New Zealand PM Welcomes Burma Reforms, But Constitution an Issue

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 29 July 2014

WELLINGTON — New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Burma’s reform process has been “important and progressive,” but added that the country’s undemocratic Constitution remains an issue.

New Zealand was one of the first countries to reengage with Burma after President Thein Sein began initiating sweeping reforms in 2011, and Key visited Burma in November 2012. Thein Sein, on one of his first trips abroad, paid a visit to New Zealand and Australia in March 2013.

Key, who will soon begin campaigning for a third term in office, answered a question on Burma’s reforms during a press conference in the capital Wellington on Monday.

“We will accept that it’s not perfect, but it’s been important and progressive in terms of what they have done,” he said. “We know that there will always be further reasons for debate, and to look at reforms and constitutional issues, but I would say that overall Myanmar is making good progress.”

“I myself have visited Myanmar and President Thein Sein has been in New Zealand, and I think that a lot of what they are doing is taking important steps,” said Key, who will be running in a general election in September.

In recent months, concerns have grown over backsliding on reforms in Burma as Aung San Suu Kyi’s attempts at amending the Constitution, which gives the army political powers and blocks Suu Kyi from the presidency, have stalled. Meanwhile, outbreaks of inter-communal violence continue, activists are regularly imprisoned and a media clampdown is in full swing.

New Zealand is one of Burma’s smallest trading partners, but trade has been growing and export of New Zealand dairy products to Burma were valued at US$17.5 million in 2013. It also announced a $5 million dairy farm investment project in the country last year.

Kyaw Hsu Mon is attending the Asia Foundation New Zealand’s program for reporting on parliament and the 2014 election in New Zealand.