Clinton, Wunna Maung Lwin Press Briefing

By The Irrawaddy 18 May 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome the foreign minister here today to Washington. We have been looking forward to Minister Wunna Maung Lwin’s visit and the continuation of the close consultation and cooperation that has begun taking place between our two countries. We met in Nay Pyi Taw last December, and I am very pleased to have you here, sir.

This is a historic visit – the first in decades, and it is a testament to how far we have come together in a short period of time. I want to salute President Thein Sein for his leadership and the leadership of his government as it charts a path of political and democratic reform for his country. I want to salute those like Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all who struggled and sacrificed because they believe in a better future for their country as well.

And I want to thank everyone here in the United States who has supported this process and understands the significance of what is happening. In particular, our partners on Capitol Hill – Republican and Democrat alike – including Senators McConnell, McCain, Kerry, Webb, Shaheen, Congressman Crowley, and others.

This is a moment for us to recognize that the progress which has occurred in the last year toward democratization and national reconciliation is irreversible, as the minister said to me. The United States wants to do everything we can to be sure that is the reality.

I applauded the parliamentary elections and recent steps to bring an end to conflict with the Karen National Union, one of a number of internal conflicts with ethnic minority groups that remain a matter of concern that the government is focused on. And I heard a very promising report from the minister about the additional steps that are being taken to continue reform.

The United States is committed to supporting this reform. We want to encourage it. We acknowledge it. But more than that, we want to be partners in seeing it continue. So today, we are announcing the nomination of Ambassador Derek Mitchell as our new ambassador, the first since 1990. Ambassador Mitchell has been serving as my special representative. He is well known and respected in the region. I urge the United States Senate to quickly confirm him to this new post so he can continue our important work. And I look forward to welcoming your ambassador to Washington.

Today, I am also announcing new steps to permit American investment in the country and export of U.S. financial services. These are the most significant adjustments to our previous policy that have been taken to date. The United States will issue a general license that will enable American businesses to invest across the economy, allow citizens access to international credit markets and dollar-based transactions.

So today, we say to American business: Invest in Burma and do it responsibly; be an agent of positive change and be a good corporate citizen; let’s all work together to create jobs, opportunity, and support reform.

Now, these are important steps that will help bring the country into the global economy, spur broad-based economic development, and support ongoing reform. We are doing what others have done – the European Union, the United Kingdom. We are suspending sanctions. We believe that that is the appropriate step for us to take today. We will be keeping relevant laws on the books as an insurance policy, but our goal and our commitment is to move as rapidly as we can to expand business and investment opportunities.

The State Department will work with Congress and our colleagues across government, particularly the Treasury Department, to be sure we are promoting responsible investment and deterring abuses. We strongly support the private sector being a full partner, and we want our businesses to set a good corporate example of doing business in a transparent, responsible manner.

We’ll expect U.S. firms to conduct due diligence to avoid any problems, including human rights abuses. We expect our businesses to create a grievance process that will be accessible to local communities; to demonstrate appropriate treatment of employees, respect for the environment; to be a good corporate citizen; and to promote equitable, sustainable development that will benefit the people.

And we hope that our partners in Europe and Asia will uphold the same high standards. The people have waited a long time because they have every right to expect development that will benefit them, not outsiders or insiders, but instead, the people themselves. Now, we are mindful of a pattern of abuses by companies and others, particularly in the ethnic minority areas. So we will keep our eyes wide open to try to ensure that anyone who abuses human rights or obstructs reforms or engages in corruption do not benefit financially from increased trade and investment with the United States, including companies owned or operated by the military. We will be maintaining the arms embargo, because we want to see amongst the reforms that are taking place a move for the armed forces to be under civilian control.

We will also continue working with the government in Nay Pyi Taw to put in place internationally recognized business and labor practices that foster respect for the rule of law. We will be taking these steps mindful of the difficult decisions that the government has already made and will continue to make. We also would like to see the release of any continued political prisoners and a continued emphasis in law and action to promoting national reconciliation.

The United States is very committed to supporting the end of the ethnic conflicts in the country. We think that the diversity of population is a source of great strength for the country going forward. And yesterday, I had a group of young people who were visiting the United States representing the mosaic of different backgrounds and ethnicities, and it was very exciting to see them all together focused on making their contribution to the future.

We are concerned about violence in Kachin State in recent weeks, and I was very pleased to hear about new mechanisms, both official and nongovernmental, to encourage meaningful dialogue. And as I said, the government must do all it can do. People on the other side of the table in these conflicts also must be willing to cooperate, to seek an equitable, fair ending to the conflicts. So reconciliation is a priority, and we will continue to support that.

Finally, we discussed our concerns about North Korea. I am encouraged by reports that President Thein Sein has stated he will end the military relationship with North Korea, and the minister assured me that they will fully comply with international obligations on nonproliferation.

I am very, very positive about what is happening, and I know how difficult this will be. It is never easy. I often remind people about the challenges my own country faced. They were faced many, many years ago – so you didn’t have the internet, television, constant attention being paid, as we struggle to live up to our own hopes and aspirations. So this is going to be an exciting, challenging journey for your country and those of us who are committed to supporting you.

But I am very pleased that the United States is taking these steps today, encouraging our businesses to go and help you grow your economy, encouraging our nongovernmental organizations to go and partner with you on education, healthcare, the environment, and so much else.

So, Minister, thank you for being here today, and I look forward to continuing to work with you.

FOREIGN MINISTER WUNNA MAUNG LWIN: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to Washington, D.C. on an official visit at the invitation of Secretary Clinton. And this afternoon, we had a friendly and cordial discussion on matters relating to further promotion of bilateral relations. I have also had the opportunity to call on Senator McCain, Senator McConnell, and Senator Jim Webb. I also meet with – I will also meet with Deputy Secretary of State William Burns later this afternoon.

And during my meeting with them, they reiterated their recognition and support of the ongoing reforms undertaken by the government and President Thein Sein in Myanmar. We also discussed about further strengthening of relationship and cooperation in various areas of mutual interest, increased assistance to the people of Myanmar, and lifting of sanctions and restrictions imposed by the United States against Myanmar.

I have expressed our appreciations to the government and the people of the United States for supporting our efforts of reforms and the transition to democracy, and reiterated our determination to continue our reforms. The decision on the appointment of ambassadors in both countries is an important step forward in our efforts to resumption of normal diplomatic relations after more than 20 years.

Ambassador U Than Shwe will be the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United States. He is currently serving as permanent representative of Myanmar to the United Nations in New York. I have full confidence in him, because he has done an excellent job as our interlocutor with the United States side since we began dialogue for resumption of normal diplomatic relations over the last several months.

I am also blessed that Ambassador Derek Mitchell will be the new U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar. And Ambassador Mitchell is no stranger to Myanmar. In the past 12 months, he has successfully served as a U.S. special representative and policy coordinator for Myanmar, during which I had the pleasure to work with him very closely.

So my congratulations to both of them and wish them all the best for their new important responsibilities. I wish to thank Secretary Clinton for inviting me to Washington for official visit. I would like to express our appreciation to the State Department and the United States Government for the warm welcome and gracious hospitality accorded to us, as well as for the excellent arrangements made for us during our stay in Washington. I thank you all.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much.


[SPOKESPERSON]MS. NULAND: We have two today. We’ll start with (inaudible).

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton, regarding the easing of economic restrictions, will the – will U.S. companies be able to invest and trade with Myanmar state-owned companies, including in the oil and gas sector? And also, you talk about the corporate responsibilities of U.S. companies. Will these expectations be binding under U.S. law?

And, Minister, could I ask you – there is a lot of international concern about the continued detention of political prisoners. Can you say whether these prisoners, of which people say there are hundreds – are they going to be released? And if so, when will they be released?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you. First, let me say our presumption is that our companies will be able to deal in every sector of the economy with any business. That is a rebuttable presumption in the event that there is a company whose reputation, whose practices, are not in keeping with our stated policies of corporate responsibility or other matters that rise to our attention. But the presumption is that our oil and gas companies, our mining companies, our financial services companies are all now free to look for investments that can be mutually beneficial to Burma and to them.

Now, we are taking these steps in a measured, responsible way. We are keeping on the books all legislation and executive authorities that does give us flexibility, if the facts warrant, to tighten sanctions again – similar, as I said, to what the EU, the UK, and others have done. And moving forward, we will be working with our businesses to be sure that they do exercise the highest standards of corporate responsibility.

When I was in Burma, I heard stories about some companies that didn’t have a good reputation for the way they treated people, didn’t have good working conditions, didn’t abide by the basics of how you should run a company. They weren’t American companies, but it came to my mind that I want people to look at American companies and say that’s how you should treat workers, that’s how you should treat the environment, you shouldn’t deal with bad customers; you should deal with respectable, responsible businesses if they’re state-owned or if they are private and independent.

So we are very confident that suspending these sanctions and moving forward is exactly the right step to take for now, and we’re enthusiastically encouraging American businesses to invest.

FOREIGN MINISTER WUNNA MAUNG LWIN: Well, for the question you have asked to me about the prisoners, the president has granted amnesty four times in the past 12 months, past 12 or 13 months. About 28,000 prisoners were released from prison, and we have (inaudible) lists, so-called political prisoners, from the European Union as well as from the United States. And after the last amnesty, which has been granted in January, most of the people included in these lists were released.

And there are some remaining from the lists. After thoroughly checking and investigating these lists, there are – they are some prisoners who have criminal offenses, such as murder, rapes, or connecting to terrorist activities. But the president, in exercising his mandate invested upon him by the constitution, he will further granted amnesties when appropriate. I think this will answer your question.

MS. NULAND: Last question, (inaudible) from VOA Burma.

QUESTION: Actually, I have two parts of the questions and plus I’d like to address to the Madam Secretary and Minister Wunna Muang Lwin. Since the United States is easing the sanctions, could that cause collide with the China, which is quite influential in the region? And also, we have seen the report of the concerns from the Chinese officials. And also, last year we have seen that China is disappointed after suspension of Myitsone dam project. Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say what I said when I was in Nay Pyi Taw. The United States does not expect any country to give up relationships with their neighbors. And China is a neighbor, and there are longstanding ties that certainly are deep in the soils of both nations. What we are doing is providing additional support for the kind of development, both politically and economically, that the reform process, which the government in Nay Pyi Taw has begun, has made possible.

Because we do value representative government, democracy, good working conditions, protection of the environment, the kinds of things that the United States stands for, we hope that our relationship can be one that is very supportive of what I am told are the steps that the government and the people themselves wish to take.

So this is not about any other nation. This is between us. This is rooted in the changes we have watched happen and our desire to support the continuation of those changes. And we fully expect that there will be many countries, as you’ve already seen, who want to develop stronger and better relationships in the neighborhood, in the region, and around the world. And we think that’s good to open up the country, give the people more opportunities. So we are very pleased to be a partner in this.

FOREIGN MINISTER WUNNA MAUNG LWIN: Informing on the part of the relationship with China, we have a very long, traditional, and historical relation with China. We have very good relations with China, as we are neighboring countries sharing the common border of more than 2,000 kilometers. So we are cooperating with China. We are inviting investments. There are investment from China.

And according to the suspension of the Myitsone project, we have our domestic concerns, and then we have suspended that and we have informed that cordially to the Chinese side. And this is only a part of the cooperation between China and Myanmar. They can – they understand the situation very well. And I do not want to support your comments that China is disappointed with that, because we have explained the situation very clearly to the authorities and the respective and responsible ministry, and the Chinese company are discussing about the matter also. We have had a very good cooperation with China. So I think that this will not jeopardize the future relations with China.

On the part of the relation with United States, we have this pillar of our foreign policy to have good, friendly relations with – relationships with all the countries around the world. In this aspect, we are working closely with United States to have a strong bilateral relations with United States also.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much.