An explanation is to be seen in the increasingly uncomfortable dilemma facing Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s elected leader, Nobel laureate and Profession standard-bearer. She is trapped between the powerful army, which ruled prior to elections in 2015 along with nationalists, and donors, aid agencies and human rights organisations critical of her failure to end ethnic strife and implement reforms.
Clashes last Friday between the security forces and militants of this self-styled Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) in Rakhine (Arakan) state, bordering Bangladesh, were the most deadly in current memory, leaving more than 100 people dead. With additional escalation feared, they emphasized the potential of entrenched cultural and religious tensions in Rakhine and troublespots such as Kachin state to shatter Myanmar’s delicate democratic renaissance.
To put it differently, Aung San Suu Kyi needs all of the help she can get, divine or otherwise.
Speaking on Sunday, the pope repeatedly condemned “the persecution of our Rohingya brothers” and called on “men and women of good faith to help them and guarantee their full rights”. Like his prior interventions, the remarks are very likely to infuriate nationalists who maintain that the Rohingya are not Burmese but instead Bangladeshis with no right to live in the country.
A monk who directs the hardline Buddhist movement Ma Ba Tha, Ashin Wirathu, denounced the trip. “There is no Rohingya ethnic group in our country, but the pope believes they’re originally from here. That’s untrue,” he explained.
Even though Pope Francis and Aung San Suu Kyi may be hoping his visit will probably calm tempers, marginalise the extremists and boost reconciliation, it might have the opposite impact. The army chiefs who are still control areas of the government devices, such as internal security, can be anticipated to depict the pope’s visit on the global stage as evidence of the acceptance.
They may be given the respectability they crave by his tour. Conversely, that may make it tougher to Aung San Suu Kyi to curtail military counter-insurgency campaigns that are brutal. She is already accused of not doing enough, in the west.
UN officials imply the actions of the military may in some cases amount to crimes against humanity. But UN investigators were blocked from entering the country this season. Aung San Suu Kyi continues to be taken to action for inaction over continuing human rights abuses, such as curbs on free speech and press, the detention of political prisoners and the blocking of help agency access to conflict zones.
In a report published in February, the UN high commissioner for human rights accused Myanmar’s army and police of slaughtering hundreds of people and kids, gang-raping girls and women and forcing up to 90,000 Rohingya from their homes.
Given the functional and constitutional constraints on her, Aung San Suu Kyi’s criticism seems harsh. The diminished support is being offset by ties between China and the army, which wastes no time on individual rights.
Beijing’s influence is growing since the west dithers, although previous deals with Beijing have proved unpopular and controversial among individuals. China’s $10bn (#7.7bn) investment in the Kyauk Pyu special economic zone is a case in point. Officials state that improved prosperity will bring stability and joint projects will create jobs in Rakhine.
Aung San Suu Kyi, mindful of the pressing need for development of Deadly Myanmar, has to strike a balance between expansion and longstanding anxieties over embracing China too tightly.
Over two years after her electoral breakthrough, she is up against it. In inviting the pope, she may hope to gain the support and help of a relatively impartial world figure who can help keep her western critics along with the army at bay — and win her breathing space.