Aung San Suu Kyi: ‘What We Want Is a Truly Democratic Country’


Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi delivers an address at Asia Society in New York on her country's political and economic development on September 21, 2016. Photo: Ellen Wallop/Asia Society

“People ask me to make speeches and they usually tell me what they want me to talk about," said Aung San Suu Kyi, to laughter. “As a good guest, I like to oblige. But I usually am able to weave in what I'd like to say as well.”

On the evening of September 21 at the Asia Society in New York, the iconic Nobel laureate and Myanmar leader did exactly that. In a wide-ranging talk delivered without the aid of notes, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke with optimism about the political and economic changes occurring in her country. But she noted that there was significant room for improvement.

“There's a long way to go before we can claim we have a right to be congratulated,” she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Asia Society — an institution with which she has maintained close ties over the years — caps off a successful visit to the United States, where last week President Barack Obama announced he would lift long-standing economic sanctions against Myanmar.

At the society, she acknowledged this progress — but reiterated her support of establishing firmer civilian control over Myanmar, a country where the military continues to play an large role in political life.

“Military commanders should have no role to play in the civilian government of a democratic country," she said. "And what we want is a truly democratic country.”

Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged that tremendous challenges remain. Relations between the Myanmar majority and the country's many ethnic minorities are tense, and poverty and underdevelopment remain major concerns. Substandard roads susceptible to flooding have stymied sustained growth, and a substantial part of Myanmar's male population works as migrants abroad. These problems have prevented Myanmar from realizing its significant economic potential.

“At one time we were considered the nation most likely to succeed in Southeast Asia, but we were not able to achieve this success — for political, not economic reasons,” she said.

Following her remarks, Aung San Suu Kyi was interviewed on stage by Kevin Rudd, the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former Australian Prime Minister. In a lively discussion, the Myanmar leader asserted her desire for her country to enjoy a positive relationship with both the United States and China and defended her appointment of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to mediate ethnic conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

“We’re not afraid of international scrutiny,” she said, “Why should we be afraid if we’re doing what’s right?”

Courtesy of the Asia Society

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