John Kerry, US Secretary of State, on diplomatic solutions and a successful relationship: Viewpoint

John Kerry, US Secretary of State

Myanmar has made a significant amount of progress over the course of the past few years, and when I was last here in 1999, I visited with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was then under house arrest. Today, she sits in parliament and the people are openly debating the future direction of this country. The Myanmar people have made a very clear statement about their desire to build a democratic, peaceful and economically vibrant country, and many have struggled and sacrificed in order to reach this stage.

Myanmar’s potential is limitless, and it is blessed by a rich diversity of people and abundant natural resources. But it is ultimately up to the leaders to make the right choices in the days, months and years ahead. If they do and if people can overcome the differences that exist between them, if they can join together in common purpose, then Myanmar can complete the transition to democracy. And the US will absolutely remain a partner in the effort to help the country to be able to do that.

ASEAN is also central to regional peace, stability and prosperity, and during my meetings with ASEAN foreign ministers we affirmed our commitment to sustainable economic growth and regional development. American companies are already investing responsibly in order to develop jobs and help to create the economic base that could be really transformative for the people of Myanmar.

We are also focused on our shared interest in protecting the environment. We have taken practical steps to deepen our cooperation with ASEAN on climate change, which is a challenge that demands elevated urgency and attention from all of us. During the announcement of a meeting that China and Malaysia will host regarding disaster preparedness and as the types of events were listed – tsunamis, typhoons and others that come with changes in the climate – it became apparent that there are trillions of dollars being spent now and greater expenditure can be expected in the future. This could change by implementing better energy and climate change policies ahead of time.

Key security issues have also been addressed, and we have had extensive discussions on multiple occasions about the South China Sea. I have expressed the concerns of many regarding the rise in tensions, and we all underscored the importance of negotiations on a binding code of conduct. I have also stressed the importance of everybody clarifying claims under international law and proceeding under the legal process through the law, arbitration and bilateral relationships in order to try to resolve these issues. And our hope is that the claimants ultimately can agree among themselves and proceed forward.

We did discuss the concept of freezing in place the actions that people choose to take on a purely voluntary basis. This is a way of actually locking into place the promises that people have already made under the 2002 Declarations of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. I am pleased by the positive language that came out in the August 2014 communiqué issued by ASEAN ministers that embraces resolving these issues in a thoughtful way.

We have also discussed North Korea and its actions with respect to its nuclear programme, which present a very serious threat to international peace and stability. I reaffirmed the commitment of the US to the verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. China, among others, joined in that. I think there is unanimity about the need to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions and to live up to international standards with respect to non-proliferation. So on behalf of US President Barack Obama and certainly from myself, I thank ASEAN for its committed partnership and very much look forward to continuing what has already been a very productive relationship. I also appreciate enormously the efforts Myanmar has made towards a constructive and comprehensive dialogue between our countries.

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