Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday called for more divergent views to strengthen Burma’s democracy, during her first to Japan in nearly three decades aimed at seeking aid for her country.
“Every Burmese citizen needs to increase the diversity of their views and contribute to a ‘give and take’ culture to help achieve a democratic society,” the chairman of Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party told members of the Burmese community in Kyoto.
The trip to Japan is Aung San Suu Kyi’s first in 27 years and she spoke to the Burmese expatriate community at the International House in Kyoto University, where she had lived as a visiting researcher in 1985-1986.
The Nobel laureate said that democracy “requires tolerance” and the “acceptance of diverse points of view,” urging Burmese to practice negotiation in good faith when facing conflict.
“We are influenced by the ideas of the society we grow up in. We often don’t want to accept—or even condemn—ideas that are different from our own. We need to change these attitudes,” she said.
“If we can learn to adapt to and accept diverse views, our country will be rewarded with democracy.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said that since reformist President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took power from Burma’s former military junta in 2011, the country had chosen the path of democracy to accommodate differing ideas.
But she acknowledged that the transition had been a difficult one.
“It is not a perfect system,” she said. “It has some weak points.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said that the Burmese people should not be worried about having to face problems as they rebuild their political system, as long as they go about finding solutions in the “right way.”
“Some people think it is simply important to solve a problem, but they don’t care about the way to go about solving it. If they don’t solve it in the correct way, the problem can last for a long time or can even become worse,” she said.
“It is very important to use the right way to solve problems, especially in a democratic country. We Burmese citizens need to understand this.”
The opposition leader said that one of the weaknesses of Burmese culture is the way people try to negotiate to solve conflict.
“Most people don’t consider negotiation a dignified way of solving a problem. They think they become dignified if they get what they want,” she said.
But, she said, often a person may think they have won a negotiation when in fact they have lost because of the attitude they approached the problem with in the first place.
“It is more important to understand the path to winning or losing than simply getting your way.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments came as Burma struggles with national reconciliation after decades of oppression under military rule.
But a newfound freedom of expression under the country’s fledgling democracy has led to heated and sometimes violent conflict between communities with differing opinions and ways of life.
Last year violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in western Burma’s Rakhine state left scores dead and more than 100,000—mostly Rohingyas—displaced.
More recently, at the end of March, clashes between Buddhists and Muslims erupted in central Burma leaving 43 people dead and thousands homeless in violence blamed on extremist Buddhist monks.
And in Burma’s remote border regions, several armed ethnic groups are still fighting insurgent wars against government troops in a bid to gain greater representation.
Trip to Japan
Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida during her nearly week-long visit, in addition to meetings with communities that make up the nearly 10,000 Burmese who live in Japan.
She also plans to meet with Japan’s Speaker of the Lower House of the Diet, or parliament, and the President of the House of Councilors, or parliamentary upper house.
Her main objective during the visit is to obtain assistance related to her current efforts at bringing democratic change to Burma. She had been invited in December 2011 by then-Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba during their meeting in Rangoon.
Aung San Suu Kyi arrived by plane in Tokyo’s Narita Airport on Friday and traveled to Kyoto via the Shinkansen “bullet train” on Monday to give lectures at Kyoto and Ryukoku universities. Kyoto University was slated to make her an honorary fellow and Ryukoku to present her with a doctorate.
Her visit follows a trip to Burma in January by Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, who met with Thein Sein to discuss strengthening bilateral relations.
At the time, Aso pledged U.S. $8 billion in low-interest loans by March to support Burma’s efforts at building a democracy and a market economy.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her family have had good relations with Japan for years.
In the late 1940s, Japan provided weapons, manpower, and financial backing to her father, General Aung San, in his fight for Burma’s independence from Britain.
Reported by Win Naing for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.