US President George W Bush said Thursday that he would take up the Myanmar problem with China, one of the few countries that has any influence over the cloistered military state formerly known as Burma, dissidents said.
"He is going to talk with China about Burma, even though he seems to be worried that China's interests are different from the US's interest on Burma," said Win Min, one of a handful of Thailand-based Myanmar dissidents who lunched with Bush Thursday in Bangkok, reported dpa.
The US president and his wife, Laura, have championed the cause of Myanmar dissidents more than any other first couple in the White House, helping to keep the country's brutal regime in the international limelight.
"We seek an end to tyranny in Burma," President Bush said in a major policy speech he delivered Thursday in Bangkok. "America reiterates our call on Burma's military junta to release [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, and we will continue working until the people of Burma have the freedom they deserve."
Both the Bushes used their two-day visit in Bangkok to highlight the political situation in neighbouring Myanmar, which has been under military dictatorships since 1962.
In an unprecedented move, President Bush lunched with nine well-known Myanmar activists and dissidents. The lunch was held shortly before he was scheduled to depart for Beijing, where he is to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games Friday.
China is deemed Myanmar's closest political ally, and one of the few world powers with any influence over the country's ruling junta.
China, which borders Myanmar to the north, has expressed interest in exploiting Myanmar's vast natural gas reserves as a means of meeting its economy's growing energy needs.
"Whereas the US has ideological interests in Burma, China's interests are more commercial," said Win Min, a lecturer at Chiang Mai and Payap universities in Thailand.
President Bush, in his policy speech on Asia, stressed his administration's successful engagement with China in calming regional security threats, such as North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions and tensions between China and Taiwan.
"A peaceful and successful future for this region requires the strong involvement of both China and the United States, so America's engagement throughout the Asia-Pacific must be purposeful and enduring," Bush said.
While Bush criticized China's recent human rights record, he also expressed optimism that the country would move toward political change.
"Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted internet," Bush said. "Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and traditions. Yet change will arrive."
Bush expressed no such sentiments about Myanmar, a country that remains largely isolated from the international community, much as China was in the 1970s.
"I think Bush feels more comfortable engaging with China over Burma, than engaging direct with Burma's generals," said Win Min, who like many Myanmarese continues to call his country by its former name.
While in Thailand, Laura Bush also visited a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border for Karens, one of several ethnic groups fighting Myanmar's junta, and a clinic run by a Karen doctor, Cynthia Maung.
The Karens have been the target of a Myanmar military offensive in their traditional territory in Karen State for decades, forcing tens of thousands to flee to neighbouring Thailand.