Time to exercise diplomatic muscle

3 June 2009

Few countries have shown themselves as impervious to international criticism as Burma, according to Dr Ben Saul, Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law (SCIL).

In an article co-authored with University of Sydney students, Natasha Kassam and Tina Jelenic for Unleashed on ABC Online, Dr Saul stipulates that while global reputation matters for many countries, none of the usual levers of political influence appear able to change the behaviour of Burma's military dictatorship.

"The latest episode of irrationality is the prosecution of democracy leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Sui Kyi, who is being vicariously punished for the irresponsible actions of an American who swam across a lake to visit her house.
"Simplistically shutting out Burma in the cold has not worked. Indeed it has counterproductively isolated those inside Burma who may have had the capacity to influence change in the regime, and pushed the Burmese reluctantly closer to China.
"At the same time, the alternative policy of constructive engagement in the past smacked of legitimising an unpalatable regime. The time is ripe for a more principled and pragmatic approach to Burma, one with a clear vision of what is achievable and at the same time draws rights-respecting boundaries of future engagement with the regime.
"None of this will immediately spring Aung San Sui Kyi from prison, or bring democracy overnight. But short of perpetuating failed policies, it is one of precious few policy options left standing."

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