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Asian, Australian and NZ relations with Myanmar

The Sunnylands Declaration: 15-16 February 2016 Sunnylands California

We the Heads of State/Government of the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States of America gathered in Sunnylands, California, on February 15-16, 2016, for a Special Leaders Summit. This Special ASEAN – U.S. Leaders Summit was the first ever to be held in the United States and the very first Summit following the establishment of the ASEAN Community. The Summit marked a watershed year for both ASEAN and for the increasingly close ASEAN-U.S. strategic partnership.

In 2015, ASEAN Member States celebrated the establishment of the ASEAN Community, working together toward an ASEAN that better serves the people of Southeast Asia. Read on.....

In conclusion, Banyan notes that "the Sunnylands summit cannot have pleased China - especially since it was there that Mr Obama welcomed Mr Xi for a groundbreaking love-in in 2013. South-East Asian diplomats crow that the choice of place shows that America considers ASEAN to be just as important as China. Yet the meeting between the two presidents was an introduction. This one will be more like a valediction. At least five of the 11 leaders gathering in California, including Mr Obama, are on their way out of office. And among those who will remain, Mr Prayuth and Mr Hun Sen preside over dangerously fragile polities.

"The summit is unlikely to yield much more than the promise of future summits. But for ASEAN, obsessed with process more than with destinations, that may be just fine, with America remaining a hedge against China. If China really wants the region more firmly in its orbit, it will have to do a better job of speaking softly and concealing the stick."

In conclusion, the leader notes: "China may calculate that now is the time, in the final months of an American presidency it sees as weak and averse to confrontation, to create facts in the water that will give it an irreversible grip on the sea. So rather than yield to Chinese intimidation, America should continue to assert the freedom of navigation and overflight, and do so less ambiguously. Its friends in the region, habitually scared of upsetting China, should give it more full-throated support. It is in none of their interests to see the South China Sea, with its important shipping lanes, become a South China Lake."

Reactions to the verdict in the Koh Tao murder trial

[The portrait carried by protesters of HM King Bumiphol Adulyadej has the respectful text in English: "Request to Royal King of Thailand Free Innocent Two Myanmar Citizens Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun".]

Derek Tonkin writes: Aman Ullah, writing in the Rohingya Blogger, makes a poignant comparison between the arrest, trial and conviction, within 20 days, of three Muslim suspects in the alleged rape and murder of Ma Thi Da Htwe in May 2012 in Rakhine State and the extended process against two migrant workers from Rakhine State in the Koh Tao murder case. Further details of this 2012 tragedy may be found in the Democratic Voice of Burma article at this link.

Extract: Minister for the Far East and South East Asia Hugo Swire summoned the Thai Chargé d’Affaires to the UK, Mr. Nadhavathna Krishnamra, to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office today [13 October 2014], to raise his concerns about the investigation into the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on Koh Tao on 15 September. The summons followed Mr Swire’s call to the Thai Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Tanasak Patimapragorn, on 9 October.

Mr Swire stressed that there was a real concern in the UK about how the investigation has been handled by the Thai authorities. He said that it was crucial for the investigation to be conducted in a fair and transparent way. 

India to help modernise Myanmar Armed Forces
Economic Times - 17 July 2015
In what could be described as a major initiative in the field of military diplomacy India on Thursday decided to assist modernisation of Myanmar's Army and Navy to upgrade military to military cooperation to the next level, nearly a month after joint operations targeted insurgents along 1640-km-long land boundary.

The decision to expand military cooperation and effective border management was taken at the maiden Joint Consultative Commission Meeting co-chaired by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin on Thursday. Delhi is ready to assist creating a modern National Army for Myanmar besides assistance in building the country's Navy.

This is a significant development amid slide in Sino-Myanmar ties. Apart from this while there is a democratic government in power, the large Myanmar Army still calls the shots in that country. While India has been supplying Myanmarese Army with defence equipment including rifles and tanks in the past, the current decision hopes to launch a comprehensive cooperation on the lines of India's defence partnership with Nepal, Bhutan and too an extent with Afghanistan. Read more.....
Mizzima - 10 July 2015

Myanmar has become the first country to purchase JF-17 Thunder fighting jets from Pakistan. It will buy 16 jets in the first phase while Pakistan is interested in selling over 2 dozen jets, reported Dunya News on 9 July.

The PAC JF-17 is a lightweight, single-engine, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) of China. The JF-17 can be used for aerial reconnaissance, ground attack and aircraft interception.

Derek Tonkin writes: This intent to purchase comes in the wake of the Pakistani-sponsored Resolution at the 2 July 2015 meeting of the Human Rights Council which reflected domestic political pressure and was critical of the human rights situation of the Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar.

Thai PM set for visit to Myanmar
Voice of America  - 8 October 2014
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of this year's military coup in Bangkok, will travel Thursday to neighboring Myanmar for high-level talks on trade, security and migrant workers.

A senior Myanmar official, who did not want to be identified by name, told VOA's Burmese service the Thai leader will meet in Naypyidaw with Myanmar President Thein Sein.

"The two leaders will discuss the situation of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, including the arrest of two Myanmar mn who were arrested with the charges of killing two British tourists in Koh Tao, southern Thailand," he said. "The two leaders will also discuss issues of mutual interest, including border security.”

Korean manufacturers migrating en masse to Myanmar
Korean Times - 22 September 2014
According to the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), Myanmar will soon become Asia's largest manufacturing center and Korean firms should actively pursue investment opportunities there.

China used to be the hot spot in Asia for Korean investment. Tens of thousands of Korean manufacturers, large and small, rushed to set up plants in China after the two nations established diplomatic ties in 1992. They wanted to take advantage of the cheap labor and wide range of benefits given to foreign-investing firms by the Chinese government.

However, an increasing number of those companies left the world's second-largest economy for Vietnam, Indonesia and other rapidly growing Southeast Asian nations, but they have also become less enticing for Korean manufacturers because of soaring labor costs and other operating expenses. The companies are now looking for a new place to operate in and Myanmar is a viable candidate, according to KITA.

India-Myanmar Relations 

Australian Foreign Minister embarks on first visit to Myanmar
ABC News - 2 July 2014
Samantha Hawley writes: Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says she will raise human rights concerns during her first official visit to Myanmar. Ms Bishop has arrived in the Rangoon, and will meet President Thein Sein and Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a side trip to the new capital, Naypyidaw.

Ms Bishop's visit acknowledges Australia's support for Myanmar's transition from a brutal military regime towards a fledgling democracy. She's says the current arms embargo imposed by Australia won't be discussed this time. "But Australia was among the first nations to lift sanctions we have embraced Myanmar since 2011, although as I said we've had diplomatic relations continuously since 1952."

Word of support from Burma, says Thai army
Democratic Voice of Burma/Reuters - 5 June 2014
Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesperson Yongyuth Mayalarp has said that Thailand has received a word of support from Burma over the political situation in the country. The Thai permanent secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sihasak Puangketkaew, met with Burma’s Foreign Minister Wanna Muang Lwin in Burma on Wednesday.

Yongyuth said that Sihasak’s trip was intended to explain to Burma, who is this year’s ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) chair, the military council’s roadmap to bring Thailand back to normalcy. “The Burmese government has kept a close monitoring of the situation in Thailand because Thailand is a close neighbour and is important to Burma,” Yongyuth said. “Burma has confidence in Thailand and is willing to support the country, especially in the framework of ASEAN and relations with other ASEAN member countries.”

China and Vietnam have also expressed support for Thailand’s new military government, authorities said on Wednesday.

Derek Tonkin writes: The Thai spokesperson did not use the old Thai word for 'Burma' which is 'P-ma', but the new designation 'Myanmar', transliterated the same in Thai. The report accordingly gives an inaccurate translation of what the Thai spokesman actually said. There is no internationally agreed protocol for the use of 'Myanmar' in languages other than English, but the use of 'Myanmar' in Thai should properly be reflected in the English translation, which it is not.

Bangladesh and Myanmar move to break ice
BdNews 24.com - 22 May 2014
Bangladesh and Myanmar are set to break the ice in their relations by narrowing the decades-old “trust deficit” between the two neighbours. Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque on Wednesday said Naypyidaw responded positively to Dhaka’s proposal to have a “security dialogue” to discuss “the problems in the bordering area. Once we have security dialogue, we would have close, intense discussion between two bordering forces,” he said speaking at a seminar on Bangladesh-Myanmar relations that he said faced “trust deficit”.

The Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised the seminar bringing in a delegation of Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS), with BIISS director general Major General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed in chair. The Secretary said under the security dialogue “we will focus discussion on security issues which is hurting the relationship including irregular movement of people in that area”. Continue reading.....

US Secretary of State expresses concern about Thailand
US State Department - 22 May 2014
I am disappointed by the decision of the Thai military to suspend the constitution and take control of the government after a long period of political turmoil, and there is no justification for this military coup. I am concerned by reports that senior political leaders of Thailand’s major parties have been detained and call for their release. I am also concerned that media outlets have been shut down. I urge the restoration of civilian government immediately, a return to democracy, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as press freedoms. The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people.

While we value our long friendship with the Thai people, this act will have negative implications for the U.S.–Thai relationship, especially for our relationship with the Thai military. We are reviewing our military and other assistance and engagements, consistent with U.S. law.

Nay Pyi Taw ASEAN Declaration
ASEAN Secretariat - 11 May 2014
Full text of the Heads of State/Government Declaration of 11 May 2014 on the Realisation of the ASEAN Community by 2015, which notably included Paragpaph 15 on ASEAN economic integration:

  • To intensify our efforts in realising the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015 and implement the initiatives to achieve the ASEAN Single Market and Production Base, including the trade facilitative initiatives such as the ASEAN self-certification system and the ASEAN Single Window, the ASEAN Customs Transit System, as well as other measures for the free flow of goods, services, investment and skilled labour and freer flow of capital.

Derek Tonkin writes: The organisation of the ASEAN Summit by Myanmar appears on the whole to have been successful, though there were press complaints about lack of information concerning decisions taken and access to personalities attending.

The Economist commented that "South East Asia finds the decorum of its regional club rather rudely shattered" and noted in particular: "In private, some ASEAN diplomats now voice doubts about the wisdom of the club’s late-1990s expansion. The newcomers’ poverty and their governments’ weak capacities hamper a central objective of ASEAN’s: the establishment of an ASEAN community", and recalls that: "A report of its progress by the Asian Development Bank and the Institute of South-East Asian Studies, a think-tank in Singapore, concludes that ASEAN 'has no prospect of coming close to…[a] single market by the ASEAN Economic Communtiy's 2015 deadline - or even by 2020 or 2025.”

Comment generally has been restrained. Myanmar can congratulate itself that the event passed off without mishap.

Australian Government strengthening ties with the Myanmar Government
Joint Press Release: Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs - 20 January 2014
The Australian Government has re-established a resident Defence Attaché office in Burma with the arrival in Rangoon today of Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Captain Jon Dudley who will fill the post left vacant since 1979. Captain Dudley has previously served as Australian Defence Attaché to Thailand and Naval Attaché to Indonesia.

The appointment coincides with the arrival at the Port of Rangoon of a RAN Armidale Class patrol boat, HMAS Childers, the first such visit by an Australian warship to Burma since HMAS Quiberon, in 1959.  Acting Minister for Defence, Senator George Brandis welcomed the visit by HMAS Childers and her 21 crew, who will stay for four days as part of a good will visit. “This is the first RAN ship to visit Burma in a very long time. It and Captain Dudley’s arrival signify our modest but growing defence engagement following political and economic reforms initiated by the Government of Myanmar in 2011,” Senator Brandis said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop also welcomed the closer defence cooperation with the Myanmar Government as it seeks to open its economy and transition to a democracy. Continue reading.....

Derek Tonkin writes: This press release illustrates the schizophrenia which has recently struck the Australian Government about whether the country concerned is "Burma" or "Myanmar". The Government seems to have concluded that to satisfy all tastes it is best to use both, and if at all possible in the closest proximity. "Burma" occurs three times and "Myanmar" seven times in the press release, though six of the latter are adjectival or possibly nominal.

The Australian press too is showing signs of contamination by this schizophrenia. "Australia has been a leading advocate of closer engagement with Myanmar's government, which has ruled Burma with an iron fist since 1962, following the release from house arrest of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi," proclaims the online news.com.au today.

Myanmar becomes Burma, again
Andrew Selth: The Lowy Interpreter - 14 January 2014
Although there has so far been no official announcement, Andrew Selth comments on the apparent change in policy by the new Australian administration elected last September on the matter of the use of 'Myanmar' and 'Burma'. The writer observes that "Naypyidaw considers the continued use of 'Burma' by Western governments to be gratuitously offensive. Also, given the use of 'Myanmar' in all diplomatic correspondence and a wide range of other official exchanges, from visa applications to UN Resolutions, the practice strikes many Burmese officials as faintly ridiculous.....

"It is difficult to know what has prompted the Australian government's unexpected policy shift.....Whatever the reason, having formally opted for 'Myanmar' less than two years ago, it is curious that Canberra would knowingly - and some would say needlessly - complicate its relationship with Naypyidaw, and adopt a position that is out of step with all other states in the Asia-Pacific region, including Burma's fellow ASEAN members."

Derek Tonkin writes: The policies of those Western countries which maintain this unedifying dichotomy reflect a veritable schizophrenia in dealing with what is very much a self-imposed dilemma. 'Myanmar' is all too often an operational necessity - not a mere diplomatic courtesy as the US State Department would have us believe - where all matters of diplomacy, trade and international relations are concerned, while 'Burma' is still used in a domestic context, to pander to the activist lobby and to respond to the entreaties of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The reality is that 'Myanmar' is essential on all matters that count, since governmental and commercial business would otherwise grind to a halt. But 'Burma' can be used when there is supposedly nothing at stake.  What a quaint way to conduct inter-state relations!

The recent change in  Australian policy, if confirmed, will neither advance reconciliation between Suu Kyi and the Generals, nor help Australian national interests. It is a classic example of the folly of politicians succumbing to short-term interest on a wave of emotion when a cool head, reliability as a prospective partner and support for the reform process in Myanmar should be primary considerations. How counterproductive can you get!

Suu Kyi in Australia

Suu Kyi in Australia to push for more democratic reform
ABC News (includes three video reports) - 27 November 2013

Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Australia to encourage global interest in further democratic reform in Myanmar. The country's opposition leader - described by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as one of the world's most inspiring figures in the past 100 years - will be in Australia for five days.

"I am delighted to be able to welcome her to Australia," Ms Bishop said. "Australia supports the political and economic reforms the Myanmar government has underway, including the April 2012 by-election when Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy entered the parliament."

The Chairman of the Southeast Asian Press Association, Kavi Chongkittavorn, speaks to Toe Zaw Latt of the Democratic Voice of Burma about the challenges and opportunities that Myanmar faces when it assumes the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014

The Evolution of India's Myanmar Policy
'Future Directions' International (Australia) - 29 July 2013
Lindsay Hughes seeks to show how India's Myanmar foreign policy has come full circle, exactly in keeping with Nehru's observation of pragmatism influencing idealism. India started out with a close relationship with Myanmar. The friendship deteriorated when idealism got in the way of politics but was revived through sheer economic and political pragmatism. India's Burma policy, it would appear, had returned to its intellectual source.

Myanmar 'a long way' from reconciliation: Carr
ABC Radio Australia - 12 July 2013
Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr has warned that there is a risk outside extremist groups could become involved in sectarian conflict in Myanmar. He says this follows as "night follows day" if legitimate grievances by the Rohingya community in Rakhine state aren't dealt with.

ABC Karol Snowdon: "You have used words like depressing and you're apprehensive about the future for the Rohingyas in the country?"

Bob Carr: "Indeed. And that follows my meeting not with the political leadership in Napyidaw, [but with] representatives of the other community, in Rakhine Province, who demonstrated a pronounced resistance to recognising the problem of the Rohingya and conceding them full citizenship rights.

"It's like what I'm saying, I think we're a long way from a commitment to reconciliation. We're a long way from inter-faith dialogue. They're two things that I raised as an Australian representative, proffering back there's grounds on which we might be of some assistance. But I couldn't say we're at a point where people were saying we'd like to use the good offices of Australia to advance inter-faith dialogue and reconciliation." Continue reading.....

Australia and Myanmar to strengthen ties
Myanmar Times - 11 July 2013

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr met Myanmar's reformist leaders on a visit aimed at boosting relations with the former junta-ruled nation in reward for sweeping political changes. Carr discussed investment and aid with President Thein Sein and "offered Australian support" in efforts to end long-running ethnic rebellions in his talks with senior officials in the capital Naypyidaw, according to a spokesman.

"Both parties agreed that there was more to be done in the reconciliation process," Carr's media advisor Patrick Low told AFP.He said talks with Thein Sein focused on raising living standards in the impoverished nation. Canberra is increasing its development aid for Myanmar to AUD$100 million (US$90 million) by 2015 - more than double its 2012 level - as it looks to support education in the country.

President Thein Sein's visit to Australia and New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister arrives in Myanmar
Fairfax NZ News - 21 November 2012
Prime Minister John Key has touched down in Myanmar - declaring his historic visit is more than just symbolic. Key is the first New Zealand Prime Minister to visit Myanmar. He follows US President Barack Obama, who alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a whirlwind trip on Monday.

"There's lots of opportunities: it's arable land, a big population [about 60 million] and it is going to get wealthy over time," Key said. "If you roll the clock forward ten years time, most of the leaders I talk to around the region think it will be an increasingly important market."

South Korea's ties with Myanmar
Editorial: The Korean Herald - 13 October 2012
Myanmar President Thein Sein’s visit to Seoul earlier this week at the invitation of President Lee Myung-bak highlighted the importance Myanmar attaches to expanding its ties with South Korea. The Myanmar leader was keen to attract Korean investors as his government seeks to build infrastructure and foster industries. The country is likely to emerge as an attractive investment destination for Korean companies, given its rich energy and mineral resources. To facilitate Korean investment in Myanmar, Lee and Thein Sein agreed during their summit to launch talks on an investment guarantee pact between the two countries. 

Burma name change signals symbolic shift by Australia
Brisbane Times - 5 June 2012
Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr has made a symbolic gesture to Burma in apparent recognition of political reforms, bestowing the name "Myanmar" on the eve of a visit to the country. The ancient name, adopted in the modern era by the former military junta, had long been a sore point, with democracy advocates insisting that "Burma" be used. The Minister for Foreign Affairs issued a statement  this morning announcing a three-day visit "to assess what more Australia, as a neighbouring country, can do to support reform efforts in Myanmar".

Suu Kyi says trade, sanctions aid Burma - The Age (Australia) - 7 June 2012
Suu Kyi is quoted as saying:" I am in favour of suspended sanctions because that makes it quite clear that good behaviour will be rewarded and if the good behaviour is not maintained the rewards can also be taken away. I believe that sanctions have had great effect politically - if they had not had such effect the government of Burma would not have been so eager to have them removed. So we are very appreciative of the political effectiveness of sanctions. But in the ultimate analysis we depend neither on sanctions nor on other external factors for real change in our country. We depend on ourselves."

Derek Tonkin writes: Australia has now announced the lifting of all its sanctions, apart from the arms embargo. Senator Carr has however said that sanctions can be reimposed if necessary and individuals can still be stopped from visiting Australia via normal visa rules. 

The reason why the Myanmar Government is anxious to see sanctions permanently lifted is that, in financial and economic terms, they have more than anything affected the population and debilitated the economy generally, like the withdrawal of bilateral development aid, the denial of support from the IMF, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and action against labour-intensive industries. Targeted sanctions have had little or no financial effect, but some psychological impact on the leadership. Perhaps this is what Suu Kyi means when she speaks of their "great effect politically". In terms of financial and economic pressure, though, they have been massively counterproductive.

Database - DFAT Media Releases 6 June 2012  


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