Former US President Barack Obama: Viewpoint

Former US President Barack Obama

Viewpoint: Barack Obama

When I was first elected in 2008, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. And because – in part of advocacy by the US and others in the international community, but more importantly, because of the courage and strength and resilience of the Myanmar people – what we have seen over the last several years is a transition to democratic elections; a representative legislature that still has significant constraints from the previous military government, but is giving a voice to the hopes and dreams of a new generation of Myanmar people. And as a consequence, now Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as state counsellor and foreign minister, is in a position with her government to begin shaping a remarkable social, political and economic transformation.

In part because of the progress that we’ve seen over the last several months, I indicated, after consulting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, that the US is now prepared to lift economic sanctions that we have imposed on Myanmar for quite some time. It is the right thing to do in order to ensure that the people of Myanmar see rewards from a new way of doing business and a new government.

At the same time, we’re also going to be restoring the generalised system of preferences, which provides very important commercial and trading advantages for economically disadvantaged countries as they enter into the global economy. And if you combine those two efforts, I think this will give the US, our businesses and our non-profit institutions a greater incentive to invest and participate in what we hope will be an increasingly democratic and prosperous partner for us in the region.

In addition to the political transition that’s taken place and the economic reforms that are being initiated, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also helped to convene a peace conference so that the various ethnic groups and armed conflicts that have plagued this country for far too long can begin to be resolved. There’s a process of beginning to reach out and address some of the ethnic minorities, including in Rakhine State, that historically feel discrimination. And so there’s a broader process of transformation, reconciliation and hope that has emerged in a country that for decades was burdened by a military dictatorship and closed off from the world.

And I can tell you that when I visited the country as the first US president ever to travel there, I could see the enormous potential that was about to be unleashed, and nobody represented that potential better than Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

So we are extremely hopeful about the future. We are hopeful about building on the friendship and partnership that we’ve already established, not just with the new government but, more importantly, with the Myanmar people.

I would encourage Americans who have the opportunity at some point to travel to Myanmar to do so. It is a beautiful country with a rich culture and wonderful people. And I think, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a very welcoming tourist industry that has been developing in recent years.

We look forward to partnering with the country on a whole range of issues. And congratulations on the progress that’s been made. It is not yet complete, and I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the first one to indicate that a lot of work remains to be done in Myanmar, but it’s certainly on the right track. And if you would have predicted five years ago that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would now be here sitting as the newly elected representative of her country, many people would have been sceptical. But this is a positive news story in an era in which so often we see countries going in the opposite direction.

The above excerpt was adapted from a speech that was delivered by former President Obama during State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the White House in September 2016.

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