Honourable President of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Honourable Speakers, Parliamentarians, Secretary-General of ASEAN, ladies and gentleman.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak today at the opening of the 37th ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA). Myanmar is honoured to be able to host this year’s assembly, under the Presidency of Speaker U Mahn Winn Khaing Thann.
On behalf of the Government of Myanmar, I would like to thank all of you for being here, and express appreciation to the ASEAN leaders for their kind messages of support.
This is the 6th AIPA in which Myanmar has participated, following the re-establishment of a Parliament here in 2011 after a long hiatus. In 1948, when Burma became independent, we established parliamentary democracy. But, at that time we could say that we are one of the foremost countries in Asia to have adopted parliamentary democracy. However, the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Time and Chance happen to us all. Time and Chance happen to us and we lost our parliamentary democratic system. But the commitment with the diver and perseverance we have once again started out on the road to establishment of the parliamentary democracy that truly reflects the will of the people. We wish to make this parliament, a vibrant one.
The theme of this year’s Assembly is “Vibrant AIPA for a progressive ASEAN community”. I am confident that the delegates here in this room will more than do justice to this theme. In my experience, Parliamentarians across the world, even when divided by party or ideology, are united by a remarkable vibrancy of spirit. Perhaps this vibrancy is invigorated by an awareness of the great responsibility that their constituents have bestowed upon them- and by a desire to live up to this responsibility to the best of their ability.
ASEAN itself aspires to be a rules-based, people-oriented and people-centred community. Rules-based is extremely important particularly for members of parliaments. Law makers cannot be law breakers. They must know the rules and procedures all the parliaments and theirselves and also the law of the land that they may truly be representative of the legislative brunch of democratic governments. And at a national level it is arguably the institution of Parliament that best embodies the principle of ruled-based people-oriented and people-centred. That is why the strong partnership between AIPA and ASEAN over many years has proven so valuable, morally and practically. For it is through the ongoing scrutiny and support of legislators that our countries have been able to ratify the agreements of ASEAN, enact relevant legislation in a timely manner, and bring political aspirations into reality under the rule of law.
I was encouraged by the productive discussions between the leaders of ASEAN and AIPA Representatives at the recent ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, and look forward to continuing this dialogue in the years ahead, as we work towards realising the ASEAN Community 2025 vision, and the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
I am also pleased to note that AIPA aims to promote the principles of human rights, democracy, peace, security and prosperity in ASEAN. As I think you may be aware, these aims align closely with our own domestic priorities in Myanmar, as we continue on the long and challenging path towards full democratisation.
Our new government here was formed at the end of March this year, following the general elections in November 2015. Today marks exactly six months in office. I would like to take this opportunity to very briefly outline some of our main areas of work.
The first priority of our new government is to bring about national reconciliation and harmony between all parts of our society. One month ago we launched the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference here in Naypyidaw, as a step towards establishing a genuine federal democratic union. Building on the work of the previous administration, we aim to bring an end to the decades of conflict that have blighted our country since independence, and to secure the lasting peace that our people have longed for.
We are under no illusions as to the complexity of the challenge that lies ahead. We have many diverse ethnic groups, and a legacy of decades of mistrust. Yet through political negotiations held in the spirit of cooperation and compromise, I believe that we can realise the collective aspiration of our peoples for a peaceful, secure and prosperous future.
We are also striving to bring harmony and understanding between the different communities in Rakhine State. The situation in Rakhine is complex, and is the subject of close attention and concern outside our borders, in the ASEAN region and beyond. Since forming the new government, we have taken measures to begin to address these challenges. I chair the Central Committee for the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development in Rakhine, overseeing the tasks of ensuring stability and rule of law, scrutinising immigration and verifying citizenship, and implementing socio-economic development. We have also formed an Advisory Commission chaired by Dr Kofi Annan to help us to identify and address comprehensively these challenges.
We are working to build understanding, harmony and trust between communities, while standing firm against prejudice, intolerance and extremism. In doing so, we ask for the constructive support of our regional neighbours. Progress in every field will not be possible overnight, but we are determined to persevere, and to bring about positive change in Rakhine State, as in other areas of our country affected by conflict.
We are also striving to bring about sustainable economic development for the benefit of all people in Myanmar. Our country is fortunate to be endowed with varied natural resources, a young population eager to learn, and a location between the largest markets of the world. Yet for reasons of history, our country has never realised its economic potential. Today, through the hard work of our government and people, and the support and collaboration of our friends in this region, we have an unprecedented opportunity to build a better future.
We have launched an economic policy that aims to support national reconciliation, alleviate poverty, develop much-needed infrastructure, encourage responsible foreign investment and job creation. We will seek to learn from what has worked well in your own countries as we pursue this approach. The economic development of Myanmar will, I believe, support the growing prosperity of our region as a whole, and contribute to the future success of the ASEAN Community.
At the same time, we are pursuing our international obligations, in line with our intention to be a responsible and active member of the world community. Myanmar has recently ratified the UN Nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We are currently concluding domestic procedures to enable the ratification of the ASEAN Agreement on Privileges and Immunities, the Protocol to the ASEAN Charter on Dispute Settlement Mechanisms, and the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children. In doing so, the constructive and active cooperation between our executive and our legislature has been invaluable.
The continued goodwill and support of the people of the ASEAN region as we pursue all these endeavours will be a great source of strength and encouragement to us.
Today our world is more connected than ever, and no country or people can or should stand alone. The opportunities and challenges that we face cannot be realised or overcome without international cooperation. And this cooperation must be across all the pillars of government- executive, judicial, and of course legislative.
AIPA therefore has a very important role to play. The breadth of subjects on the Assembly’s agenda for the coming days stands testament to this. Among the matters you will be discussing are: strengthening cyber security; protecting marine resources; mitigating the impacts of climate change; supporting SMEs; defending against the Zika virus. All these are issues that affect our citizens directly, and where we have a duty to work together, in a spirit of democratic collaboration, to find effective and progressive solutions.
Before I conclude, may I draw again on my closing remarks from the United Nations General Assembly, which I had the privilege of attending last week.
Myanmar has known too well the cost of conflict and strife. We have seen how anger, greed, fear and ignorance can corrupt human nature, and corrupt a human community as a whole. Therefore, I would appeal to all of you here today to stand up against anger, hatred, fear and ignorance wherever you may encounter it, and to instead seek the path of compassion, loving kindness, and happiness in the good fortune of others.
I would like to see the ASEAN Community stand as an example to other communities around the world — a community where giving is truly more valued than receiving, and which places fundamental human rights and human dignity at the heart of all policies and actions. And may I remind all legislatures that there’s no honour grace of than that to be an elected representative of the people, to discharge our responsibilities to them to stand for them against the challenges of our world and to be able to say at the end of our term in office that we have truly done our duty by our people and by ourselves.
May I conclude by wishing this 37th Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Union every success, and by wishing all of you a productive and enjoyable few days in Naypyidaw. Enjoyable, I hope.