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Aung San Suu Kyi is proof that pragmatism pays in seeking 'genuine' democracy

The democracy icon is reaping the benefits after putting ideology aside for the long-term good

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 June, 2015, 12:36am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:58pm

With the meeting between Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the Chinese president - or to be exact in this case, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping - making global headlines, could Hong Kong, and the pan-democrats, be inspired by "the lady"?

The fact that Xi met Suu Kyi in his capacity as the chief of China's ruling party rather than as president cannot be neglected as it concerns Chinese political protocol, a point some in this city missed or disregarded.

Suu Kyi, as leader of the opposition National League for Democracy, visited at the invitation of Wang Jiarui , director of the Central Committee's International Department rather than the Foreign Ministry, which explains why she did not get the red carpet welcoming ceremony usually reserved for state leaders.

But the fact that Xi met her spoke volumes, though officially it was a party-to-party exchange. The two sides of course were not confined to party affairs - national interests drew them to sit down together. Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and icon of democracy, has not always been regarded as a friend of China. But with her party expected to perform well in elections later this year, Beijing apparently sees the need to cultivate friendly relations.

Suu Kyi's pragmatism made the trip possible. Had she boycotted the political reform process in Myanmar because it was not "genuine" enough, had she insisted she would play no part unless she could be a presidential candidate, she would not have been elected to parliament, and her party would not now be on the brink of a bigger victory.

While Xi wants to present himself to the world as an open-minded leader by extending an olive branch, Suu Kyi also showed her statesmanship by putting aside ideological issues and focusing on long-term bilateral relations and national interests. It is a win-win for both.

This set a good example of how to fight for democracy: a sensible combination of strategy and compromise.

References can be drawn when looking at Hong Kong. As the government strives to get enough votes for its 2017 universal suffrage proposal, the pan-democrats show no sign of compromise and argue Beijing is standing firmer than firm.

But it is politically naive of the pan-democrats to expect any alternative to the decision laid down by the National People's Congress, which would also contradict the "ruling the country by law" principle promoted by Xi.

Their determination to fight for "genuine" universal suffrage is admirable, but how to achieve it? No one has yet seen a feasible action plan from the pan-democratic camp, yet a bundled veto would not push Hong Kong's democracy any further.

I had a chance to see Suu Kyi briefly in 2011 during my trip to Myanmar as the junta embarked on its political reform. I was very much impressed by how her countrymen worshipped her for her persistent pursuit of democracy and wisdom in leading the NLD to its ultimate goal of achieving fully democracy - step by step.

Rome was not built in one day - it's that simple. This should not be too hard for our politicians to understand.