03 October 2007

An opportunity for Josh

In his latest missive to his would-be constituents, Josh Frydenberg gets all topical and talks about Burma.
HAVING been detained by the Burmese military regime for more than 11 of the past 18 years, Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is a modern hero. While history has recorded the triumphs of resistance leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Xanana Gusmao, Suu Kyi's day has yet to come. Her achievements will depend, in part, on how Burma's neighbours respond to the present crisis.

Just because Aung San Suu Kyi has not assumed the office to which she was legitimately elected in 1990 doesn't make her a failure, Josh. She already has an awesome record of achievement and it's patronising to imply otherwise.

He offers the usual crap about "co-ordinated regional response" and "international community", and some Google work on Burma's gas resources worthy of a Year 8 Geography assignment. However, there are two main problems with this piece and both reveal quite a lot about Josh, the quality of advice he rendered to Downer and Howard, and our prospects of having him help govern us going forward.

First, he mentions Burma's "stability" in passing - but clearly a country cannot be stable under such repression as this country has suffered for so long. The generals yearn for stability but the tighter their grip, the more security eludes them. A slaughteryard might be quiet, but it isn't happy or prosperous. There is room for a heartfelt (or even ironic) exploration of this, and with that a re-examination of the principles underpinning Australian foreign policy in the twentyfirst century. Then, perhaps, you might stop talking about the achievements of Aung San Suu Kyi in the future tense.

Second, there is the proposal for a parasitic, glory-hogging relationship with ASEAN:
It is ASEAN's new robust position that offers an opportunity for Australia.

Diplomats in ASEAN nations have been working away quietly for decades on the whole issue of Burma. It was they who made the 1990 election possible, who watched their hard work crumble when the junta refused to accept the result, and who have been working patiently to restore some of the promise that election seemed to offer. It is not at all "new". It should be amazing that someone with Josh's foreign policy experience has missed all this hard work - and that he should belittle Australia's neighbours by ignoring this.

Josh is seriously proposing that ASEAN do all the hard work in getting Burma's tyrants to wake up to themselves, and then step in and take credit. He offers no solution, no unique contribution that Australia can make in supplementing covert and overt ASEAN efforts. Canberra has no clout with either the generals or democracy activists, and can add nothing to "work with ASEAN to draw Burma into multiparty talks". ASEAN have their own presence in Beijing, Tokyo and New Dehli, and any involvement by Australia would reinforce a perception of us as carpetbaggers in the region.

I won't mention the pissant effort at APEC Sydney if you'll stop calling it "leadership". The US are bogged down in Iraq, and even before that US policy on Burma was not much better than that on Cuba. The only Europeans who give a damn about Burma are the silliest Clare Short-style leftists, who are absolutely useless in working out solutions or anything else but screechy speeches and flouncy walkouts that do nothing for survivors in Burma.

There is no reason why Yudhuyono would complicate an already fraught situation with multiple stakeholders by involving Canberra. The Indonesians invaded East Timor at a moment of political weakness in 1975, and their shenanigans over the sentences of the Bali bombers is their way of scorning our political weakness. Again, it is stunning that someone claiming extensive foreign policy experience can't see this.

The generals have all the power they want and seem to have survived the latest challenge. They have all the trading opportunities they want from China, who are hardly going to criticise the Burmese for doing what they've done in Tibet for half a century. They have nothing to gain from multiparty talks - and therein lies the foreign policy challenge. More power to President Yudhuyono if he can work something out, but spare him - and the long-suffering people of Burma, spare us all - from Josh.

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