YANGON – China said on Wednesday the world should respect Myanmar's judicial sovereignty after the junta sent Aung San Suu Kyi back into detention, triggering Western outrage but only a measured response from its neighbors.
China, one of the few nations that stands by the junta, urged the outside world not interfere in Myanmar's affairs, suggesting Beijing would not back any U.N. action against the country.
Suu Kyi, a 64-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, was sentenced to three years for violating an internal security law, but the junta said immediately after Tuesday's verdict it would halve the sentence and allow her to serve the time at her Yangon home.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party condemned the ruling because it was based on a law from Myanmar's 1974 constitution, 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.
The verdict drew sharp criticism from leaders around the world and the European Union said it was preparing sanctions.
Western nations pressed the U.N. Security Council to adopt a statement condemning the sentence, but other countries, including veto-wielding members Russia and China, stalled for time.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said it was time for dialogue with Myanmar, not criticism.
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.
Analysts said Suu Kyi's reduced sentence may have been an attempt to appease Myanmar's friends and neighbors -- China, India and Thailand, in particular -- whose trade has propped up a state crippled by international sanctions.
The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member, on Wednesday expressed deep disappointment about Suu Kyi's detention, following similar statements by member countries 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.
Critics have dismissed the trial as a ploy by the junta to keep Suu Kyi 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 that breached her house arrest terms.
Yettaw, who had 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 offences and swimming in a non-swimming area.
Many people in Myanmar expressed disappointment that she was again being detained but were relieved she was allowed to serve her time at home rather than in one of Myanmar's brutal prisons.
Frankly, I just don't know whether to be happy or angry about it, said Yangon-based accountant, Myint.
Veteran politician Thakhin Chan Tun, 88, said the verdict was very unfair and inappropriate and aimed only at keeping her away from 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, which has ruled the country with an iron fist for almost five decades, 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; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ron Popeski)