US Asst Secretary Pledges Continued Cooperation During Myanmar Visit

By Nyein Nyein 30 October 2019

The United States reaffirmed its long-term commitment to Myanmar’s democratic transition and economic transformation, referring to Myanmar as “a partner and friend” during a four-day visit to the country by US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell which ended Wednesday.

Stilwell met with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday as well as other ministers, including International Cooperation Minister U Kyaw Tin, Investment and Foreign Economic Relations Minister U Thaung Tun and Defense Minister Lieutenant General Sein Win.

The State Counselor’s Office posted on Facebook that during their meeting the two “cordially discussed matters pertaining to strengthening of bilateral relations, Myanmar’s democratization process, promotion of bilateral cooperation including education, economy, investment, transportation, infrastructure development and waterways conservation as well as ASEAN and EAS [East Asia] Summits.”

The US Embassy in Yangon said in a statement at the end of the visit on Wednesday that discussions were focused on cooperation “to resolve the Rakhine crisis, address underlying grievances in conflict areas, and the benefits of responsible investment.”

“Overall, I would say that the visit of Assistant Secretary Stilwell really underscored the long-term US commitment to Myanmar’s democratic transition and economic transformation, and also our continued engagement with the people of Myanmar as a partner and friend,” Aryani Manring, spokesperson for the US Embassy, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

From Oct. 27-30, the assistant secretary met with government, community and civil society leaders in the Rakhine State capital of Sittwe, as well as in Yangon and Naypyitaw. The embassy spokesperson said the senior diplomat’s trip “was a good visit.”

“The meeting with the State Counselor [on Tuesday] was frank and productive. [Assistant Secretary Stilwell] heard a lot from people on the ground—community leaders, political leaders, government leaders—about challenges and ways that we can work together on issues of shared concern,” said Manring.

According to the US Embassy’s statement, Stilwell expressed that “It was good to hear from civil society groups from different communities working to end the decades-long conflict that hinders Myanmar’s development and continues to cause great suffering. We hope that all parties will redouble efforts to move forward with a genuine dialogue to build peace.”

“Those were really the main goals of his visit as senior person in the State Department in charge of handling East Asian and Pacific Affairs, including Myanmar,” the embassy spokesperson added. “It was really significant that he was here in order to underscore that engagement.”

The US has been a long-time supporter of Myanmar’s move towards democracy and this year, US companies are looking to increase investment in Myanmar through ethical businesses. Earlier this month, US companies expressed that they are keen to invest in Myanmar to promote investment, create job opportunities, support infrastructure and boost industrial development.

Also in August, Japan and the US jointly stated that they would promote responsible, ethical investment in Myanmar’s economic development, as they marked the opening of the Myanmar-Japan-US forum on fostering responsible investment in Yangon.

When the Assistant Secretary of State met with Defense Minister Lt-Gen Sein Win, Stilwell highlighted “the need for all sides to work for genuine peace and the importance of transparency and accountability.”

The senior US diplomat apparently did not meet with army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The US imposed sanctions on the army chief and other military leaders in July, barring them from entering the country.

During his visit to Sittwe on Monday, accompanied by US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel, Stilwell met with Rakhine State Parliament Speaker U San Kyaw Hla, community leaders from the Thet Kae Pyin internally displaced persons (IDP) camp and civil society leaders.

U San Kyaw Hla told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the Assistant Secretary was interested in hearing about the Rakhine State situation.

“We shared the current situation in Rakhine State, the people’s sufferings from the ongoing conflicts and the impact on the local economy and how it is downsizing,” said U San Kyaw Hla.

The Rakhine State parliament speaker said the US diplomats listened carefully to these concerns and “offered that the US would help as best they can to support the development of the economy.”

The statement from the US Embassy also said that the diplomats “offered US support to address the root causes of conflict, insecurity and discrimination” and that “US assistance reaches all communities, in all parts of Rakhine State, to promote peace and improve lives.”

Stilwell’s visit to Myanmar is part of a regional trip that includes visits to Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Republic of Korea and China from Oct. 24 to Nov. 7. Stilwell departed for Malaysia on Wednesday.