- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

BANGKOK — Burma is counting on its neighbors China and India to blunt any new sanctions amid attempts in the United States and Europe to punish the nation for its detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma’s leader, Gen. Than Shwe, and its foreign minister, Win Aung, personally laid the groundwork for cooperation with the governments and 2 billion people in China and India.

Burma is wedged between the two giants and has a coveted, ship-friendly coast along the Bay of Bengal — stretching from Bangladesh to Thailand.

“There is no evidence we are worried about sanctions. Not that we want them, but we are not afraid of them, either because we have lived for 26 years on our own before, and we have very good neighbors around us and we can simply trade and exchange relations with our close, good neighbors,” said Kyaw Win, Burma’s ambassador to Britain.

“We have the two largest countries of the world on either side, who are happily trading and exchanging all kinds of technical, transportation, security measures [with Burma], and we are living in harmony with all of them,” the envoy told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview.

A special U.N. envoy failed yesterday to meet Mrs. Suu Kyi or secure her release, despite international criticism and the threat of sanctions.

Envoy Razali Ismail, on the third day of his five-day mission, said he was still pressing the generals who moved Mrs. Suu Kyi to an unknown location after a bloody clash in northern Burma nine days ago.

“I am still in the process of making my case,” Mr. Razali said.

China is Burma’s closest ally.

Much of northern Burma, in and around Mandalay, allows Chinese migrants to live and invest there while using China’s yuan currency instead of Burma’s much weaker kyat.

Gen. Shwe, in a rare trip abroad, spent six days in China in January discussing Chinese financial and military aid.

China arms and trains much of Burma’s military. Burma depended on China for more than 40 Chengdu F-7M and Nanchang A-5C warplanes before Russia sold MiG-29 fighters to Burma in 2001.

Burma and China also share a similar strategy in dealing with dissent. Both hung tough after unleashing bloody military crackdowns that mirrored each other almost one year apart: Beijing’s infamous June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square massacre was preceded by Rangoon’s Aug. 8, 1988, pro-Suu Kyi demonstrations.

Exploiting New Delhi’s rivalry with China, Burma spent the past few years cozying up to India.

India had been eyeing construction of a modern highway linking mountainous Nagaland to Burma’s Mandalay and Rangoon and on to Thailand’s prosperous capital, Bangkok.

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