.
5. (C) The generals want to stick to their roadmap, stated Guan. Charge suggested that they could still call it a roadmap while increasing participation at each of the remaining steps, including the current constitution drafting. Even though this might slow the roadmap process, she said it could produce more broadly accepted results in the end, which would be better for all. The roadmap process as it is will
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not deliver the stability that everyone wants to see, the Charge said, because it does not incorporate provisions the pro-democracy supporters and ethnic minorities want to see. Instead of taking credit for speeding up the roadmap as he has in previous meetings, Guan nodded in agreement. He repeated the Chinese interest in stability. Charge said more demonstrations were likely in the coming months if the people saw no signs a genuine dialogue was underway. She expressed confidence that many issues could be easily resolved, if the various parties just started talking and kept talking.
6. (C) Guan acknowledged that the regime has done nothing to improve the lives of the Burmese people, even though they recieved increased oil and gas revenues. He recognized that the huge increase in satellite fees will further turn the public against the military. Charge characterized the latter as an attempt to keep people from the news, but also effectively blocking them from some of their few escapes--soccer and Korean soap operas. Guan mentioned that China had learned that when the government tried to press down too hard, it increased the likelihood of an eruption; he understood the risks of more turmoil in Burma.
7. (C) Guan questioned whether democracy could work in Burma citing the experience of their first decade of independence and Ne Win’s efforts to promote a democratic transition in 1988. Charge explained that many nations went through the same struggles after independence, and reminded Guan that it was the current generals who blocked a transition in 1988. The Burmese have learned from the past, according to the Charge, if they have a voice in deciding their political future then they will have an interest in maintaining stability. Guan said there were some issues that were inappropriate for outsiders to decide, like sexual problems in a family. Charge agreed saying the role of the outsiders should be in persuading the parties to talk; what they talked about and the decisions they came to was up to them. Charge urged China to join with the U.S. in urging genuine talks get started now and keep going until a more broadly acceptable way forward can be agreed upon by all the relevant parties of Burma.
Meet the USDA, not the NLD
8. (C) Charge noted that the most recent Chinese visitor had spent a lot of time with Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA-the regime’s mass member organization) members. Guan described He Luli as a senior official from one of China’s eight political parties, and of the People’s Congress. Guan did not believe that her meetings meant USDA was preparing to formally become a political party. He noted that while USDA claimed 24 million members, 60% were under the age of 18, so could not vote. Charge asked if the He met with the National League of Democracy (NLD), and Guan quickly replied that the “government would not permit that,” referring to the Burmese government.
9. (C) Charge mentioned that the Foreign Ministry had complained that we visited NLD “excessively” and asked if the Chinese had been called in. He smiled, shook his head no, and asked if Charge visited NLD. Yes, she replied, adding she would be pleased to introduce the Ambassador to NLD members. He said he received a letter from U Aung Shwe, the NLD Chairman, requesting a meeting, had not scheduled anything, but shook their hands when he encountered them at National Day receptions. He noted that the Foreign Ministry did not prohibit Charge from seeing NLD, just advised against too many visits. Charge said we would go on meeting with NLD regularly since they were always willing to talk with us, unlike the government. Guan stated that Chinese officials had recommended to senior leaders that they meet with Charge, and said Than Shwe had told the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister that he would.
10. (C) Comment: The Chinese clearly are fed up with the footdragging by the Than Shwe regime. While democracy, demonstrations, and politically active monks make them nervous, they recognize that the risks of further turmoil are
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increasing so long as the generals refuse to talk. This turmoil will inevitably affect Chinese business interests here, making them more amenable to our approaches regarding Burma in the interests of promoting stability. The Chinese can no longer rely on the generals to protect their interests here, and recognize the need to broker some solution that keeps the peace, including bringing in the pro-democracy supporters. Those discussions need to get started now. The generals no doubt fear for their futures, so some quiet assurances of protection might help bring them to the negotiating table. The Chinese share our desire to get them to the negotiating table. The Chinese Ambassador has made clear his continuing interest in working together with us. VILLAROSA