An Oxford conference on South East Asia has given voice to criticism of the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The second Southeast Asian Studies Symposium was dominated by discussions centred on Myanmar after its recent re-engagement with the international world.
Dr Peter Carey said that despite the positive press attention given to the country’s reforms, the developments in Myanmar should be viewed with scepticism. According to the Fellow Emeritus in Southeast Asian History: “an opportunity for real change has been missed”.
Criticism focused on Aung San Suu Kyi in particular, with concern being raised over her continuing silence on the government’s campaign against the Kachin rebels. It was also said that she had lost moral authority by failing to be more vocal on human rights abuses, with Carey adding: “Hopes are very much in shadow and Daw Suu needs to say what needs to be said”.
Other attendees also questioned whether the reforms were truly progressive in nature, with the Executive Director of Burma Campaign UK Anna Roberts claiming: “the intentions are not all democratically driven.”
This comes in the light of a delegation of Oxford students being selected for a two week visit to Burma later this month following an invitation from the former St Hugh’s student herself.
Some disagreed with this harsh analysis, however, with former British ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman expressing genuine surprise about how much the country has changed since her last visit in 2006.
2013 was the second year of the South East Asian Studies symposium after its initiation in March 2012.
The symposium is an annual initiative of Project Southeast Asia, which describes its objective as ensuring that the area is “brought up on the agenda in Europe”. It also hopes to ultimately establish a Centre of Southeast Asian Studies within the University.
PHOTO / Jean-François Beausejour
Note: Since the publication of this article, it has been brought to the reporter’s attention that the comments of Peter Carey were made in the context of his worry concerning “the diminishing of Daw Suu Kyi’s authority due to the difficult task of balancing the two roles of moral icon and politician.” We apologise for this omission.