Today in The Age there is an opinion piece by Garry Woodard, former Australian Ambassador to Burma (and High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador to China) on the meaning that might be drawn from the relatively light sentence that was imposed on Aung San Suu Kyi following her trial.
He traverses the sad sad story of Burma’s history over the last twenty years and ponders how different things might have been if this extraordinary woman (after 14 years of solitary confinement and house arrest Time magazine rates her the 25th most influential woman in the world) had been permitted to take office.
He infers from the relatively soft sentence that the Burmese leadership is uncertain but resolute on its chosen course, but he sees more fluidity in the current situation, more scope for international initiatives.
What if Kevin Rudd had acted, as his predecessors did on Cambodia and East Timor, to help find a regional solution based on principle to a regional problem? This is surely an appropriate role for an activist middle power. He could be working with two South-East Asian democracies, and neighbours, Indonesia and East Timor, whose policies are Australian Labor policies.
Indonesia is the most outspoken Asian country in demanding the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners. Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta, a critic of Australian inaction on human rights issues in Burma, has joined the growing calls for UN Security Council action directed towards prosecutions in the International Criminal Court. This would not be bad company for Australia to be in.
Quite. Middle power diplomacy is about putting serious and sustained effort into a limited range of issues where we have a chance to make a real difference, not rushing all over the world being seen at every meeting.
Read Garry Woodard’s full article here.