“The New Myanmar”: Full Transcript

6 Jan


On December 12, 2016, PISA hosted Myanmar Ambassador Aung Lynn at The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs as part of our PISA-ASEAN Southeast Asia Roundtable Series and the Elliott School’s Ambassador Forum Series. He gave an address entitled “The New Myanmar,” followed by a question and answer session with GW students, faculty, and non-GW affiliates from the media, civil society, and more.

You can read a full transcript of his remarks and the following Q&A below the cut, or download it here.


00:00:04    REUBEN BRIGETY:  Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  My name is Ambassador Reuben Brigety and I am the Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University.  It is my pleasure to welcome you to this event, an address on The New Myanmar by his Excellency, Ambassador Aung Lynn of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to United States.

00:00:29    This event is sponsored by the Elliott School’s Ambassador Forum, one of the school’s signature event programs.  The Elliott School began the series in 2002, bringing ambassadors from around the world to our campus to share their insights and their perspectives on important global issues.  Today’s event is also part of the PISA-ASEAN Southeast Asia Roundtable Series, sponsored by our program, Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia, and made possible by generous funding from the Chino Cienega Foundation.

00:01:08    Given his broad and deep experience in foreign affairs, Ambassador Aung Lynn would appreciate the relevance of our mission at the Elliott School, which is to build leaders, to build leaders for the world.  I should also say that Ambassador Lynn is deeply immersed in current American political and athletic developments, as he just reminded me that indeed, Army beat Navy in the Army-Navy Game this past weekend, much to my pain as an Annapolis graduate.

00:01:40    Our students and faculty here are tackling some of the great global challenges we will likely discuss today: establishing peace, promoting economic development in resilience to climate change, ensuring human rights, and many other issues.  Myanmar, having emerged from decades of military rule, has garnered international support but has also faced some scrutiny as it manages these daunting problems.

00:02:12    We are very grateful, Your Excellency, for your presence today.  And now, I am pleased to introduce Linda Yarr, Director of PISA, who will serve as our moderator today.  Dr. Yarr.

00:02:28    LINDA YARR:  Excellency, ladies, and gentlemen.  Thank you very much, Dean Brigety, for your welcoming remarks today, and continued support for bringing distinguished members of the international community to our school through the Ambassadors Forum and the PISA-ASEAN Roundtable, as well as other major series here.  These allow faculty, students, and the interested public in Washington to hear new voices and gain new perspectives.

00:02:59    As Director of Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating closely with policymakers, civil society leaders, and government officials throughout Asia, particularly in countries that have undergone significant political, economic, and social transformation, such as China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Laos, and Cambodia.  Through these partnerships, we seek to elicit, as our tagline indicates, creative responses to global concerns.

00:03:33    Since 2012, at the invitation of the leading environmental organization in Myanmar, PISA has supported knowledge sharing on climate change with government officials, researchers, and civil society leaders in Myanmar.  As Dean Brigety mentioned, Myanmar is undergoing a challenging process to become a peaceful, democratic, prosperous, and environmentally sound country, a new Myanmar, under the leadership of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.

00:04:08    I am therefore honored to introduce to you, His Excellency Aung Lynn, Ambassador of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, who presented his credentials to President Obama on September 16th this year.  Ambassador Aung Lynn has arrived at his most recent post an already highly accomplished diplomat.  During his 34 year career with the government of Myanmar, he has served from 1987 to 1992 as the Council of the Myanmar Counsellor General in Hong Kong.

00:04:44    He was Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yangon from 2000 to 2004, and Minister Counselor for the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the UN, so he’s no stranger to the US, from 2004 to 2007.  And prior to his arrival in Washington, he served as Director General of the ASEAN Affairs Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Myanmar.

00:05:12    Ambassador Aung Lynn has also participated in various regional and international forums, as a member of the Myanmar delegation, including to ASEAN and to the United States.  He was awarded, among other distinctions, the Outstanding Public Service Medal and the State Peace and Tranquility Medals for his work.  His Bachelor’s Degree is in Geology and from the University of Yangon in Myanmar.

00:05:44    He earned his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore.  Please join me in expressing appreciation for his visit today.  And without further ado, Mr. Ambassador, the podium is yours.  Thank you.

00:06:01    [APPLAUSE]

00:06:18    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Ambassador Brigety, Miss Linda Yarr, faculty members, students, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for giving me the chance to come here and exchange my views on what is happening in the new Myanmar.  I feel that this is a very important time for us, as our country is in transformation.

00:06:48    By giving me the chance to speak at this very distinguished university in Washington DC, I feel that I can make friendships around the university, not only with the university, but also to larger friendships between our two peoples, by understanding more about our two peoples, and to share things that are of common concern to all of us, that will bring peace and development, and what Linda has just mentioned: to build a very environmentally sound world.

00:07:34    That is what we are here for.  And I’m committed to discharge my duty as a representative of Myanmar, and to work with all of you and to share knowledge, and to promote friendship between our two parties.  Well, I will start my presentation with what are, as I feel that it is necessary for all of you to refresh your knowledge about our country.

00:08:07    As you all are scholars and you some of you are students of the uh Elliott School of International Affairs in the George Washington University, you may have some knowledge of our country.  But as a citizen of Myanmar, I wish to discuss what is happening in our country, so that we can know more about each other.

00:08:35    To start my presentation, I start by introducing my country to all of you.  We had a recent census conducted in 2014.  The population of our country is slightly over 52 million.  In the past, there were some projections that the country’s population is about 60 million.

00:09:08    But once we had the census conducted, the figures were less than originally projected.  And the land area is 261,228 square miles.  That is approximately the size of the state of Texas in the United States.

00:09:37    When you look at the globe, Myanmar is located just opposite to Texas, so that you may, envision that for our two countries, Myanmar is just on the opposite side of the world of Texas state.  And the country is multiethnic, multi-religious, and the predominant faith of our country is Buddhism.

00:10:05    We say it is multiethnic because there are over 130 nationalities in our country.  And the major religions in the world are also followed and practiced very freely in our country.  Our GDP is about 56.64 US billion dollars and the growth rate is 7.3% annually.  Per capita income is around 1000 US dollars.

00:10:44    It is one of the least developed countries and we are now working hard to make our country develop economically and socially in the region and in the world.  [points to map] This is the location of our country.  And you will see that the country is located between the two most populous countries in the world, that is, in-between China and India.

00:11:17    We also have a narrow boundary with Bangladesh that is about 169 miles.  Thailand is in the East, where the boundary border we share is over 1000 miles.  And with Laos, we share the Mekong River boundary in the Northeast.

00:11:49    The coastline of Myanmar is about 1400 miles.  The coastlines are in Bangladesh in the West and stretch to the South, to the border with Thailand.

00:12:32    And when you study the history of Myanmar, we have a long history that goes back over 1500 years.  But the recent recorded history of Myanmar started with the first Myanmar kingdom.  That is the Pagan kingdom that was built by King Anawrahta from 1044.

00:13:08    Successive kingdoms were there until the last kingdom of Konbaung in the mid-19th century, when Myanmar came under the British after fighting three wars: one in 1824, when the lower part of Myanmar became a British colony, and one in 1852, when half of the country came under the British.

00:13:42    In 1885, there was the third Anglo-Burmese war, and because of that war, on the first day of January 1886, the country became a British colony.  After becoming a British colony, the Myanmar nationalism movement started.

00:14:17    And in 1920, the first student boycott took place in Rangoon University, where the leader of the student’s union was a student named Aung San, who was the father of the current State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi.  General Aung San was the leader of Burmese Independence.

00:14:43    In the later part of 1947, Aung San had to deal with the UK for the independence of Myanmar.  And the UK government told the Burmese government at that time that they will give independence to proper Myanmar, but the mountain areas that are the regions where the nationalities live will not be guaranteed independence.

00:15:29    Based on that concept, Aung San had a meeting with the nationalities in February 12, 1947, to get the agreement that all the nationalities want that independence.  And that is known as the first Panglong Agreement.  Myanmar became an independent country in 1948.  Before independence, during the Second World War, Myanmar was under Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.

00:16:08    Aung San, believing that independence must be achieved, with the help of a foreign country, he approached the Japanese government to achieve independence.  The Japanese came to our country and gave independence that was not real independence.  While realizing that the independence given by the Japanese was not real, Aung San worked with the British government to regain independence.

00:16:47    And that was the end of the Japanese occupation, in 1948.  The British came back again and fought until the end of the Second World War.  That is the short history of our post-independence period.

00:17:10    And after becoming an independent country, Myanmar became a union republic that is made of Burma proper and some regions that are close to the union, for instance Shan State, Kachin State, Chin State, and some autonomous regions.

00:17:36    Following independence, the country was not in total peace.  There was an insurgency problem.  And those who worked together with Aung San during the pre-independence time left him and went to the jungle to start insurrection.  The Burma Communist Party was one of the most prominent insurgent groups in the country.

00:18:08    There was also a rebellion by Karen nationals, where at one time, Rangoon was surrounded by the insurgents and Rangoon was known as the Rangoon government.

00:18:33    And from 1948 to 1962, there was a time where Myanmar practiced and developed parliamentary democracy, when the government was elected by the people and the Prime Minister was also elected by the people.  And there were several parties in the government.

00:19:06    At the time, our multi-party democracy was flourishing.  There was a negotiation with the government with one nationality.  I must say that in the constitution we had after independence, one provision stated that if one party wishes to leave the union, they can ask to do so.

00:19:44    That is why one of the nationalities was in negotiation with the government to leave the union.  At the time, the, the government was politically weak because of the different insurgency problems and also because of the secession problem.  The country was doing very well economically.

00:20:13    But when you look at the political situation, things were not very good at that time.  And taking into account political instability, the military took control of the government in 1962.  And from 1962 ‘til 1988, there was a one party system that was led by officers or retired officers of the military.

00:20:54    The party was known as the Burma Socialist Programme Party, and the economy of the country was under the centralized economic system.

00:21:13    In 1988, because of the high price of commodities and the displeasure of the general population, there was the student disturbance that started in early 1988.

00:21:47    That culminated in September 1988, when the military government again took control of the country.  Following the military takeover, the government promised multi-party elections.  And the multi-party elections took place in 1990, when the NLD won the overall majority in the elections.

00:22:20    But the government at that time failed to keep its promise and continued its one party rule until the last election that happened in 2015.  That is the brief recent history of Myanmar.

00:22:46    And the restoration of a parliamentary democracy system started after the 1990 elections, when the government didn’t keep its promise.  I must say very frankly that they later created a roadmap that was known as the seven step roadmap.

00:23:17    That roadmap paved the way to multi-party democracy in Myanmar.  That started in the early 2000s.  And the multi-party elections were held in 2010, but the leader of the NLD was still under house arrest at that time.

00:23:51    The parliament was convened but the NLD members were only the minority members.  And the government realized that this shouldn’t be the way the country should lead.  The top military leaders made a decision that the political process must start.

00:24:16    For this reason, they started engaging with political leaders, with Aung San Suu Kyi, and started releasing political prisoners.  And there was a by-election in 2000 and in 2012, and Aung San Suu Kyi was elected as a member of parliament.

00:24:42    And the constitutional government came into effect on the 30th March of 2011, headed by President U Thein Sein.  President U Thein Sein promised that the country will become a multi-party democracy with elections to be held soon, following his assumption of office.

00:25:14    Myanmar declared that Myanmar will assume the chair of ASEAN and we took the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014.  There were reforms following the 2011 formation of the government, when political democratic and social reforms were performed in the country.

00:25:51    Political reform means meeting with the political players.  Democratic reforms will make more opportunities for citizens to speak openly, and social reforms to make the economy grow faster than in previous times.

00:26:17    And there were amnesty orders in which political prisoners were released.  And, as I have mentioned, in 2014, Myanmar became the ASEAN chair.  And it was a successful chairmanship, where Myanmar was able to show the world that we are part of the region and we can be part of the world as well.

00:26:43    And during the time of Myanmar’s chairmanship, Myanmar concluded a very important outcome document with the United States government by concluding an ASEAN-US joint statement on climate change.  And also we all had another important outcome document with the United States, that is the ASEAN document on anti-wildlife trafficking.

00:27:18    These are the things that we were able to conclude with the United States during our chairmanship.  2015 was a landmark year.  It was a year when the multi-party elections took place.  The NLD won a landslide victory and President U Htin Kyaw became the first civilian President in over 50 years.

00:27:50    And Aung San Suu Kyi became the State Counsellor, as well as the Foreign Minister.  Under the constitution, Aung San Suu Kyi does not meet the criteria to become a President.  However, there was a way that she can be part of the government, by taking an important role as the State Counsellor in the government.

00:28:26    Well, the priority of the National League for Democracy’s government are: national reconciliation, the peace process and moving towards a federal reunion, and improving the living standard of the people.  The priority of national reconciliation is because of the disturbance, the insurgency problems, and also armed insurrections by armed groups—the country was not in total peace for a long time.

00:29:03    Knowing that peace cannot be achieved without a ceasefire agreement, and to have a political dialogue with these armed group, the National League for Democracy government started the 21st century peace conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong.

00:29:39    The first Panglong was initiated by her late father and the 21st Century Panglong was led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on the 31st of August [2016].  The peace process is still ongoing.  There was a peace center called the Myanmar Peace Center overseeing the peace process in the country.

00:30:10    And to speed up and to work more efficiently on the peace process, the Myanmar Peace Center was reestablished as the National Peace Reconciliation Center, or NRPC.

00:30:31    And after the ultimate aim of the government for national reconciliation has been achieved – and from the national reconciliation with the nationwide peace agreement following the nationwide ceasefire and the peace process to achieve total peace in the entire country – this will lead eventually towards a federal union in the country.

00:31:07    And by achieving the peace, we believe that the economic situation will also improve.  And with the improvement of the economic situation, the living standards of people will also be improved.  This is the aim of the government and the government is now carrying out this process.

00:31:36    On the national reconciliation, as I have mentioned, the national ceasefire agreement was signed on October 15, 2015.  This signing of the national ceasefire agreement started on August 2011, when eight armed group signed the national ceasefire agreement.

00:32:06    But there are still armed group that have not signed it.  And the government has invited these armed group to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement.  And so the national ceasefire agreement is open to all the remaining armed groups.

00:32:31    As I have mentioned earlier, the union peace conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong, was convened in Naypyidaw on 31st of August 2016 and signatories of the national ceasefire agreement and non-signatories attended.  Following the ceasefire agreement that took place in 2015, a joint ceasefire monitoring committee and the union peace dialogue joint committee were formed.

00:33:08    The aim of the union peace dialogue joint committee was to start a political dialogue between the armed groups and the government.  Now, there have been about five political dialogues with armed groups and they are still ongoing.

00:33:31    There will be a second union peace conference this coming February.  Another issue that we are facing is the situation in the Rakhine State.  Rakhine State is one of the 14 states and divisions in the country, that is in the Western part of the country, where the majority of people are Rakhine people but there is an issue between the two communities, Rakhine and the Muslim communities.

00:34:08    And in 2012, there was a disturbance between the two communities.  A number of people lost their lives.  In order to address the situation and to maintain peace and development, the central committee on the implementation of peace, stability and development in Rakhine State was formed, and it is now headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

00:34:35    While the situation in Rakhine State has drawn the attention of the international community, we decided that this issue must be dealt with seriously with the people who can help us.  For this reason, we have invited the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr. Kofi Annan, to lead an advisory commission.

00:35:06    And there is a nine member advisory commission.  They are international commission members, as well as senior people from the different societies in our country.  While we are trying to address this situation in Rakhine State, there was a disturbance at the border post in October [2016].

00:35:35    Several border guards were killed.  And following the incident, there was an army operation that was involved in villages in Rakhine State.  Because of the military operation, the country came under the scrutiny of the international community.

00:36:04    And to address this situation, the government has formed another investigation committee that is headed by the Vice President.  The Vice President visited this area about two days ago.  And now they are investigating the situation and listening and asking questions from all the stakeholders in the area.

00:36:40    The investigation committee will make a report by the end of January 2017.  And with regard to humanitarian access to the area, the humanitarian access was also questioned by the international community.  In addressing this issue, the government has started distributing humanitarian assistance in the area to both the Muslim and the Rakhine Buddhist communities.

00:37:23    Well, these are the issues that we are facing, and also as I have indicated earlier, we are doing our best to improve the living standards of our people.

00:37:49    We strongly believe that economic development must be in parallel with political development.  Unless we have political development that is related to peace and security in the country, economic development will not take place.  For this reason, the government has formulated and enacted the new foreign investment law.

00:38:22    The foreign investment law is already there, but in order to make the foreign investment law work, there will be by-laws that will come up in the near future.  Now I will move on to bilateral relations.  There was a visit of the State Counsellor to the United States from September 13 to September 16th [2016].

00:38:49    There was a meeting at the White House.  Following the meeting, the Presidential proclamation was made to the Congress about according the general system of preferences to Myanmar on September 14th.  Following the visit, a letter of termination of emergency with respect to the actions and policy of the government of Myanmar was made by Executive Order on 7 October.

00:39:26    The Treasury Department issued a deletion to OFAC, Office of Foreign Assets Control, of the specially designated nationals list.  And there was the first US-Myanmar partnership dialogue meeting held in Naypyidaw in Myanmar on the 15th November.

00:39:50    These are the things that are happening and developing following the visit of the State Counsellor.  And we are now working very hard to promote bilateral relations between our two countries.

00:40:09    And it is my duty as a representative of the country to implement what the leaders have laid out and I’m committed to work with all the parties, with the government officials, and also non-government officials and the peoples of the United States to accomplish my goals in the United States.  Thank you very much.

00:40:37    [APPLAUSE]

00:40:45    LINDA YARR:  Thank you very much, Your Excellency.  May I invite you to have a seat here? I really appreciate your setting up the current situation and all the changes that your country is undergoing within the historical context to bring us up to date.  Thank you.

00:41:11    So with that, if I may take the prerogative of the moderator and start by asking about the current peace process.  Given that Myanmar is such a rich country in terms of natural resource endowment, to what extent is revenue sharing from the basis of natural resources a factor in the peace process and how is that being managed?

00:41:55    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you, Linda.  This is one of the main issues that the parties in the peace process are involved in.  Because in the past, those who were hurt, who suffered felt that the resources were not equally distributed among them, they were not satisfied with the government.

00:42:30    And this is the reason why the government is trying to reach some kind of solution with them to allocate the resources and also the revenue that have been generated from the resources in the future.  This is related to political issues and I feel that this is an ongoing process.

00:42:59    And there will be a solution between the parties concerned in the future if they are really dedicated to achieving peace in the country.

00:43:19    LINDA YARR:  I’m sure that the audience – and it’s wonderful to see everybody here – will have many questions for you.  We do have someone circulating with a microphone, so please wait for the microphone and state your name and affiliation, if you would.  The gentleman in the back.

00:43:42    SOE KHIN:  Hello.  Thank you.  I’m Khin Soe working with Radio Free Asia.  Your Excellency and Mr. Ambassador, you mentioned that your government is collaborating with international humanitarian agencies to provides assistance to Rakhine State.  But when we see pictures or videos, there’s a, Rakhine State chief [INDISTINCT] went along with the UN agency.

00:44:12    But why then did your government not allow freely the international agencies and the media [INDISTINCT], please?

00:44:23    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Well, I must tell you that this is a development.  In the past, humanitarian access was not made.  And in recent days, there was humanitarian access allowed.  Please give us time to address this issue.

00:44:50    I know that the media is also very much interested to go along with them.  The time will come when the media will be given the chance to visit this area.  You know how serious the situation is.  In order to address it and also to make all of the people satisfied, it is a very difficult task for the authorities at this time, because the situation can worsen at any time.  Thank you.

00:45:29    LINDA YARR:  Miss?

00:45:35    JOLA PASKU:  Hi, thank you.  I’m Jola [Pasku] from IHS Economics.  As you mentioned earlier, Myanmar has been able to record very fast-paced economic growth at over 7% annually.  But when you look at that against per capita terms, it’s still a really poor economy.  So in your view, what do you think is the reason or the reasons that this rapid economic growth hasn’t been translated into higher per capita terms growth in the economy of Myanmar?

00:46:09    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you.  Although we want to develop our economy, there are certain constraints or limitations that we are facing.  For instance, people want to work, but there must be an opportunity.  Factories must be there in our country.  And if factories are coming, there must be enough infrastructure for the factories.

00:46:38    These are the factors that we are still lacking.  That is the reason why our economic growth hasn’t been as much as people expected.  Our government is trying very hard to bring infrastructure and also to all the investors that will invest in our country happily to benefit all the parties concerned.

00:47:11    But as you know, the country has inherited things that have been going on for a long time.  And it will take time for us to fix these issues.  Thank you.

00:47:33    LINDA YARR:  Sir?

00:47:39    MIKE BILLINGTON:  Thank you.  Mike Billington, I’m with the Executive Intelligence Review.  On the infrastructure question, I know that Myanmar is playing a major part in the new Silk Road coming from China.  I understand also that there’s no infrastructure coming from the United States.  Could you comment on where you expect the infrastructure development to come from?

00:48:07    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you, Mike.  As you know, infrastructure involves a great amount of money.  And at this time, a great amount of money comes from a country all of you know.  We want to improve our infrastructure but there are still some financial constraints.

00:48:32    The People’s Republic of China with the Asia Infrastructure Development Bank has offered to help us to develop the infrastructure.  There are also talks going on between the IAAB and the government to develop the infrastructure.

00:48:58    With regards to infrastructure investments from the United States, I cannot say that the United States is not doing anything.  There is one company that has already won tender in the power generation project, called [APR Energy].  I am very proud of it.  After competing with many countries, including China, the company won the power plant contract.

00:49:33    MIKE BILLINGTON:  Hydro?

00:49:33    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  No, it’s not a hydro.  I think it is a fuel – I don’t know very well about it, but it’s an American company that is doing business in our country.  And also I must tell you that the current highway road from Yangon to Naypyidaw that leads to Mandalay, the original planners were American companies.

00:50:08    It’s called the Louis Berger company from New York.  And we have built this highway according to its original blueprints.  And this company even assisted us in promoting developing some of the sectors.  So there is still many chances for the United States to come and invest in the infrastructure projects in our country.

00:50:39    LINDA YARR:  Thank you.  In the back, yellow tie.  And I’ll go this way.

00:50:45    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  In addition to this, because of the lifting of the sanctions to our country, I feel that there will be more investors coming from the United States to our country.  We lack business opportunities for many years and do hope that American companies will bring us the best practices that they are doing in the region and in the world.

00:51:18    SIMON BILLENNESS:  Hi, my name’s Simon Billenness and I’m with the International Campaign for the Rohingya.  And speaking of American companies as well as foreign companies overall, a group of shareholders in Chevron just filed a shareholder resolution, asking Chevron not to do business with any countries that are engaged and complicit in genocide or crimes against humanity.

00:51:45    As you may know, many companies, American, European, Asian, pulled out of Burma because of pressure from their own shareholders and pressure from their consumers.  Aren’t you concerned that the crackdown and violence against the Rohingya in Burma risks the kind of investment that you want from American and European countries?

00:52:11    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  As I have mentioned earlier, the issue in the Rakhine State, the Muslim issues, we deal with very seriously.  And also, when you look at the country, will you only look at the very small portion of the people or the entire people?  Let me tell you, the so-called Rohingyas are the Muslims in the country.

00:52:38    I will tell you that not all the people, not all the Muslims are happy with how the media has portrayed us.  You use the word genocide and ethnic cleansing.  Do you know what the word “genocide” means?  Well, even the former United Nations Secretary General warned very clearly not to use this word superficially and haphazardly, because using this word will have a very big implication.

00:53:20    And also, the country is made up of different religions, and [Islam] is one of the major religions.  But I will tell you, Rohingyas – the people who call themselves Rohingya – I will talk to you with in person because this is quite a complicated issue.

00:53:47    And for the of the audience, these people, they call themselves Rohingyas but we are ready to address this issue very seriously.  There is an issue in the Rakhine State.  It’s called the granting of citizenship to all the Muslim people.

00:54:12    The country, the authorities gave way to them to become citizens, but they refused to cooperate with the government.  That is the reason why the the issue is still going on.  It is not because the government is oppressing them.  It’s not because the government is segregating them, is not because the government is taking action against them.

00:54:48    We are serious with it.  Because we are serious, we are working with all the people’s concerns.  I must also tell you about the fake news that is also spreading not only in our country, but also in the whole world.  Fake news can cause us a lot [of harm].  Please go and see with your own eyes our country, how the people are living, how the people are trying to make their own lives.

00:55:21    We have been isolated from the rest of the world for many, many years.  Please give us the chance to work with the rest of the world.  I know because of the organization that you are representing that you have to [make comments] like this.  But when you go to our country, please talk with with the majority of the people.

00:55:47    You will see how the majority of the people feel.  Also with the Muslims, there was a statement by the Muslims saying that they were very, very saddened, also that they were very disappointed with what the Muslim Prime Minister of ASEAN countries was doing.  These are the things.  We are ready, we are committed to work with all the parties concern.

00:56:18    We know that it is a problem in our country.  We will address it.  We are serious.  But don’t make this the only issue to block or to hinder United States companies’ activities in our country.  Thank you.

00:56:40    LINDA YARR:  Madam?

00:56:41    ARIANA STACKER:  Uh my name is Ariana Stacker.  I’m an Alum and my husband is a Professor Emeritus at GW.  I just returned from two weeks in Myanmar.

00:56:51    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Yes.

00:56:41    ARIANA STACKER:  The people are very gentle, happy in their poverty, that I couldn’t understand how–


00:56:58    ARIANA STACKER:  –they’re happy when they’re so poor.  My question is – we were supposed to cross from China to Myanmar, there were skirmishes, the border was closed, we had to fly economy to Mandalay.  The guide told us that there are four to five years of free elementary education.  We saw many children of that age group who were not in school during the day.

00:57:28    They were either working, selling, working in the farms.  And I feel that education is the most important thing to make the population adapt to factories, to high-tech, to farming even.  And that’s a question, why it’s not really required and it’s not really carried on?  Thank you.

00:57:54    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Madam, I thank you for your kind remarks on our country.  Yes, people are poor and they are still happy.  Maybe this is the teaching of religion to be contented with where you are.  And also with regards to the education of the children in the border areas, you have met our people and you know how our people are value education.

00:58:26    But there are still issues, maybe issues of the parents who want to send the children to the schools, but because of the economic situation they were unable to send them.  Or maybe because of the security of the region, of the area—it is not because the parents don’t want to send the children to the schools.

00:58:57    But I can assure you that they are very dedicated.  If the situation permits, the children will be able to go to the schools.  Yes.

00:59:17    DEEPA OLLAPALLY:  Thank you Ambassador for that comprehensive portrait.  I’m Deepa Ollapally, the Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies.  I’d like to go back to a question earlier about infrastructure and China and the US.   I’d like to ask further on the [country’s] two other neighbors and what you see as a role for Japan and India in infrastructure in your country, and specifically where you see the development of ports as part of the maritime transport and economy, which is so important for connectivity in that area and Burma’s role in that, where you see that standing, thanks.

01:00:01    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you, Professor.  Japan and India are also very important development partners for Burma.  India is a neighbor and India is involved in the infrastructure project called the Trilateral Highway.  That links India, Myanmar, and Thailand.  There are several portions that still have to be developed and India has committed to completing the remaining portions of the Trilateral Highway.

01:00:35    This Trilateral Highway, once completed, will link India with the Southeast Asian mainland.  That will connect the East-West corridor that links Thailand and Vietnam.  So this is the project that India is involved in.

01:01:00    And also there is a multi-modal project called the Kaladan Multi-Modal [Transit Transport] Project, where Mizoram State, that is far from the capital, have developed a waterway whereby Mizoram State will have access to the ocean.

01:01:31    And with regards to Japan, Japan was the largest economic donor to Myanmar in the past.  It is still a very big international investor in our country.

01:01:55    There is a project call the Thilawa [Special Economic Zone Development] Project that is across the Yangon River, where the Japanese government has made a huge investment in manufacturing and also in developing the port facilities as well.

01:02:21    There are also ongoing projects in the other states.  One is in Rakhine State.  It’s called the Kyaukphyu [Special Economic Zone project], where the government is in the negotiation process with the Chinese government.  Once it has finished, there will be greater trade between Myanmar and China through this Kyaukphyu port, not only with Myanmar and China, but through the rest of the region.

01:02:59    And there is another ongoing project called the Dawei [Port Project] that is in the Southeastern part of the country, where once it is finished, the linkages between the Middle East and Far East will be improved through the land connection between the Dawei deep sea port and the ports in Vietnam.

01:03:39    That can shorten the distance of our trades routes and goods that will be sent from the Middle East to the Far East.

01:03:52    LINDA YARR:  Sir?

01:03:56    ERIC ROWE:  Thank you.  I’m Eric Rowe.  I’m a Master’s student here in the Security Policy Studies program at The Elliott School.  My question is concerning the Muslim armed groups within Myanmar.  I was wondering if your government has considered seeking assistance and training from the United States government and military in terms of counterinsurgency operations, and also if your government is concerned with the armed groups moving away from separatism and more towards radical Jihadism, as the separatist groups did in Thailand.

01:04:32    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  This is a very important issue that we are facing.  As many countries are facing the issue of terrorism, we are also one of the countries that is facing this problem.  At this time, we are addressing it with our own resources.

01:04:59    We know that we were able to identify the armed group that have staged attacks on the border guards recently, that they have been trained in Pakistan and they came back to the country.  And also they trained in the villages.  At the same time, they are also financed by some individuals in the Middle East.

01:05:26    We are trying with our own resources at this time.  And if the situation needs help from the United States, we will also consider it.  But at this time, not yet, because the United States also has its own limitations because they cannot deal directly with the military in our country.

01:06:03    This is a serious issue.  And it is important for the government not to get the people radicalized because of the recent situation.

01:06:25    ERIC ROWE:  Why can’t the military deal with the United States?

01:06:27    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Following the visit of the State Counsellor, there was a joint statement made by our two countries.  The military and the cooperation between the two defense forces is not included in the joint statement because the United States government still feels that the sale of military hardware and weapons to Myanmar must be restricted under the sanction.

01:07:14    LINDA YARR:  Sir in the back.

01:07:15    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  But I must tell you that the military must be a part of the nation-building process.  And the United States will be a very good partner for our country if the government can train the military on how to build on the nation-building and to how to be the military in a democratic country.

01:07:46    PARAMESWARAN PRASHANTH:  Hi, [Parameswaran] Prashanth with The Diplomat Magazine.  Thanks a lot for your remarks, Ambassador.  Two questions, one on the US and one on China.  You talked a lot about the opportunities that China presents in terms of infrastructure and economic development for Myanmar.  And obviously many Southeast Asian countries, if not all, would like to see a good relationship with both China and the United States.  I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about the challenges that Myanmar sees that China poses.

01:08:11    For all Southeast Asian countries, China poses both opportunities as well as challenges.  And in Myanmar’s case, you’ve seen any number of challenges from the terms at which some of these infrastructure projects that have been constructed have been to some of the ASEAN-wide developments, China’s behavior with respect to the South China Sea, which Myanmar I’m sure is concerned about.  So that’s the first question, challenges from China.  The second question is you talked about briefly about opportunities with the United States for Myanmar.

01:08:41    I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit more about what Myanmar expects from the security and the defense side as the next administration comes into office.  What would Myanmar like to see in terms of training engagement and some of the other elements of military cooperation from the US?  Thanks.

01:08:58    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you.  With regards to the China factor, as I have shown you in my presentation, Myanmar has a land border with China that is over 1300 miles.  You cannot move the country away from China.  We are the immediate neighbors.  And we have a good relationship with China.

01:09:26    And there is bilateral trade.  China is the biggest trading partner of ASEAN, but when you look at the trade figures, China and Myanmar’s trade is far less than the trade that China is doing with Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.

01:09:55    I think there must be more opportunities for Myanmar where we can benefit from China.  But still, we are not benefiting to the full extent.  This is what we wish to see from China.  And we wish to see China as a peaceful country and that bilateral trade will develop and flourish, not only between our two borders but also through other means.

01:10:29    And with regards to the training, as I have mentioned earlier, we are very eager to engage in a defense relationship with the United States government.  In the past, we had.  The United States provided military hardware to our country in the past, in the fight against the Communist insurgents.

01:11:02    But this is a thing of the past, and we would like to revive the relationship that existed in the past in a way that will benefit all the parties in the region.  Because a peaceful Myanmar can also contribute towards peace in the region.

01:11:25    LINDA YARR:  Courtney?

01:11:26    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Yes?

01:11:30    COURTNEY WEATHERBY:  Hi I’m Courtney Weatherby from the Stimson Center Southeast Asia program.  And like Prashanth, I have two questions.  The first is regarding the Myitsone Dam Project.  I know that there’s an ongoing committee reviewing this, putting out reports.  They already came out with a preliminary.  And I was curious first if you could give us any updates on that or the timeline expected for that decision.  And second, building off Prashanth’s question about security and defense assistance and coordination with the United States, I was curious if you could talk about cooperation in other sectors and priorities for the next four years under the incoming administration, through for instance the Lower Mekong Initiative and other USAID-style programs.

00:12:09    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Well you have two questions, one is the Myitsone Dam.  The Myitsone Dam Project is as you know, following the assumption of our President U Thein Sein, he made an announcement that the Myitsone Dam project will be suspended.  Well this is still going on.

01:12:34    And Myanmar and the Chinese government are working closely on this issue.  The Myitsone Dam Commission was also formed with very prominent people.  And they will make a preliminary report very soon.  The report will be made to the President.

01:13:07    The entire country is very serious on this.  China is also aware of it.  I think China also knows the feeling of the entire people of Myanmar.  There are many issues that Myanmar and China are engaged in, and Myitsone is only part of our bilateral relations.

01:13:29    I think China will understand Myanmar and that will bring understanding and also promote more economic relations between our two countries.  Myitsone is only a part of our major overall relations that we have between Myanmar and China.

01:14:04    With regard to security and cooperation between the two countries and the coming administration, we look forward to more engagement with the United States government.  There is one program under the US administration, or defense program, called IMAT that the United States government trains the military offices of countries abroad.

01:14:33    This is the program that we wish to see more of.  And also what we see at present is that United States officials are taking part in disaster relief exercises in the region.  And there was one workshop that was held in our country that is related to the defense disaster relief exercise related to defense officials.

01:15:09    Maybe this is a good beginning and we can do more in the future.

01:15:21    GENIE NGUYEN:  Thank you, Ambassador.  My name is Genie Nguyen with Voice of Vietnamese Americans.  Would you please touch on the relationship between Myanmar and Vietnam, especially with the development of Myanmar and also its role in ASEAN?  How can we expect Myanmar and Vietnam to work together to promote prosperity of the Southeast Asian countries within the ASEAN framework, especially in upholding the rule of law in the South China Sea?  Thank you.

01:15:50    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you very much.  Myanmar and Vietnam are good friends.  The older generation of Vietnam knows very well how the leaders worked together for Vietnamese independence.  I think the development of Myanmar can also contribute greatly towards the development of Vietnam, and also to the entire region.

01:16:22    As I have mentioned earlier, there are two East-West corridors that Vietnam and the Southeast Asian countries are now developing.  One is the North East-West corridor that starts from Vietnam.  And also there is another East-West corridor that’s starting from Vietnam.  That will link Southeast Asian landmarks in the future.

01:16:49    The Northeast corridor passes through Northern Vietnam and Lao and Myanmar.  And the Southern part of the East-West corridor links Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar.

01:17:12    These are the things that we can benefit from through the development of the region.  And with regard to the South China Sea issue, Myanmar is a part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.  Myanmar is not a claimant state in the South China Sea.  But we are always supportive of ASEAN’s position that will settle a dispute between ASEAN and China.

01:17:49    That is the reason why when Myanmar was the chairman of ASEAN, we made our position very clear that ASEAN is concerned with the developments in the South China Sea.  This is what we announced at the beginning of our chairmanship.  China knows that Myanmar is not a claimant state, but respects our position in ASEAN.

01:18:19    That is the reason why we tried to be part of the solution in the South China Sea, together with other ASEAN members.

01:18:37    JEN LYE:  Hi thank you, my name is Jen Lye.  I am a student here at GWU.  So my question is primarily about the peace process.  From what I follow, I’ve noticed that as the peace process is happening in Naypyidaw, there’s also intensification of armed conflict in the ethnic area.

01:19:02    So I’m wondering right now, like as we speak, the situation in Chin State is also intensifying.  And there are also reports of fighter jets being used in this particular situation.  So I’m wondering if this is going to be the pattern that we’re gonna continue to see, where you have work happening in Naypyidaw with the peace process, that the government is trying to accomplish, but you also have intensification of armed conflict.

01:19:34    And I’m also wondering how the government is going to try to sort of constrain what is happening, especially with the [Damidal?].  And second question sort of concerns the IDPs, the people who’ve been displaced because of this armed conflict.  Is there anything that the current government is doing in order to help the internally displaced persons?

01:20:03    If not, is it anything that the government is planning on doing to help these displaced citizens?  Thank you.

01:20:12    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Okay.  To answer what you have asked in a very short sentence, the government is committed to peace, to be sure.  The present fighting that is taking place in the North are the groups that are not included in the original ceasefire agreement.

01:20:43    And they are taking the chance to make themselves known by the many people in the world.  This is the fighting that is going on.  And the fighting is done according to the rules of engagement.

01:21:11    There is nothing illegal in using air tech from the air.  We are not intruding on the neighbors.  And with regard to the IDPs, once this fighting is over, the IDPs will return to their respective homes.

01:21:39    I think the groups that are involved in this recent fighting, they are just making themselves known to the public that they are also players.  But they are only minor players in the past.  Nobody knew about them in the past and they are making a fuss of something about it.

01:22:13    CHRISTINA FINK:  Hi, I’m Christina Fink and I’m the Director of the International Development Studies program here at The Elliott School.  And I was wondering if you would talk about the judicial sector.  So two problems with the judicial sector that have been noted in the past are the lack of independence from the executive branch, and also the pervasiveness of corruption.  And those have affected both ordinary citizens and business people.

01:22:38    And I’m wondering if you could talk about what specifically is being done to deal with that and what you expect to be done during this administration.

01:22:49    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Well this is a very valid question.  The judiciary system has been under criticism in the past.  That it, to address this issue, the government is seriously addressing this issue, to make the rule of law prevail, not only in the government, not only in the cities, but also all across the country.

01:23:24    And with regard to the corruption, that is also something we are taking very seriously.  Recently, Aung San Suu Kyi visited Singapore and she visited the anti-corruption office.  And what she said following the visit is that corruption is a fact and it is not a culture.

01:23:57    In our country, we are glad to say that corruption is not a culture in the country.  It is a fact that there are some people who are corrupt, but we are taking it very seriously.  And [Aung San Suu Kyi] had an interview with Channel News Asia.

01:24:29    She said that the Ministers now are not corrupted.  But she said that Ministers are not corrupted but there are still things that need to be addressed in the other departments and organizations.  We are aware of the situation.  We will address this.

01:24:56    CHRISTINA FINK:  And can you just address the independence of judicial system?

01:24:59    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  The independence of the judicial system is that we are trying to separate the judicial system from the executive branch as clearly as possible.  Thank you.

01:25:14    LINDA YARR:  Well certainly given you [INDISTINCT], one more question, if I may.  And as we sit here in the university, I’m wondering if you could give us a sense of the current status of higher education development in terms of such issues as time [INDISTINCT] of the universities and exchanges with [INDISTINCT].  Just wonder [INDISTINCT] new thinking for higher education.

01:25:50    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Linda, thank you very much for raising this issue.  This is the issue that is very close to me.  And I also feel very strongly that this education system must advance as equally as the country is also developing.  And also, you know the education system in our country was very well-known in the region in the past.

01:26:23    I will give you a very good example.  There was a Singaporean government official who told me that when he was young, his father told him that he must study very hard, or otherwise he will only be able to study in Singapore.

01:26:46    Or otherwise, if he studies hard, he will be sent to Yangon – Rangoon University.  That was in the past.  We are very proud of the history of Rangoon University.  That is the university that I graduated from.  Well, I must tell you that following the 1988 disturbances, many universities were closed for many years.

01:27:11    It’s a very sad story and it is very unfortunate that this kind of thing happened in our country.  That is the reason why the authorities are trying to fix this problem and bring back the dignity of the university to the time that we were very proud of.  And also it is important not only for the administrators, but also for the students, that they must change their attitude as well.

01:27:45    In the past, following the closures of the schools, schools were reopened and the students were not very serious in learning.  Because, after graduating, they were not given a relevant or the deserved opportunities for work that they studied for in the university.

01:28:16    The time has come for us to consider very seriously whether the students that studied in the universities, once they graduate, are offered and get the job that they truly deserve.  This is what the education policymakers are doing.

01:28:43    And it is also the duty of the students to be more serious in pursuing education in the universities.  In the past, the students were given several standard questions.  They studied only those standard questions.  They just answered these questions and they got through and they passed the exams.

01:29:09    And the teachers, because they don’t want the students to make any noise or cause any disturbances, they were very, very lenient on the students.  But now things are changed.  The faculty members are more serious in the conduct of examinations.

01:29:32    And the students have become serious in the pursuit of education.  And what the country needs to do is to give jobs and the work to students that they truly deserve when they graduate.  This is a give and take for the students and also the policymakers.  And also, I think that George Washington University can give our country a very good opportunity by giving a chance to those dedicated students who wish to study in the United States.

01:30:12    Please give us the opportunity to study in this university and although we will not be financially sound enough to attend this university, there may be some opportunities, or well-wishers who will help the really dedicated students from Myanmar to study in the United States.

01:30:38    I think this will be the very beginning of the engagement between students of Myanmar and the George Washington University.  Thank you very much.

01:30:52    LINDA YARR:  Well thank you so much, Your Excellency.  I look forward to the day when we would have students from Myanmar and as George Washington University also prepares leaders for the future in the United States, we also look forward to helping and working with your students as they prepare for leadership in your country.

01:31:21    We’ve had a very wide range of questions and comments covered.  It’s been a tour de force to really answer all these questions.  And so I really thank you for devoting your time today.

01:31:44    I also would like to thank Robin Khan and her team, Colette and Jason and PISA staff, Justin and Miriam and Leeann for helping to make this landmark event possible.  Again, thank you so much, Your Excellency.

01:32:07    [APPLAUSE]

01:32:14    AMBASSADOR AUNG LYNN:  Thank you very much, Linda.

01:32:16    LINDA YARR:  It’s been wonderful.


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