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Burma: Chinese Premier’s Visit Should Spotlight Rights – Flawed Elections Likely to Erode Security

By Human Rights Watch  •  May 31, 2010

During his June 2 visit, China’s premier Wen Jiabao should take up human rights concerns in Burma, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the premier. Human rights abuses in Burma impact on the region’s long-term security, and China is an influential actor as Burma’s first elections in 20 years approach.

Human Rights Watch urged Chinese leaders not to prematurely endorse the upcoming 2010 elections in Burma, but instead to press Burma’s military government to pursue a genuinely open, inclusive, and fair electoral process.

“China’s interests are not well served by a military dictatorship on its doorstep that abuses and impoverishes Burma’s population,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Yet Beijing’s policies to date tend to encourage continued military rule in Burma, rather than seeking a transition from it.”

Human Rights Watch said that the Chinese government routinely asserts it follows a policy of non-interference in the “internal affairs” of sovereign states. However, the rampant rights violations inside Burma are creating severe internal pressures which could easily spill over Burma’s borders and affect China’s stability in terms of refugee flows, public health crises, and violence.  In this regard, China’s “good neighbor” policy with Burma should involve speaking frankly with the Burmese government about its rights abuses and how to address them.

Human Rights Watch’s letter highlights four issues: the 2010 elections, insecurity in border areas, regional engagement and diplomacy, and trade and investment relations. China is Burma’s largest neighbor, major trading partner, arms supplier and most vocal international diplomatic supporter.  Human Rights Watch urged China to play a more productive role and to work with other members of the international community to foster genuine change in Burma.

“China should realize that continued support to Burma’s military government emboldens the junta to be even more repressive, which has obvious regional security implications,” said Pearson. “The Chinese government has a chance to play a more constructive role in pressing for productive change in Burma. Premier Wen Jiabao shouldn’t waste it.”

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