The Ministry of Foreign Affairs practices an independent, non-aligned and active Foreign Policy based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, being a Ministry which considers the promotion and protection of the interests of the State and the People in the international arena as its utmost responsibility. From the time the present government took over State responsibility, we continued practicing this policy, using different approaches. Using a People-centered diplomacy, we have worked to improve and consolidate relations with neighboring countries with whom we have traditionally had friendly relations; re-establish friendly relations with countries far and near; we have worked hard for promoting national and regional interests by actively participating in ASEAN and regional affairs in accordance with the priorities of Myanmar; we are preparing to cooperate with the UN and international organizations in accordance with our country’s situation and priority needs. There are many actions that the MOFA has undertaken. During the second year term of our Government, it may be seen that there have been many challenges, and many issues that have been resolved in the international area. Therefore, in order to understand the activities of MOFA and the recently formed Ministry for International Cooperation, we have met and interviewed U Kyaw Tin who is the Union Minister for International Cooperation as well as the former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Q: How is the MOFA working for Peace and Development of the country?
As we implement our country’s programs for national reconciliation, peace, uplifting the socio-economic life of the people, and for the transition towards democracy, our job is to get the cooperation and support of other countries. We make strenuous efforts to get the constructive cooperation of the international community by engaging and communicating with other countries as we meet the challenges we are facing.
As diplomats, we provide assistance and support not only for our country’s peace and development, but also for peace and development of the countries of the world. To do this as we try to resolve the challenges we have adopted a different approach which takes into account not only the views and opinions within our country but also the views and opinions of the outside world. In accordance with our approach to practise “people-centered diplomacy”, as we work to promote friendship in our bilateral relations, we work not only in the area of government-to-government relations but also for promoting people-to-people relations, protecting and promoting the interests of the people. In working for the success of our goals, we are utilizing the united strength of the people.
Q: During the second year, what are the priority tasks for the MOFA?
A: During the second year the following priority tasks were performed by the MOFA: –
• Promoted friendly relations and cooperation with all countries around the world.
• Secured technical and financial assistances from international and regional organizations for national development.
• Worked to boost foreign trade and investments from abroad.
• Participated actively in international and regional organizations.
• Worked to uplift the image and dignity of the people and the country in the international arena.
• Worked to increase our participation in international conventions relating to human rights, climate change, and disarmament.
• Worked to protect the interests of Myanmar nationals and former Myanmar Nationals living abroad.
To achieve these objectives, we need capable diplomats. Therefore we have increased the recruitment of Foreign Service personnel and worked to build up the capacity of our diplomats.
We have also provided substantive and necessary administrative support to our diplomats so that they are able to perform their tasks at the diplomatic missions abroad in accordance with their diplomatic ranks.
While noticeable achievements were being attained in our international relations, beginning from the time terrorist attacked our border security forces in Rakhine State large numbers of refugees left our country. The media lashed out with exaggerated and distorted reports. As a result, misunderstandings, criticisms and efforts to put pressure on Myanmar developed in the international arena.
If I were to give a frank assessment, although our government attained significant achievements in foreign relations during its first one and a half year period, it faced tremendous challenges in the second half of the second year.
Therefore, the MOFA is responding to these challenges and pressures in the international arena. In addition, we are making efforts to show progress on the ground. In this way we are placing special focus on improving our international relations.
Q: Has there been any changes or challenges in the role of the MOFA during the term of the present government?
A: During the term of our government, the State Counsellor herself has concurrently taken the portfolio of the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs. Thus the coordinating role of MOFA has been further elevated. Countries of the world welcomed, supported and encouraged the new civilian government. During the first one and half years, assistance and offers of assistance surged to ensure the increased success of the democratic transition process. This is a significant change and progress in the international relations area. In spite of facing enormous challenges in the second half of the second year period, many countries of the world still remained committed and strongly supported Myanmar for a successful transition to democracy. However, as Myanmar needs to survive in the international community as a country which respects her duties and obligations, she needs to handle and resolve her problems in accordance with international norms. For this we will give due regard to the views and opinions of the international community. On the other side, as we need to act in accordance with internal requirements, the need to solve this problem in a balanced manner is a big challenge for our Ministry.
Q: Please tell us about the changes and developments that have taken place in Myanmar’s relations with countries of the world.
A: In assessing Myanmar’s international relations, it may be necessary to recognize two distinct periods: from the time the new government assumed state responsibilities to the time the terrorist attacks occurred on 25 August 2017 and the period beyond that. During the first period, we not only maintained and promoted traditional friendly ties with neighboring countries such as China, India and ASEAN countries, we were able to revive and consolidate our relations with our development partners such as the United States of America and the western European countries. During the first year, the visit of the State Counsellor to the US, we were able to work for the removal of all sanctions imposed against Myanmar.
Similarly, Myanmar was able to further consolidate the Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership with China and establish not only friendship but also mutual understanding between the leaders.
As a result of improved relations with European counties, we were able to end the EU resolution on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar in 2016 which has been tabled annually at the United Nations General Assembly since 1991. This may be seen as a significant success during the first year.
However, during the second year, although we were able to further consolidate and improve our friendly relations with China, India, ASEAN countries, and countries in the region, due to the terrorist attacks in Rakhine State, large numbers of refugees left the country. Thus, we had to face misunderstandings. Therefore, our warm relations with Western countries deteriorated. However among countries that had consistently supported and encouraged Myanmar, we have been able to maintain friendly relations and cooperation in areas of mutual interest, with countries which could appreciate the depth and complexity of our challenges. For the promotion of friendly relations with the countries of the world, the basic necessity is to provide support for the exchange of visits of Heads of State and High level delegations. In this regard, our Ministry has been able to perform diplomatic relations as well as prepare necessary background papers of discussion topics in coordination with other relevant Ministries. We were able to make systematic arrangements for these visits to have a proper balance.
Q: Please tell me about the visits of the President and the State Counsellor during the two year term of this government.
A: Former President U Htin Kyaw paid friendly visits to Laos which assumed the ASEAN chairmanship in 2016, India, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia and Japan. He also visited Russia to attend the ASEAN-Russia Summit, Mongolia to attend the Asia-Europe (ASEM) Summit Meeting, and Thailand to attend the Royal Cremation Ceremony of Thailand’s late King.
The State Counsellor also visited Thailand, China, the United States, Japan, Singapore, Italy, Vatican City, United Kingdom, Belgium (home of the European Union), India and Australia. In addition, she attended the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summit Meetings and other related meetings in Laos, Outreach Summit between BRICS and BIMSTEC Partners in India, the Royal Golden Jubilee Celebrations of His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddualah in Brunei Darussalam, the 30th and 31st ASEAN Summit Meeting and other related meetings in the Philippines, the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China, the ASEAN-APEC Leaders’ Informal Dialogue in Vietnam, the 25th ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit and the celebration of the 69th Republic Day of India in India, and the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Australia.
Q: Please also tell us about the visits of foreign dignitaries to Myanmar.
A: Heads of State from Singapore, India, Lao PDR, the Philippines, Mongolia, Cambodia and Vietnam, and His Holiness Pope Francis visited Myanmar. Foreign Ministers from China, Italy, Canada, Japan, India, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Britain, Hungary, US, Norway, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Netherlands, France, Czech and Turkey also visited Myanmar. Other visits included senior officials from China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, European Union, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Apart from these visits, there were over 50 visits from aboard. We were able to arrange all these visits to foster bilateral relations and cooperation.
Q: Please tell us about the benefits we gained from these friendly visits.
A: From these friendly visits we received assistance for development of the socio-economic life of the people. We also received loans, technical assistance and financial assistance. During the two years period of the government, the President made one visit and the State Counsellor made three visits to the People’s Republic of China.This reflects how much importance we place on our friendly relations with China. The State Counsellor visited China in November 2017 to attend the Communist Party of China – CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting as a special guest which consolidated the friendship between the leaders of both countries.
(Translated by Kyaw Myaing)
(To be continued)