Pressing the needs to democratize Burma: Exclusive Interview with Hon. Charles Chong, member of ASEAN
Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus
21st December, 2006 – CG Note: At the official launch of Canadian Parliamentary Friends of Burma group in Ottawa, Canada, two weeks ago, Salai Za Ceu Lian of Chinland Guardian had an opportunity to interview Honorable
Mr. CHARLES CHONG, a representative of The ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), an organization of Parliamentarians from countries in the Southeast Asian region calling on the military government in Burma to bring about changes and democratic reforms. Mr. CHARLES CHONG has been a Member of Parliament for 18 years in Singapore, and is also now a member of ASEAN, Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC), and Singaporean Parliamentary Caucus on Burma.
Chinland Guardian: Mr. Charles, it was so nice meeting you at the seminar recently concluded in Ottawa, Canada. I highly appreciate you for accepting my request to interview you on a wide range of political issues confronting Today’s Burma and about your efforts to democratize Burma. To begin with, what made you join ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC)?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: After Myanmar was admitted into ASEAN, there were expectations that the country would develop and progress like to rest of the ASEAN countries and that people in Myanmar would have a better life and a brighter future. Expectations were again raised when the ruling military junta announced its road map to democracy. However there was disappointment when there was hardly any progress made on the road map and promises made to ASEAN were not kept. Many reports and refugees coming out of the country revealed that the situation was regressing rather than improving. I felt very sad to hear of the hardship and suffering of the people in a fellow ASEAN country and of the thousands refugees that spilled over the border into neighboring countries.
In my discussions with my fellow ASEAN MPs, I discovered that many of us felt the same way. When Zaid Ibrahim an MP from Malaysia proposed the formation of the AIPMC (ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus), I joined immediately. Later I learnt that other MPs from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia and Singapore had also joined the AIPMC.
Chinland Guardian: Since the inception of AIPMC, what are some of the greatest accomplishments towards achieving your political objectives?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: The deferring of Myanmar chairing ASEAN in 2006. This was the AIPMC’s first campaign and we were glad that Myanmar was eventually “persuaded” to defer assuming the chairmanship of ASEAN. Although this achievement may be considered symbolic, it demonstrated that ASEAN’s initial belief in constructive engagement and quiet diplomacy may not have been effective or correct. Other campaigns included the one to place human rights and security issues of Myanmar on the UNSC’s permanent agenda. Despite some achievements much more needs to be done before we can expect to see any change for the better in Myanmar.
Chinland Guardian: What is your main strategy to implement your ultimate goals?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: By engaging and urging our own parliaments and governments to address the problems at the leadership level. By continuous efforts of political lobbying both inside and outside the region. By making unequivocal statements and highlighting our concerns on the situation in Myanmar, plight of its people and the problems it is causing ASEAN and neighboring countries.
Chinland Guardian:: In your efforts to bring about changes in a military ruled Burma, I believe you are working with different international institutions. In particular, what is your working relation with the United Nations Security Council?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: AIPMC supports movements in the UNSC that are geared towards addressing the humanitarian and security crisis in Myanmar. A member country – Indonesia will be on the Council in 2007 and we will engage them through our national caucus in Jakarta. Apart from that, we have sent them an appeal – with signatures from over 600 MPs from over 30 countries worldwide urging them to pass a resolution on Myanmar.
Chinland Guardian: How about sending your own representative to meet SPDC generals? Have you ever tried? What was the response from SPDC generals?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: We have not attempted to meet the SPDC – as we see this as a role of the leaders of our respective countries as well as ASEAN and the UN. However we have provided information and had discussions with some of our representatives from ASEAN countries when they travel to Myanmar to meet leaders of the military junta.
However meeting with the SPDC, to personally raise our concerns, is something that we would definitely consider in the future.
Chinland Guardian: Recalling the past Asian countries’ relation with SPDC, it was obvious that they embraced the notion of constructive engagement believing it as a practical or workable concept to approach SPDC. What is your view on this?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: AIPMC believes that the “constructive engagement” approach has yielded very little results. We are now looking at non-punitive actions from the UNSC that would be definitive in facilitating national reconciliation among all stakeholders in the country including the NLD, and for the SPDC to hand over power to representatives elected by the people in free and fair elections.
Chinland Guardian: How about the so-called non-interference principle that Asian countries strongly upheld in the past? How do they understand now?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: This policy cannot be used in a situation that is as detrimental as that of Myanmar where the problems such as refugees, narcotics and disease have spilled over its borders. Lately there have been calls from leaders within ASEAN – most notably the Malaysian Prime Minister, a few months ago – calling for a revision of this policy – at least when it comes to Myanmar as a member of ASEAN. The current drafting of the ASEAN Charter will address the need to re-define the policy.
Chinland Guardian:In our conversation, you have mentioned the need to convince China and India to support a democratic reform in Burma. Is there any sign cueing you that leaders of both countries would be getting on board with your initiative?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: The reality of the situation is that western and even international sanctions cannot be effective without India and China coming on board. Unfortunately nothing concrete has been achieved so far with India and China.
Chinland Guardian: Based on your analysis of political conflicts around the world and given your 18 years of practical experiences in politics as Member of Parliament in Singapore, what do you think is the best way to bring about democracy and national reconciliation in the Union of Burma?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: This question should really be decided by the people of Myanmar. Being a diverse country with many ethnic groups, it is important that national reconciliation involve all parties without exclusion of any stakeholder. Compromises will have to be made. The leaders must have the welfare and well-being of their people at heart and be able to deliver a better life for their citizens. They must also win support of the people through the ballot box rather than through the barrel of a gun.
Chinland Guardian: What message would you like to send to the people of Burma?
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: The world has not forgotten you and your struggle to overcome the many hardships you now face. Efforts are being made by many in the international community and by Burmese overseas to pressure the military junta to end the hardship and suffering of the people and restore democracy in Myanmar.
Chinland Guardian: Thank you so much for talking to us. We need an international leader like you who is fully committed to working for democratization in the Union of Burma.
Hon. CHARLES CHONG: Thank you for your kind words. But I think you give me more credit than I truly deserve.