Thein Sein to Address UN, Meet Clinton in New York

By Lalit K Jha 24 September 2012

Burmese President Thein Sein arrives in New York this week to address the annual session of the UN General Assembly, meet world leaders and brief them on the reform process that has been unleashed by his quasi-civilian administration.

Thein Sein will deliver a speech at the 67th annual session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday to become the first Burmese President to address the world body in many years. Recently, it has instead fallen to the Burmese foreign minister to address the meeting.

In his speech, Thein Sein is expected to inform the world body on the steps his government has been taking on democratic and economic reforms. At the same time, 67-year-old is likely to appeal for the lifting of Western sanctions by highlighting the steps he has already taken to address the concerns of the international community.

On Wednesday, Thein Sein is expected to sit down with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has already met main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Washington last week.

Besides holding as series of meetings with other world leaders gathered in New York on the sidelines of the General Assembly, the former general will make his first public appearance at the Asia Society where his speech on “Myanmar in Transition: Opportunities and Challenges” will be followed by questions from the audience.

The Permanent mission of Burma to the United Nations declined to comment on the president’s visit to the United Nations when approached by The Irrawaddy by email.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the popular Charlie Rose Show on the United States’ PBS news network, Suu Kyi termed the ongoing reforms as a “beginning” of the path to democracy.

“I’ve often said that this is something that we’ll have to construct for ourselves. It’s not there smooth and waiting; it’s something that we have to build up as we go along … because we have been given a chance to do it. Previously, we were not given the chance even to start building the path. We had been struggling for the opportunity to start out on such a path,” she said.

Observing that politics is always a delicate balance, the Nobel Laureate said that the present government shares her view that the country should move towards democracy. “I think they have discovered that the previous military regime form of government did not really work well,” she said.

“I think we have to look at the whole of the government now, not just at the executive. We must look at the executive and we must look at the legislature. I don’t mention the judiciary, because that’s very weak in Burma at the moment and that’s what we’re trying to build up.

“But I think we have to look at both the executive and the legislature and then we can come to the conclusion how far we are proceeding towards democracy. I can speak more for the legislature, because I happen to be in it. And I think it’s going in the right direction.”

Suu Kyi called being described as an icon “embarrassing.” “Perhaps I’m shyer than you think I am,” she added. “I have tried to keep my sense of responsibility quite apart from people’s opinion of me. If you let people’s opinions of yourself—whether favorable or unfavorable—impact on your sense of responsibility, then it’s not as firm as it ought to be.”

Responding to questions, she praised her relationship with the Burmese president but noted that China has some concerns regarding her nation’s warming relationship with the United States. “I think China has its concerns about the engagement of the United States in Burma … because people talk about the strategic distrust between the United States and China … because we are a very close neighbor, just across the border from China, obviously they will be concerned about what’s going on within our country,” she said.

“But I do not think that we should look upon Burma as a bone of contention. I would like to think of Burma as an area where China and the United States can strengthen their understanding of one another,” added the National League for Democracy chairwoman.

In New York, Suu Kyi urged the corporate world to invest in Burma in a responsible fashion. “I want investment in Burma, but in the right way. I’m not just saying, invest in Burma. What I’m saying is, invest in Burma in the right way,” she said.

“The right way is what I call democracy-friendly, human rights-friendly investment. If you ask me, it has to begin with transparency. We want to know what kind of people are investing in Burma and for what reason and whether in the long run it will be as beneficial for our people as for the investors themselves. Of course, they must benefit from the situation.”