During the third year of the government’s term, we have made efforts to use what is known as “soft power” to show to the world not only our culture but also positive progress achieved in other sectors as well.
Union Minister U Kyaw Tin
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one of the important ministries of the Union Government which has aggressively broken down barriers and impediments and positioned itself on the international stage to face and solve problems in the interest of the State. Foreign policy is formulated and adopted based on domestic policy. It is the extension and projection of domestic policy in the international arena. Myanmar has been endeavoring for the establishment of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Democratic Federal Republic as well as protecting and promoting the interests of the people and the State. Since international relations plays an important role in the achievement of the above aspirations, in order to let the people know how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of International Cooperation have been facing and solving the Myanmar issue in the international arena during the term of the new government, I am presenting here my interview with the Union Minister for International Cooperation.
Q: Mingalabar Mr. Union Minister. First of all please tell me what kind of policies has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs adopted and for what kind of goals has it been working?
Union Minister: Our ministries have been practicing an “active and independent foreign policy” based the aspirations of the State and the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”. Just as we have been practicing right after independence, we have been making concerted efforts to establish friendships with all countries of the world. We have been making efforts to consolidate our traditional friendly relations with our neighboring countries. At the same time we have worked to further enhance our friendly relations with countries in the region and countries far from us. We are also actively participating in the activities of regional organizations including ASEAN. We are working hard for the promotion of our interests as well as for the interest of the region; we are also cooperating with the United Nations and international organizations in accordance with our national plans and priority needs.
The tenure of the People’s government which gained the overwhelming support of the people is now in its third year. During the term of the People’s government, we have changed to a new approach called the people-centered diplomacy. In our efforts to promote and consolidate our bilateral relations we have given more attention to government to government relations; however, at the moment we are also giving attention to people to people relations. Also, as we respond to pressures exerted upon us in each and every international arena in regard to the Rakhine issue, we are gradually moving towards using not only the government’s strength but also the united strength of the people.
In line with people-centered diplomacy, Myanmar embassies have given more attention and focus to the interests of the people, to work more than ever before to protect the interests of Myanmar nationals and former Myanmar nationals and to improve relations with the people. To cite one tangible result, we have been able to implement reform measures so that Myanmar diplomatic missions are now providing services to the people in a much more warm and friendly manner than before.
We expanded and established the Ministry of International Cooperation to put more focus and efforts in our international relations, to get more support and assistance from abroad for the fulfillment of our domestic requirements and needs, and to provide policy coordination from the political and economic perspectives. As the Union Minister for the Ministry of International Cooperation, I have performed my duties in matters relating to United Nations and International Organizations, ASEAN, BIMSTEC, ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting), regional ministerial meetings including Mekong Cooperation projects meetings; in short I performed my duties with respect to regional and international relations.\
Q: Please also tell me your experiences during the tenure of the current government how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has conducted its relations with the countries of the world in terms of difficulties and challenges. How have you overcome them?
Union Minister: During the term of this government, as the State Counsellor herself has taken over the responsibility of Union Minister for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the role of international cooperation and coordination has been elevated. The countries of the world welcomed and supported the government elected by the people. During the first one and a half year period of the incumbent government, assistance and support for the success of the democratic transition increased overwhelmingly and the expectations of the countries of the world and the people became very high.
In international relations, this may be regarded as a significant change as well as a challenge. Right after the People’s government came to power within one year, our relations with our neighboring countries and countries in the region became very good; at the same time because we were able to improve our relations with development partner countries such as the United States and west European countries, one visible and significant success was the lifting of all economic sanctions in September 2016.
However, after two and a half years of the term of the government, we could see that the situation changed in connection with the Rakhine State issue. Our relations with the western countries turned sour and because the government was unable to meet the expectations of the world countries, we had to confront criticisms and pressures. The government has been giving extra focus and attention to solve this problem. However with regard to the Rakhine issue, there are certain people with their own political agenda who are not interested in achieving a solution to the problem but who wish to only focus on putting pressure and giving punishment.
We were able to forge better relations with countries such as China, India, Japan, ASEAN countries, members of BIMSTEC and countries in the region, who were able to understand the challenges and pressures and the harsh realities being faced by us. We were able to stop and thwart attempts to intervene and infringe upon our sovereignty. Furthermore, we are encouraged by our ability to maintain friendly relations and cooperation with countries who could understand the extremely complicated nature of our challenges.
That is why we are able to get the encouragement and support of most of the countries of the world including the western countries for our peace process, democratic transition and development although there are challenges we are facing in the international arena with regard to the Rakhine State issue.
As for Myanmar, with respect to the Rakhine State issue, as part of the international community, we need to take heed of their views and perspectives; as a sovereign country, domestically, we need to take into account the views and perspectives of the people and protect their interests; that is why it is one of the challenges of the Union government to solve this issue systematically and with proper balance. To be able to fulfill the extremely high expectations of the world countries and the Myanmar people is also a huge challenge for the government.
The Union Government has a deep concern that our country’s stability and our people’s future would be affected if we took the approach of the western countries to solve the Rakhine State issue. That is why we exerting efforts to protect and promote human rights in our country by choosing an approach of reconciliation and peace process without harming the interests of the people.
Q: What priority activities has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs embarked upon during the third years of the Government’s term?
Union Minister: To achieve the goals of our Ministry, we have worked to expand our diplomatic relations with the countries of the world. We have also expanded our efforts to establish consultation mechanisms between foreign ministries, not only with countries in the region but also with western countries. We have also sent special envoys to Europe, and some Latin American countries, including Bangladesh and Malaysia to present our case and promote better understanding. With regard to the Rakhine State issue, we are not only meeting the challenges in the international arena to respond and seek a solution, at the ground level also, we are making concerted efforts to be able to show practical progress to create a good environment by working with the relevant departments.
During the third year of the government’s term, we have made efforts to use what is known as “soft power” to show to the world not only our culture but also positive progress achieved in other sectors as well. We are also working to promote tourism, giving visa exemptions to countries such as Japan and some countries including Republic of Korea, relaxing visa rules and regulations including on-arrival visas and instructing Myanmar embassies to make strenuous efforts to promote economic progress, trade and investment. It may be said that the fact that foreign investments and tourist arrivals have increased significantly is the result of our success.
To achieve success in our relations with the outside world, we need to be able to appoint capable diplomats. That is why we have undertaken efforts to increase the level of recruitment and also to build up their capacities and skills. To enable our embassies to be able to function at a level commensurate to their status, we have been able to take measures to fulfill administrative needs such as health of our Foreign Service personnel and their families, and providing support and assistance for the education of their children.
Q: Please tell us how you have been able to arrange friendly visits to new partner countries of Myanmar?
Union Minister: We have been able to promote friendship and cooperation with partner countries by arranging exchange of friendly visits for State leaders and high-level delegations while ensuring proper balance. During the third year of the government’s tenure, the President went on friendly visits to Singapore, Thailand, Nepal and Indonesia to attend summit meetings of ASEAN and regional organizations.
The State Counsellor also went on official visits to Laos, Thailand, China, United States, Japan, Singapore, Italy, Vatican, Britain, Belgium, India, and Australia. During the third year, she went on friendly visits to Vietnam, Japan, Singapore and Nepal to attend summits of ASEAN and regional organizations.
Q: Please also tell us the status of visits made by visitors from countries of the world?
Union Minister: During the three year period of the tenure of the new Government, we were able to promote and elevate the friendly relations and cooperation between Myanmar and countries such as Singapore, India, Laos, the Philippines, Mongolia, Cambodia and Vietnam which sent Presidents, State Leaders and the Pope on friendly visits. Countries such as China, Italy, Canada, Japan, India, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Australia, Serbia, Britain, Hungary, United States, Norway, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Turkey, EU, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia sent high-level delegations on friendly visits totaling more than 80 visits. We were able to successfully arrange these visits and thus greatly enhance and promote bi-lateral and regional level relations. In addition, we were able to make concerted efforts to promote the socio-economic development of Myanmar and the people and obtain development assistance, technical assistance and financial assistance.
Q: Please comment on the benefits that have been derived for the country from the exchange of such visits.
Union Minister: The benefits that have been gained from the exchange of such visits are namely: the consolidation of friendship between the leaders of the two countries, and the promotion and elevation of cooperation between the two countries. We also derived many other benefits for the country. At the ASEAN summit, we were able to arrange separate meetings for the State Counsellor to meet the leaders from countries such as China, United States and New Zealand. We were able to establish a new historic milestone for bilateral relations with Nepal by arranging the friendly visit of our President to Nepal in August 2018. This was the first time a civilian leader has made a goodwill visit to Nepal in 40 years of bilateral relations. Our State Counsellor also paid a visit to attend the Asia-Pacific summit held in Nepal and during this visit she was able to make an official visit. She met the Nepali President and Prime Minister and as a result of discussions she had with them many MOUs were signed in the field of trade and investments.
During the friendly visit of the Indian President, MOUs in the field of education and legal matters were signed. 50 housing units out of 250 units which were being built with the assistance of India for Rakhine State were handed over to the Myanmar side. In addition, an Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education and Rice Bio Park were handed over to the Myanmar side, thus further cementing and consolidating the friendship that exists between the two countries.
During the friendly visit of the Foreign Minister of Japan, an agreement was reached to assist flood victims. In addition, discussions and coordination efforts were successfully made for the Japanese government to fund two projects in Rakhine State amounting to USD 22 million, to be implemented by 7 agencies in 2018, and also in 2019, 9 UN agencies to implement 3 projects in Rakhine State, Kachin State and Northern Shan State with Japanese government funds amounting to USD 35 million.
The special envoy of the Vietnamese Prime Minister who came to Myanmar in January 2019 donated USD 100,000 for humanitarian assistance in Rakhine State on behalf of his government. Furthermore, we have received bilateral assistance from many other countries. What I have told you represents just an example of what I have picked out.
Q: Please also tell me what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been discussing or negotiating to improve bilateral relations.
Union Minister: To improve bilateral relations we have been organizing commissions for bilateral cooperation, mechanisms for foreign ministry consultations and seminars. This is in addition to exchange of visits of State leaders and ministerial level delegations. The fourth China-Myanmar, 2 + 2 high level senior officers meeting under the joint sponsorship of the Foreign and Defence ministries was held in Beijing in 2018. Issues discussed included China’s constructive support for Myanmar peace process, peace and stability of the border regions of the two countries, development issues, and realizing the interests of the local people. We were able to discuss these issues in a frank and open manner.
China has donated USD 3 million for the continuation of the Myanmar peace process; they have also donated Kyats 2000 lakhs to the UEHRD to provide assistance in the repatriation of displaced persons from Rakhine State. In addition, they have also donated 1000 assembled housing units and 20 trucks. Among the examples of visible progress are the success in lifting all economic sanctions from the USA and the fact that the EU member countries, Switzerland and Norway including the United States and Britain are providing development assistance on a continuing basis. The EU also donated Euro 221 million to the Myanmar government for the education sector. Negotiations were conducted with the EU to make sure that the GSP privileges would not be revoked for over 400,000 Myanmar garment factory workers. As a result of these negotiations, better understanding between the two sides has been achieved.
We were also able to improve and consolidate our Strategic Partnership relationship with China; a Comprehensive Cooperative Partnership – CCP with Vietnam; and achieve the level of Natural Strategic Partners with Thailand.
To Be Continued
Previously we had Foreign Office Consultations – FoC only with our neighboring countries. At present we have expanded our foreign office consultations with countries such as Australia, Switzerland, Estonia, New Zealand, Colombia, Belarus, Brazil, Nepal and Turkey. Because we have been conducting human rights discussions annually with Japan and the EU, we have gained mutual understanding and increased cooperation.
Q: To improve international relations, we tell me about efforts to increase diplomatic relations with new partner countries if any?
Union Minister: We are making increasing efforts to establish diplomatic relations with new partner countries to promote friendship with the countries of the world in the international arena for providing mutual help and support increasingly. Within the three year period of our government, we were able to establish diplomatic relations with seven new partner countries. Out of 193 countries of the world, we have established diplomatic relations with 121 countries. To promote friendship with African countries, we are in the process of establishing diplomatic relations with the Republic of Benin, Congo Republic and the Republic of Togo.
To improve our contacts and relations with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region, and for countries in Middle and Eastern Europe, we are in the process of establishing diplomatic missions in Havana (Cuba), and Prague (the Czech Republic). We are working to open these diplomatic missions in 2019.
Q: May I know about your participation and activities in regional organizations.
Union Minister: We are participating actively in regional organizations such as ASEAN, BIMSTEC, Greater Mekong Cooperation Scheme, ACMECS – Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, Mekong-Lacang Cooperation, Mekong-Japan, Mekong-Republic of Korea Cooperation Fund, and the LMI – Lower Mekong Initiative.