The Security Council is meeting to discuss how to respond to the conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi to 18 months of house arrest, effectively preventing her from running in forthcoming elections in Myanmar/Burma. The ever valuable Security Council Report succinctly analyzed the political dynamics surrounding today’s meeting.
There are basically two groups within the Council with quite different views on how to deal with Myanmar. The Western permanent members, together with countries like Costa Rica and Mexico, are likely to favour strong public collective action denouncing Aung San Suu Kyi’s continued detention. The other group, including China and Viet Nam is more likely to be influenced by the analysis that this is an internal matter and the Council should not react, at least not immediately and not vigorously.
The issue, then is that the Security Council will only take as hard a line as China will let it. So, what can make China nudge from its position that this is an internal matter not rising to the level of “international peace and security?” The answer may not necessarily be diplomacy at the Security Council. Rather, what has pushed China in the past to either thwart or join the western alliance on issues like this is the position taken by the relevant regional organization.
China effectively supported intervention in Sudan, international efforts in Somalia, and sanctions for Sierra Leone only after the African Union endorsed these efforts. On the flip side, Beijing refused to go along with sanctions on Zimbabwe that were opposed by the AU.
That pattern has been repeated on Burma. As a report from the International Crisis Group notes:
A key reason for the Chinese veto of a 2007 Security Council draft resolution on Myanmar was ASEAN’s lack of support for the resolution and its conviction that Myanmar was not a threat to international peace and security. In vetoing the draft resolution, Ambassador Wang Guangya noted, “None of Myanmar’s immediate neighbours, ASEAN members or most Asia-Pacific coun- tries believed that the current situation in Myanmar posed a threat to regional peace and security”. After the shooting of monks in Rangoon in September 2008, China’s critical statements on Myanmar in the Security Council and UN Human Rights Council mirrored ASEAN’s growing exasperation over the situation.236currently underway by the Africans.
This suggests that the real action this week may not be at the Security Council, but at ASEAN. To that end, Malaysia is pushing for an emergency meeting. Indonesian officials are also expressing frustration with the Junta.
My prediction: As ASEAN goes, so goes China–and the Security Council.