Shock and awe in Myanmar's 'diplomacy'
If you were looking for a classic example of a contradiction in terms, you could do worse than 'Myanmese diplomat'.
This week we reported the rather intriguing letter from Myanmar's consul general in Hong Kong to his locally based counterparts and a few local newspapers.
In it, he referred to Rohingya boatpeople as not being Myanmese citizens or among his nation's 100-odd ethnic groups. He offered, apparently by way of evidence, a comparison of the Rohingya's 'dark brown' skin with the 'fair and soft, good looking as well' complexion of Myanmese people. In case any reader missed the point, he added, 'They are as ugly as ogres'.
Despite the racist content, it attempted to strike a light-hearted, even jaunty tone, with consul Ye Myint Aung offering his own 'handsome' appearance as the 'typical genuine one of a Myanmar gentleman'.
Mr Aung's diplomatic colleagues are used to his letters. Some look askance and quietly file them away as further examples of the strange ramblings of the increasingly isolated and paranoid military regime he represents. One recently sent as a 'New Year Gift' carried a letter from a Myanmese monk in Taiwan that described the Rohingya as Kalar, or 'the Blacks', who were motivated by greed to seek a better life in Thailand.
But after we printed the letter, it was picked up by the international news wires and the phrase 'ugly as ogres' rightly resonated, appearing in print and on websites across the region and beyond.
Other diplomats from more normal governments might find themselves in hot water for committing such phrases to print. Just imagine the impact if an envoy of a major country, China or Britain, say, described migrants from another state in such terms. It doesn't bear thinking about.
But, from the twisted perspectives of Myanmar's generals, Mr Aung may have simply been doing his job - reflecting the views and interests of his leaders abroad, rather than the other way round.
There may be shock at his remarks but, sadly, we should not be surprised.
This is a regime that plasters its cities and towns with billboards urging its citizens to crush 'stooges' and 'cliques'. And when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon tried to phone the junta supremo, Senior General Than Shwe, to get access for his aid workers in the wake of last May's cyclone, he was initially rebuffed.
A decade ago, Myanmar was courting the regional community, foreign investment and tourism, even as it retained its more repressive edge. Those days are long over, and the regime is as secretive as it has ever been.
In that regard, the letter gives us a clear window into the regime's hardline mindset, despite pledges to move towards democracy and transparency.
The Rohingya, a Muslim tribe who have been linked to Myanmar's old Arakan region since the 9th century, remain stateless inside the country and are likely to remain so.
Lacking identity cards, they can't officially work, move villages or marry. Shut out of the nationality law in 1982, the letter is further evidence - not that any was needed - and Myanmar is unlikely to budge under international pressure.
Thailand's leaders have made clear that they are not willing to tolerate further Rohingya settlement from the waves of migrants who wash ashore on its Andaman coast every winter. Even as they promise not to risk further deaths by towing them out to sea and abandoning them, they know that they must seek a regional solution.
As the source of many of the migrants - some depart from neighbouring Bangladesh - Myanmar has to be a key part of that solution and the UN's refugee agency is already working to that end. But the consul general's letter shows just how hard that effort will be. Myanmar is not interested in being judged by standards other states consider normal.