Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi told U.S. business leaders on Thursday that the country’s pro-democracy government has undertaken several measures to create a more welcoming business environment, and that their investments will help the Southeast Asia nation with its transition to full democracy.
One of Aung San Suu Kyi’s goals during her first official trip to the United States in her capacity as state counselor was to address the business community to promote trade with and investment in Myanmar, along with greater economic ties with the U.S.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is Myanmar’s de facto national leader, also stressed that certain political issues have to be worked out by her National League for Democracy (NLD) government to achieve economic success
“In order to make the political transition work, we have to have the economic expectations of our people fulfilled as well,” she told businesspeople, diplomats, and government officials.
“Our economy can succeed only if our political system succeeds,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi is leading renewed efforts to bring armed ethnic groups to the negotiating table to end decades of separatist fighting against the Myanmar military. She also is pushing for constitutional reform to reduce the role of the military in politics.
To woo investors, the Myanmar government has undertaken labor reforms and put in place economic policies that promote a better investment climate.
Myanmar lawmakers are reviewing a new bill on investment in Myanmar that has been introduced to simplify and speed up the procedures that investors must follow, she said.
The economic policy of the new government, which came to power in April, includes the improvement of public financial management through greater transparency, privatization of certain state-owned enterprises, promotion of the role of small- and medium-sized enterprises, expansion of vocational training opportunities, and creation of a credible dispute resolution system, she said.
“Economic success is one of the ways that we can persuade everyone in our country, including the military, that democracy is the best way forward for our union,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.
She also urged investors to bring their best practices to ensure Myanmar’s economy develops “in a right way.”
“The role of business is not a small one,” Aung San Suu Kyi said. “If you can help us improve the condition of our people, it will help increase their confidence in the democratic process, and because their confidence in the democratic process is strong, they will be that more inclined to find ways of agreeing on a negotiated settlement that will allow us to construct the union of which our founding fathers dreamt, but which we have not yet seen.”
She also encouraged U.S. business leaders to notify relevant Myanmar government ministers or her office about any signs of corruption when they do business in the country.
“So when you try to invest in Burma, please don’t think you have to go with a suitcase bursting with dollar notes,” she said.
The Rohingya issue
Before ending her speech, Aung San Suu Kyi mentioned that another one of the political problems that the new government is tackling at home is the plight of the stateless Muslim minority Rohingya in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state who have been denied citizenship and other basic rights in the predominantly Buddhist country.
Aung San Suu Kyi told U.S. business leaders that the Rohingya issue has “done great damage to the image” of Myanmar, and important to resolve because it threatens social harmony.
“And that is something we have to address as quickly and as effectively as possible,” she said.
In late August, Aung San Suu Kyi formed a nine-member Rakhine advisory commission headed by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan that will examine conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, development issues, and the strengthening of local institutions in the restive state.
The appointment of Annan and two other foreigners to the commission has prompted protests in Rakhine by the dominant political party and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who argue that the panel will automatically side with the Rohingya.
On Wednesday, Rakhine state legislators approved a proposal to dismiss the commission. Lawmakers from the Arakan National Party (ANP), the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), and the military supported the nonbinding measure.
The USDP and 11 other political parties took their objections a step further on Friday by calling the commission “illegitimate” following a meeting in the commercial capital Yangon to discuss the issue.
The National Unity Party, New National Democracy Party, National Democratic Force, National Democratic Party for Development, Kayin State Democracy and Development Party, and Wa Democratic Party are among those that signed the statement.
They parties issued a statement saying they support the Rakhine state parliament’s decision to reject the commission and expressed concern as to whether Annan had already made an agreement with the Rohingya.
“We are concerned about whether Kofi Annan agreed to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group and give them their own state in the country, said USDP spokesman Khin Ye. “It shouldn’t be like this. If it is, then who will take the responsibility [of seeing this through] and how will they take it?”
Leaders from the Democratic Party (Myanmar) and Shan National Democratic Party attended the meeting, but did not sign the statement.
Annan and the other eight commission members paid an initial two-day visit to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe last week to meet with monks, lawmakers, politicians, and other community members and to visit the displace persons camps where 120,000 of Rohingya have resided following communal violence with Buddhists four years ago.
Following Obama’s lead
Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarks to the U.S. business community came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama lifted economic sanctions against Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and restored the country to the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program.
The preferential trade program for developing countries eliminates duties on imports in roughly 5,000 product categories. The U.S. removed Myanmar from the GSP in 1989, a year after a brutal military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.
A European Union delegation to Myanmar has now decided to follow Obama’s lead by stopping its submission of a United Nations resolution criticizing Myanmar’s human rights shortcomings—a practice it has done at every U.N. General Assembly since 1991, the Myanmar Times reported.
The E.U. undertook the action in recognition of the country’s progress with it democratic transition and renewed efforts to restart its peace process, and the government’s positive steps to improve human rights, the report said.
The 71st U.N. General Assembly opened on Sept. 13 and runs until Sept. 26.
Reported by Myo Zaw Ko and Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.