China issues plea for calm in Myanmar

After refusing to condemn Myanmar at the United Nations, China on Thursday issued an evenhanded plea for calm in the country, calling on all sides to show restraint.

The United States, Australia and other countries reiterated their calls for the junta to open a dialogue with peaceful protesters after soldiers opened fired into a crowd to try to disperse tens of thousands of people who defied the government's ban on demonstrations.

Japan, meanwhile, said it would protest the death of one of its citizens in the violent crackdown.

China has come under increasing pressure to use its regional influence to urge Myanmar's ruling junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests.

On Wednesday, China refused to condemn Myanmar and ruled out imposing sanctions against the country, but for the first time agreed to a Security Council statement expressing concern at the violent crackdown and urging the country's military rulers to allow in a U.N. envoy.

China and Russia contend that the situation in Myanmar is an internal affair and doesn't threaten international peace and security — as required for Security Council action — so getting them to agree to the press statement was considered a positive step.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said after the meeting that the most important thing is to see that the Myanmar authorities "restore stability." But he said he believed sanctions would not be helpful, adding "these problems now at this stage (do) not constitute a threat to international and regional peace and stability."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a media briefing in Beijing on Thursday that "China hopes that all parties in Myanmar exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue so as to ensure the situation there does not escalate and get complicated."

The crackdown puts China in a bind. Its communist government has developed close diplomatic ties with junta leaders and is a major investor in Myanmar. But with the Beijing Olympics less than a year away, China is eager to fend off criticism that it shelters unpopular or abusive regimes.

In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tokyo will lodge a protest against Myanmar's military junta over the death of Kenji Nagai, 50, a journalist who was covering the protests in Yangon for Japanese video news agency APF News.

He was confirmed dead after his father and a company representative identified him in a photo, a Japanese Embassy official in Myanmar told The Associated Press.

"We strongly protest the Myanmar government and demand an investigation (into the death). We demand (Myanmar) take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the Japanese citizens in that country," Machimura was quoted by the Kyodo News Agency as saying.

In Beijing, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters that the use of force by the junta "will solve nothing."

"It seems that people are sending a very clear message to the regime there that they need to begin a process of genuine dialogue and above all refrain from any use of force," Hill said.

"We all need to agree on the fact that the Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military, and start thinking about the need for genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country," he added.

Hill was expected to discuss the violence in Myanmar with Chinese officials on the sidelines of North Korean nuclear disarmament talks this week in Beijing. He declined to say whether Washington would request specific measures from Beijing.

"I think it's something that all countries need to be concerned about especially to use the influence that countries have to prevent the Burmese authorities from cracking down on these peaceful protests," Hill said.

First lady Laura Bush pleaded Wednesday with Myanmar's ruling military regime to resist using force, but her personal appeal came the same day that security officers opened fire on demonstrators.

"I want to say to the armed guards and to the soldiers: Don't fire on your people. Don't fire on your neighbors," she said in a Voice of America interview held in New York, where President Bush had been attending meetings at the United Nations.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his government would also press Beijing to urge the junta to end its violent repression.

"We will be encouraging ... China to exert a positive influence on the regime to encourage it to hold back on the repression and to adopt a more accommodating attitude toward the people," Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The European Union has already joined the United States in condemning the attacks and urging the country's military rulers to stop the violence and open a dialogue with pro-democracy leaders.

On Thursday, EU diplomats agreed to consider adding to sanctions already in place against the country in response to its lack of political reforms and poor human rights record.

"The crucial point is how to take measures that can have an impact on those who are responsible for events in the country without harming the population," EU spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said in Brussels, Belgium.

Source: AFP

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