US Secretary of State John Kerry has said that “extraordinary transformations” of the kind that has taken place in Burma in recent years show the potential of Asia as a region.
Kerry spoke at Hawaii’s East-West Center on Wednesday following a trip that included a two-day stop in Burma last weekend, delivering a speech outlining the “US Vision for Asia-Pacific Engagement.” According to a transcript of the speech, provided by the US State Department, Kerry highlighted Burma’s recent move from military rule amid America’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia.
“Such extraordinary transformations have actually become almost the norm in this [Asia-Pacific] region,” he said.
“I’ll never forget, 15 years ago…I visited with Daw Aung Sung Sui Kyi in the very home in which she was imprisoned for nearly two decades. And this week, I had the privilege of again going back to the very same house—it hadn’t changed, looked the same. She, by the way, 20 years later looks the same. And she is now free to speak her mind as a member of parliament.
“It’s remarkable. It doesn’t mean all the [problems] are solved. But these transformations are just some of what makes Asia the most exciting and promising places on the planet.”
Kerry also met with Burmese government figures in Naypyidaw including President Thein Sein—the former general whose reformist government has been embraced by Washington. The US has suspended most of the sanctions it imposed against Burma’s military junta, although an arms embargo and sanctions targeted against army officials and tycoons linked to the former regime are still in place.
“In Burma last week, I saw firsthand the initial progress the people and the government have made. And I’m proud of the role—and you should be too—that the United States has played for a quarter of a century in encouraging that progress,” he told the audience in Honolulu.
“But Burma still has a long way to go, and those leading its democratic transformation are only now addressing the deepest challenges: Defining a new role for the military; reforming the constitution and supporting free and fair elections; ending a decades-long civil war; and guaranteeing in law the human rights that Burma’s people have been promised in name.”
He said attracting investment, combating corruption and protecting forests and other natural resources were the “great tests of Burma’s transition.”
Kerry also pointed to elections due at the end of next year as an important step. “The United States is going to do everything we can to help the reformers in Burma, especially by supporting nationwide elections next year,” said Kerry.
During his visit, Kerry also reportedly urged the Burmese government to take steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Arakan State, push back against hate speech and religious violence, implement constitutional reform, and protect freedom of assembly and expression.