CANADIAN ambassador to Indonesia, Peter MacArthur, on a holiday in Myanmar, appeared to have ushered in the new year with a big diplomatic blunder on social media.
MacArthur had tweeted on 1 January: “First day of 2018 unfolded on a Myanmar beach where the great surf is pleasingly turquoise coloured, warm, clean and clear — perfect for snorkelling to visit with nature and the fish”, as seen in a screenshot captured by London-based CTV correspondent Daniele Hamamdjian, Global News reported.
While what MacArthur wrote would not have gone amiss on a travel blog, to tweet so as a representative of the Canadian government seems to have run afoul the country’s stance on the situation in Myanmar.
In an email to iPolitics, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada Brianne Maxwell said that “the government of Canada takes the situation in Myanmar very seriously and is deeply concerned by the ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity that are occurring there.”
“Ambassador MacArthur was advised to delete the Tweet in question.”
Canada's Ambassador to Indonesia, @AmbMacArthur, goes on holiday to #Myanmar, tweets photos of serene beaches from the country accused of ethnic cleansing, then deletes tweet. In case you missed it, here it is. #Rohingya #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/PCYdmmLAzo
— Daniele Hamamdjian (@DHamamdjian) January 2, 2018
MacArthur was reportedly on a private trip to visit a family member working for the Canadian government in Burma, a country accused of “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations for its systematic persecution of the hundreds of thousands Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority group, since August 25 last year.
600,00o Rohingya Muslims are estimated to have fled Burma since the Burmese military’s “disproportionate” response – extrajudicial killings, burning of homes, rape etc – to Rohingya militancy in the restive Rakhine State.
Canada had responded to the international humanitarian crisis by appointing former Liberal leader Bob Rae as the country’s special envoy to Burma amid the violence. Together with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, they met with Burma’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi before the start of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade talks in Da Nang, Vietnam last November.
For 45-minutes, they reportedly talked about the level of violence, the scale of the refugee crisis as well as Suu Kyi’s silence on the issue.
“From my point of view that was extremely important for her to hear, directly from Canada’s prime minister. I think it was also important for us to hear her out,” Rae told reporters, as quoted by CBC.
In an interview with CBC’s The Current in November, Rae had also said: “What happens when there is an insurgent attack by this group called ARSA [Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army], the [Myanmar] army really overdoes it.”
“You know the army just responds with — to put it mildly — a very very heavy hand and a great deal of brutality.”
MacArthur has since removed the tweet, but not before it set off a stream of opinions on Twitter. Some commentators were worried that an official like MacArthur could be so ignorant of geopolitical tensions:
Wow. How can people who reach that position be so completely ignorant and unaware of what they’re doing. Just wow.
— The Frozen, Frozen Canadian (@MgniM) January 2, 2018
Amid the tweets expressing distaste, there were some supporters:
Heaven forbid a man enjoy nature in trying times. #triggeralert
— Hobo with a Laptop🏝 (@hobolaptop) January 3, 2018
There were criticisms levelled at Trudeau and his party:
— (((Tracy))) (@tstewart666) January 3, 2018
Now I regret that I voted for Justin Trudeau
— Aref (@arefjan22) January 3, 2018
And of course, some took the chance to take jabs at the ambassador:
aide: uh sir, uh about that photo, you know, with the genocide and all mayb…
Ambassador: the genowhatnow?
— ｂｉｔｔｅｒ🕳ｅｖｅｒｙ🕳ｄａｙ (@soverybitter) January 2, 2018
Christmas in Nazi Germany. The sausage was delicious! @ipoliticsca
— Holly Doan (@hollyanndoan) January 3, 2018