MOFA: Defending the interests of the State and the People on the frontlines of the international arena

  • By Khin Yadanar
  • (Continued from Yesterday )
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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is welcomed by Indian Prime Minister Narindara Modi in New Delhi during her visit to India. Photo: MNA

The Agreement whereby China granted RMB Yuan (1) billion for socio-economic development and the Peace process is one result of the friendly visits.
The mechanism of (2+2) consultations between the Foreign Ministry and Defence Ministry of both countries were held three times. These consultations have assisted in maintaining peace and stability along the border areas, China’s constructive support for Myanmar’s peace process and the joint settlement of border issues.
At the same time the President paid a visit to India, which is one of the important neighbouring as his first goodwill visit to a non-ASEAN country. The State Counsellor also visited India twice within the two-year tenure of the Government thereby fostering closer relations between the two countries and also enhancing increased cooperation with India.
The State Counsellor’s first goodwill visit was to Thailand. During the visit, she discussed matters relating to the protection and promotion of the interests of Myanmar workers. There were also exchanges of visits between the leaders of Myanmar and Viet Nam. Myanmar’s bilateral relations with Viet Nam have been elevated to the level of Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
The State Counsellor visited Brunei Darussalam and both leaders exchanged views on the enhancement of bilateral cooperation. Both the President and the State Counsellor paid official visits to Japan. These visits served as an impetus in uplifting the traditional bonds of friendship and enhancing bilateral cooperation between Myanmar and Japan.
During the State Counsellor’s visit to Japan, agreement was reached for Japan to give Japanese Yen 40 billion during five years for Myanmar’s transition to democracy and national reconciliation. Agreement was also reached for the Japanese government and Japanese private sector investments to provide during a period of five years Japanese Yen 800 billion for balanced development of urban and rural areas.
The State Counsellor paid official visits to the Headquarters of the European Union, Belgium, Italy, the Holy See, and the United Kingdom in May 2017 aiming at fostering friendly relations and cooperation with partner countries that have consistently supported Myanmar’s cause for democracy.
The challenges and difficulties encountered by Myanmar during its democratic transition as well as matters relating to Rakhine State were cordially discussed during these visits.
Furthermore, as the Government’s endeavours to promote internal peace and national reconciliation processes and matters related to national development were discussed and explained, it resulted in better understanding towards Myanmar. In addition, the establishment of diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the Holy See was announced during the visit to the Vatican City. As a result, Pope Francis paid his first state visit to Myanmar in November 2017 which was a historic milestone.

DSC 6047 State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi shakes hands with UN Resident Coordinator Ms. Renata Nicola Lok Dessallien. Photo MNA copy
State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi welcomes UN Resident Coordinator Ms. Renata Nicola Lok-Dessallien. Photo: MNA

Q: Could you tell us some of MOFA’s contributions towards promoting international relations?
A: Myanmar was able to expand diplomatic relations with the countries of the world and to establish mechanisms for consultations at the Foreign Minister level with friendly countries. During the two year period it was able to establish diplomatic ties with Malta, Ecuador, Marshall Islands, Liberia, Guinea, Seychelles and the Holy See.
At present, Myanmar has established diplomatic relations with 121 countries out of 193 countries. In the coming years it will endeavor to promote the development of friendly relations and cooperation with Caribbean and Latin American countries.
With a view to fostering bilateral relations and cooperation between Myanmar and other friendly countries, Myanmar has been able to establish Foreign Office Consultations Mechanisms with countries such as Australia, Switzerland, Estonia, New Zealand and Columbia. Myanmar is also annually holding Human Rights Dialogue with Japan and the European Union. We have conducted partnership talks with the United States of America. We believe that the conduct of such foreign affairs related discussions on an annual basis would be very beneficial to improve relations and cooperation with respective countries.
Q: How did MOFA respond to challenges encountered in the international arena?
A: Since the current Government took office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has given high priority to address the issue of Rakhine that has recently created enormous challenges to Myanmar in the international arena. The Government also established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State headed by Dr. Kofi Annan in order to find a durable and sustainable solution for the Rakhine issue incorporating both local and international perspectives.
Because of these developments, the draft resolution which had been tabled yearly on the situation of human rights in Myanmar was stopped and the United States lifted its economic sanctions imposed on Myanmar in September 2016.
At this time when our international relations was improving, ARSA terrorist attacks occurred once on 9 October 2016 and once on 25 August 2017 to draw the attention of the world on the Rakhine issue. As a result refugees left their homes which resulted in Myanmar having to suffer misunderstandings, criticisms and pressures for another round. Therefore we had to face the potential danger of our national interest and our sovereignty being threatened.
On 19 September 2017, the State Counsellor invited diplomats to Nay Pyi Taw and gave a speech on the Rakhine issue. Also, a delegation led by Vice President U Henry Van Thio attended the 72nd UNGA where he delivered a policy speech. In the UN Security Council, an attempt was made to pass a resolution regarding the Rakhine issue. National Security Advisor U Thaung Tun, who was also the alternate leader of the Myanmar delegation and the Myanmar Permanent Representative to the UN responded, explained and made a rebuttal at the UNSC. We were able to prevent this draft resolution from being adopted. At the 2017 UN General Assembly, OIC tabled a draft resolution on Myanmar but the Myanmar Permanent Representative protested, made a rebuttal and demanded that the resolution should be adopted by voting, not by consensus. And also, in December 2017, at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, IOC called a special meeting tabled a draft resolution on Myanmar on the Rakhine issue; Myanmar had to try and approach friendly nations for adoption by voting instead of by consensus.
The Union Minister for International Cooperation himself attended the regular annual meeting of Human Rights Council High Level Segment and gave a briefing on the Rakhine affairs. This year, a delegation led by Union Minister U Thaung Tun from the Office of the Union Government held a side event, and gave a detailed explanation for a better understanding of Myanmar. At the Human Rights Council, discussions on the EU draft resolution on Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar were held, and the Permanent Representative of Myanmar pointed out paragraphs that threatened the sovereignty and categorically rejected the motion.

Q. For the Rakhine issue, what kind of efforts have you made on the regional front?
A. For the implementation of Dr. Kofi Anan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine, the MOFA has also cooperated and coordinated with the Implementation Advisory Committee which was formed and headed by Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai. From among the advice given by Kofi Anan, matters related to relations with Bangladesh and countries in the region including ASEAN are being implemented. On 23 November, an agreement was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar for the verification and acceptance of displaced people from Rakhine. The Foreign Ministry continued negotiations with Bangladesh to establish a Joint Working Unit and the TOR (Terms of Reference) was signed on 19 December 2017 and on 16 February 2018 a “Physical Arrangement” for repatriation of displaced persons was signed.
At the regional level, the State Counselor explained about Myanmar’s transition to democracy, efforts to achieve peace and national reconciliation, including the Rakhine issue and the complex and sensitive nature of the challenges being faced in November 2017 at the ASEAN Leaders Conference in Manila, and in March 2018 at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit.
The State Counsellor, when receiving Foreign Ministers from USA, Japan and UK, and other high level foreign representatives, gave explanatory briefings to continue support for Myanmar’s endeavors for the success of the transition to democracy, Peace and National Reconciliation and also about the situation in Rakhine.
On February 2018, the Union Minister for International Cooperation himself, in a separate meeting in Singapore, gave explanations to ASEAN Foreign Ministers informally, on developments in Rakhine State and repatriation of displaced persons. After the conclusion of the meeting, in a statement released by the ASEAN Chairman, he indicated in a constructive manner that the ASEAN Ministers supported the efforts of Myanmar Government to promote harmony and reconciliation between the communities. The Foreign Ministry has established an official website and social network pages and has continuously disseminated “facts on the ground” regarding the Rakhine situation.

Q: During the term of this government, what is being done for protecting the interests of Myanmar nationals abroad?
A. The Foreign Ministry and Myanmar Embassies, Missions and Consulates are now practicing a new approach called “people-centered diplomacy”. Protecting the interests of Myanmar nationals and former Myanmar citizens living abroad have been our foremost concern. In order for Myanmar nationals to participate and assist in socio-economic developments, necessary help were given including assistance to facilitate entry into the country. Visa requirements for social visits were relaxed to facilitate re-entry of former Myanmar citizens living abroad.
Our embassies, in spite of man power limitations and financial restrictions, are conducting negotiations on cooperating with the corresponding host country regarding benefits of our migrant workers and for illegal migrants to get permission to work legally in the respective countries.
In Thailand, in order to provide more assistance to migrants, we have increased the number of embassy personnel and centers to issue identity cards. Assistance is being given to workers abroad to get compensations for death and injuries in foreign countries. Assistance is also provided for returnee workers who are facing difficulties paying for airfares. Also, we have effectively brought back Myanmar fishermen incarcerated for various reasons who were released after serving time.

Q. Please also tell us what is being done by the Foreign Ministry with regards to demarcating the borders with neighboring countries?
A. The State Counsellor wishes to finish the unfinished border matters done by previous governments so that future generations will inherit good legacies. She has given directions to give priority to border demarcation matters, especially at this time when relations with neighboring countries are very good.
During the State Counsellor’s visit to Thailand on June 2016, she mutually agreed to speed up the interrupted demarcation of borders between the two countries.
In the Naga region of the Myanmar-India border, in order to stop disputes between border pillars 145 and 146 due to indistinct delineation, more defined distinct borders pillars were erected jointly on March 2017. The Friendship Bridge that crossed Myanmar-Laos was built and an agreement was reached at the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the two countries to mark and record the border demarcating line of the river on the bridge.
A protocol was signed in November 2017 in reference to agreement 1998 to demarcate land on the northern part of Naf river. The appendix to the 2007 Myanmar-Banngladesh-Naf River Border Agreement was also signed on that date.

Q. I would like to know what has been done to upgrade the skills of diplomatic personnel?
A. To implement our foreign policy, we need sharp, bright, and good diplomats. To develop our human resources, our Ministry and other Ministries are giving training courses and workshops. 12 workshops and courses in diplomatic skills, English language and foreign affairs were given by local and foreign invited experts to officers and clerical staff. Courses and training of 50 newly recruited officers were given on advanced diplomatic skills and in international affairs. 3 Basic Diplomatic Skills training courses were conducted for 603 trainees.

Q. Do you have any plans to enable your diplomatic personnel to perform their duties more effectively?
A. For Myanmar diplomatic personnel to carry out their duties to the fullest and concentrate and function smoothly, Embassies, Permanent Missions and 13 Consulates in foreign countries, diplomatic personnel and their families were given opportunities to obtain health insurances and now, altogether 19 out of 44 missions have health insurances for the staffs and families. Due to instructions by the State Counsellor, by the 2018-2019 fiscal year education allowance amounting to two thirds of the tuition fee will be covered for the children of embassy staff between the ages of 5 to 18. This is a unique improvement.
State-owned old buildings of Myanmar Embassies in foreign countries are being renovated, rebuilt and beautified to enhance their beauty to be in line with diplomatic standards and dignity.

Q. We have noticed that you have established The Ministry of International Cooperation. Would you care to elaborate on this?
A. Since the civilian government took office, international community has shown interest to increase assistance and support. Exchange of visits from foreign countries has soared up sharply. As a result, our international relations duties have increased. It is also a time when we are facing the highest level of criticism and pressure in the international arena. In order to be able to work with international organizations in all sectors, we need to coordinate with the Foreign Ministry in line with the foreign policy. Together with the Foreign Ministry, in our actions to deal with international issues, we are acting not only from the political perspective but also from the economic perspective. Thus our Ministry was established on 23 November 2017.
However, we are cooperating and working closely under the roof of the Foreign Ministry, and also functioning with the budget of the Foreign Ministry and its staff structure. The Ministry for International Cooperation is dealing not only with subjects under the International Organizations and Economic Departments, it is also working in regional and sub-regional matters of ASEAN, BIMSTEC, and the Mekong Cooperation Programmes, and economic relations with foreign countries, giving priority to all these matters.

Q. Please tell us about the activities and involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in regional organizations?
A. Myanmar is enthusiastically and actively participating in regional organizations such as ASEAN, BIMSTEC, Greater Mekong Cooperation Program, Irrawaddy-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Strategy, Mekong- Lancang Cooperation Program, Mekong-Japan Cooperation, Mekong-Korea Cooperation Plan, and the Lower Mekong Initiative.
In participating in these activities Myanmar is not only looking for the interests of its citizens, but it is also working for regional interests.
On 10 January 2018, Vice President U Myint Swe led a delegation and attended the 2nd Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Leaders Meeting held in Phnom Penh, and as a result,US $2.4 million was received for 2017 for development of 10 projects under Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Program. Myanmar is also participating in the 7-member BIMSTEC Cooperation Framework. In 2016, a delegation headed by State Counsellor attended the BIMSTEC-BRICS Outreach Summit and the BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat held in Goa, India. In August 2017, a delegation headed by the Minister of State for Foreign Ministry attended the 15th Ministerial Meeting held in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In November 2017, our Ministry successfully hosted a Meeting for ASEM Foreign Ministers consisting of 51 countries and 2 organizations. This shows the capabilities Myanmar diplomats.
A separate informal meeting was held to give a briefing about the Rakhine issue. As a result, we were able to enhance the understanding of the international community about the delicate and complex nature of Myanmar’s challenges.

Q. In conclusion, what are your future plans in foreign relations? Is there anything you would like to add?
A. Regarding the Rakhine issue, the international community, instead of criticizing and fostering hatred, it should adopt a constructive approach in solving the problem and avoid making the problem worse. Also, we would like to urge to focus more on solving the problem.
In the international arena in order to overcome the challenges we are facing, we will work hard to show the developments on the ground with the support of our friendly nations who understand the complex and sensitive nature of our country’s challenges. We will continue to strive hard with the united strength of our ethnic brothers and sisters.

(Translated by Kyaw Mying and
Alexdar Chu)

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