Ambassador Marciel’s remarks delivered at the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies

Ambassador Marciel's MISIS Speech

Good morning, everyone. Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for the kind introduction, which mostly made me realize that I’ve been doing this kind of work for far too long. But it’s very kind of you to do it, especially after you just came back from a major surgery. Thank you to all of you for joining. I apologize for keeping you waiting. After nearly a year here, you’d think I’d be able to predict Yangon traffic by now. But I failed this morning.

I’ve got some remarks, but I never really like to read remarks, so I’m just going to refer to them a little bit. There’s obviously a huge amount happening in Myanmar these days that we are all aware of, and I want to touch on that, but I will focus my remarks on the U.S.-Myanmar relationship. And I think the key point that I want to highlight at the very beginning is that the U.S. policy on Myanmar has been quite consistent for many years. It’s really been about supporting the people of Myanmar as they have sought to make a transition to democracy and of course achieve peace and build a peaceful and prosperous democracy. And that remains very much the U.S. goal and the U.S. policy approach under the new administration. Certainly some details of American foreign policy will be different under the Trump administration, but everything I’m hearing from the secretary of state, and from the White House, as well as from our congress, which plays a very important role in our relationship with Myanmar, everything I’m hearing is that it’s consistent support for this democratic transition and for building a closer relationship between the two countries, so I think that’s the key point I really want to make. Now, last year, 2016, was a very important year in our relationship. I got here almost a year ago, just a few days ahead of the inauguration of the new government, which of course was a hugely important event for this country. Again, consistent with our approach of trying to promote transition and support democracy and reform, we moved after that inauguration to try to normalize the relationship, but also to do what we could to bolster the reform process–so we lifted our economic sanctions. We provided GSP trade benefits to Myanmar, and I want to stress that wasn’t a gift, that was something Myanmar earned by making very important reforms, so it met all of the requirements for us to be able to provide GSP. Of course, President Obama welcomed State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi to the White House in September and at that time they jointly announced the new U.S.-Myanmar partnership. And the whole point of that partnership was to make it clear from the very top from both governments that this was a new chapter, that we were entering a new chapter in the relationship. The old relationship which had been very focused on sanctions and trying to put pressure on the military regime of the past was now changed to a much more normal relationship without sanctions. A true partnership where the U.S. role would be to try to support everybody here who is trying to do so much to carry out reforms, improve the economy, build peace, all of the challenges facing Myanmar. And that’s really what the relationship is focused on.

As part of that normalization, we’ve continued to expand the cooperation. We are doing a lot more to promote trade and investment to help bring both our private sectors together. We’ve launched the Peace Corps program here late last year, which is bringing American volunteers that teach English here, and we will be expanding that program in the months to come. We opened a department of agriculture office here, which will help promote agricultural cooperation and trade between our two countries. And we’ve basically expanded our cooperation as well as our assistance programs. And our assistance programs and much of our diplomatic efforts are all designed again to help the people of Myanmar who are trying to advance their own agenda. So it’s not really the U.S. coming and bringing its agenda here so much. A lot of good work has been done here and we want to support that work. And we’ve focused a lot on the economy and it’s not only because trade and investment are a bit overlapping, they are overlapping, but it’s also the recognition that the success of this democratic transition and the effort to build peace will depend heavily on economic progress. More job creation, more wealth, and more opportunities for people, so we made that a priority which is part of the reason, actually the main reason we lifted sanctions. I want to stress, as I said before, lifting sanctions wasn’t a reward but it was a decision made because we thought it was the best way to promote continued progress on the democratic transition. We’ve been involved in bringing American companies here, promoting investment, promoting responsible investment. We’ve been working with the Myanmar Government in support of efforts to reform things like the mining sector, where we have worked with the minister of natural resources and the environment, who is now setting up a steering committee to help give him advice on how to deal with the jade sector. We don’t really buy jade, but we think it’s important to support the government’s effort to better regulate that sector. I mentioned the GSP trade benefits which I think will be very helpful in the years ahead. In the last 5 years trade had grown by more than 600%. I have to admit that started from a very low number so we have a long way to go, but it’s still a good trajectory. Last year for the first time Myanmar exports to the United States were higher than U.S. exports to Myanmar, and we’re fine with that because we want to see economic development and growth here. We’re working to try to support efforts to extend the power sector here, the electricity sector. USAID has been very involved in working with farmers and we recognize the government has made improvements in the agricultural sector a priority, and we’re doing a lot to support that, including with microfinance projects and working with, for example, coffee farmers who are now exporting coffee to the United States for the first time. So we’re trying to do really practical things to help. At the same time we’re doing a lot of work to help those who are trying to build the legal and democratic institutions, the media and civil society. We are doing a lot of work to continue to support the development of those groups. On the diplomatic side, we do weigh in quietly with parliament and government on issues that we think are important. We try to do this very respectfully of Myanmar sovereignty of course, but for example we have raised things like the 66D provision of the telecom law. Which I think is a problem, in terms of its impacts on freedom of expression. Again, the people, and parliament and government of Myanmar will decide that. But we have raised those sorts of issues when we thought it was important for the country to continue on the path of greater freedom. Looking ahead with the upcoming by-elections, we are continuing to provide technical support for the Union Election Commission. That’s very important. I mentioned working with the civil society and the media. We’re doing a lot of work with healthcare. We have a good working relationship with the Ministry of Health. I have a long list of projects, which I’m going to skip over, but I want to really focus on maternal and child health programs, rule of law, training judges, working with the police and judges and others on counter narcotics issues, trying to reduce demand for narcotics, which is a huge problem in this country, it’s a huge problem in my country, so it’s a problem we share and hopefully can help each other. We’re extending our exchange programs, our scholarship programs. We all know that there is a need to build capacity here and we want to do our part as well as encouraging more Myanmar students to study in the United States. We’re building a new American center, which I think many of you have driven by, which will open later this year. It’s designed to be a place where people can go for education programs but also for discussions on a wide range of issues.

So what I would say overall is, we’ve really normalized the relationship. It’s a very normal relationship, with one area where we’re going slowly and deliberately and that’s the relationship between our militaries. We have some military-military engagement, it’s quite limited. We’re working to try to help support efforts in the Myanmar military to turn it into a more traditional military focused on external defense and one that is appropriate for a democratic country. But we have also been very clear in our conversations with the Tatmadaw that for a full normalization of a military to military relationship we would have to see a lot more progress on reform, accountability, human rights and civilian control. So we have very honest discussions with the military on that front.

I want to address briefly some of the things that we’re particularly focused on as a friend, that is some of the challenges that Myanmar faces, you all know them very well. My view is that after 50 years leading up to 2010 when the reforms began, there was a lot of work to do, naturally enough, and I think everybody knows that it’s going to take time. So we would expect that. Again, we want to be supportive as a friend. So we’re always asking ourselves what can we do as a friend to support the efforts that deal with challenges that you know, many of them are very, very difficult challenges. The peace process. I think if there was an award for the most complex peace process in the world, I think Myanmar would win it. And I think for myself and all of our friends in the diplomatic community that we all want to see Myanmar succeed and we want to do whatever we can to support these efforts, including on peace. I was in Kachin State last week meeting with civil society, meeting with the regional commander, meeting with the KIO. Again, we’re not getting involved in the actual negotiations, that’s not our role, but as a friend we’re encouraging everyone involved to try to reach out, end the fighting and promote dialogue. This is something that the Myanmar people, Myanmar institutions will have to make decisions on, particularly with the next Panglong conference coming up in just two weeks. This is a hugely important opportunity and we will continue to do all we can to encourage the military, the government, the KIO and others to take one more step to try to bring the country closer to peace. We were told by a number of people in Kachin that the fighting has eased significantly in the last two weeks. If that’s true, then our message is, don’t be passive. Seize this opportunity of reduced fighting ahead of Panglong and try to end the fighting. And create the best possible environment for progress toward peace. We don’t give advice to the ethnic armed groups on whether they should sign the NCA or not, that’s for them to decide, but we do encourage them all to do all they can to keep working toward peace. And I think that is very important right now. We’re also doing some very low-key seminars and conferences and trainings on things like federalism, given that we came from a federal system in the United States. We’re not suggesting that Myanmar adopt our model. We are just talking about some of the issues that come up in federalism and trying to build capacity for everyone involved to deal with that.

Rakhine obviously is getting a huge amount of attention. I was in Rakhine and Sittwe about ten days ago. Again, we all know here that it’s a very complex issue with a lot of history and a lot of strong emotional feelings, and since the October attacks it has gotten a lot more complicated and all of us in the international community have condemned those attacks but also raised concerns about the very significant and severe allegations of human rights abuses. We’re not in a position to say this happened or this didn’t happen, but it is one of those cases, I think, where separate from the issue of the actual attacks, which I’ve said we’ve condemned, it’s very important for Myanmar’s own efforts at building accountability and true justice in the country for the investigations, the various investigations which are underway, to do as much as possible to satisfy the people of Myanmar, let alone the international community that justice is being done. And then of course there is a huge need to address the underlying issues of that state. Again, we understand how incredibly complex and difficult that is. We’ve struggled with our own ethnic issues in our own country. We’ve learned to be humbled by those. But if there is anything we can do to help, we certainly will.

And last, again there is a long list of challenges in your country that you know much better than I do, but our approach is, bottom line, to try to approach everything as a friend, and see where we can be helpful, and quietly offer advice if we think we have something useful to say. Last, I will close on a positive, optimistic note. Because it’s easy here or in any country including the United States to focus on the challenges and nobody wants to ignore those. But I’ll tell you what makes me most hopeful about Myanmar is, I see this tremendous energy and enthusiasm particularly in the younger generation here and I’ve seen that in a few countries around the world. And I see so much appetite, people who are working so hard to learn and strengthen themselves and contribute to their country. And that in the end is what makes me the most optimistic about that country. And that is why we spend a lot of our time wherever we go and travel in the country, meeting with young people and encouraging young people to remain very active and continue in their studies. So we’ll continue to do that going forward. I’m happy to answer any questions or address anything you’d like me to address. Thank you very much.