January 10, 2013 — Nobel laureate, democracy icon, and elected parliamentarian of Burma (also known as Myanmar), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stressed that democratization in Burma must be sensible, durable, and “beneficial to all,” in her first Bay Area public remarks at The Asia Foundation in September. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to an exclusive and invitation-only audience of Bay Area political, civic, and business leaders; her remarks immediately followed a private meeting with David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation, and the organization’s trustees.
“We are honored that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi chose to visit The Asia Foundation during her brief time in the Bay Area,” said Arnold. “The Foundation is a long-standing partner in Asia’s development, and we have consistently supported reform-minded leaders such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in their efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and promote the rule of law. We are encouraged and excited by Burma’s remarkable transformation.”
The Burmese leader spoke eloquently about the heartening reforms she’s recently witnessed in her country, while cautioning: “To our friends who want to help us, it’s not enough to help a country which is emerging from dictatorship into democracy. It has to be helped in such a way that the foundations of a democratic society would be strengthened. This of course means empowering the people.”
With Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarks in mind, The Asia Foundation’s ambitious program of development activities in Burma are already under way. Shortly after her visit, President Arnold led a delegation to Burma to meet with the President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar U Thein Sein (pictured on following page) and conducted substantive discussions on assistance for the country’s development and rule of law. Later that week, in a ceremony at the Parliamentary Library in Nay Pyi Taw, alongside U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek J. Mitchell and with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in attendance, senior representatives of The Asia Foundation and President Arnold presented a special collection of more than 600 books and periodicals to the Burmese Parliament Secretariat through a joint effort between the U.S. Embassy and The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia.
The Asia Foundation had an office in Burma from 1954 to 1962, and plans to reestablish a country office in 2013 to support the democratic transition and long-term development needs. In the coming year, the Foundation will undertake a range of new activities to support Burma’s ongoing reform process. Building on our experience working with other Asian countries that have undergone such transitions and our earlier presence in Burma—strengthening core institutions of democratic governance such as the parliament, supporting peacebuilding efforts with various ethnic minority groups, and enhancing the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially as Burma prepares to chair ASEAN in 2014—will be key to our efforts there.