YANGON (Reuters) - China urged the world on Wednesday to respect Myanmar’s judicial sovereignty, suggesting Beijing would not back any U.N. action against the junta for returning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into detention.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said it was time for dialogue with Myanmar, not criticism, as outraged Western nations pressed for a U.N. statement denouncing the sentence imposed on the Nobel Peace laureate on Tuesday.
“This not only accords with Myanmar’s interests, it is also beneficial to regional stability,” she said in a statement. “International society should fully respect Myanmar’s judicial sovereignty.”
China is one of the few nations that stands by the military government, which has been condemned internationally since it sentenced Suu Kyi, 64, to three years detention for violating an internal security law.
The junta, which has ruled the country with an iron fist for almost five decades, said immediately it would halve the sentence and allow her to serve it at her Yangon home.
Analysts said the move may have been an attempt to appease China, India, Thailand and others whose trade has propped up a state crippled by international sanctions. The European Union said it was preparing further sanctions.
At the United Nations, major powers haggled on Wednesday over the text of a statement on the sentence. “We’ve made some further progress,” British Ambassador John Sawers, current Security Council president, told reporters after meeting fellow envoys from the United States, France, Russia and China.
“We’ve still got some more work to do. We believe we’re moving in the right direction.”
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, on Wednesday expressed “deep disappointment” about Suu Kyi’s sentence. It followed similar statements by member nations that stopped short of criticizing the regime.
ASEAN maintains a policy of quiet diplomacy and non-interference in the internal affairs of its members, but the junta’s refusal to improve its human rights record has been the main source of tension within the 10-member bloc.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party condemned the ruling because it was based on a law from Myanmar’s 1974 constitution, which is no longer in use.
“Passing such judgment is not in accordance with the law. It is, moreover, tantamount to violating human rights. We therefore condemn it in the strongest terms,” the NLD said in a statement.
Lawyer Nyan Win said Suu Kyi had told him after the court verdict to explore “all legal avenues” to secure her release. He said the appeals process could take time.
Security was tight near Suu Kyi’s home on Wednesday. Nyan Win said he had not received an answer to his request to visit her.
Critics have dismissed Suu Kyi’s trial as a ploy by the junta to keep her off the campaign trail ahead of next year’s multi-party elections, the first since 1990, when the NLD’s landslide win was ignored by the generals.
The charges stemmed from American intruder John Yettaw’s two-day uninvited stay at Suu Kyi’s lakeside home in May, which the judge said breached the terms of her house arrest.
Yettaw, who told the court that God sent him to warn Suu Kyi she would be assassinated, was sentenced to seven years’ hard labor in a parallel trial on three charges, including immigration offenses and “swimming in a non-swimming area.”
Many people in Myanmar are disappointed that Suu Kyi was again being detained though there is general relief that she was allowed to serve her time at home rather than in one of the country’s brutal prisons.
“Frankly, I just don’t know whether to be happy or angry about it,” said Myint, a Yangon-based accountant.
Veteran politician Thakhin Chan Tun, 88, said the verdict was “very unfair and inappropriate” and aimed only at keeping the opposition leader from involvement in the elections.
A commentary carried in three of Myanmar’s state-controlled newspapers on Wednesday said the decision to detain Suu Kyi should be accepted to allow the country to move forward.
Myanmar’s military has been impervious to international criticism and reluctant to engage with the West.
The generals insist next year’s elections will be free and fair and will pave the way for a civilian government. Critics dismiss the polls as an attempt to legitimize army rule.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Simao