Video: Rudd Sees 'Real Constituency for Change' in Burma

During an appearance at Asia Society in New York on Friday, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was asked about the latest developments in Burma (also known as Myanmar), which as of today enjoys restored diplomatic relations with the United States. Rudd said he was the first foreign minister to visit Burma last summer after seeing initial signs of change, and added "until we have evidence that it's going to slide in the other direction" foreign nations need to reduce their sanctions against Burma, as Australia did recently.

You can watch Rudd's answer in the video above. Here is a partial transcript:

Having met [Myanmar President] Thein Sein and spending a lot of time with him, the president, and with the others, I think there is a real constituency for change, because they don't wish to be singularly reliant on a single external power. They also know that they are the poorest country in Asia. They also know they have formidable social and economic problems, not to mention their internal security problems and their various ethic conflicts.

Then Sein, I believe, has embarked upon a significant gamble. If you look at the material changes which have been introduced, we've now had two to three waves of releases of political prisoners of some order of magnitude and 600 or so today. Secondly, the elections which will be held as of 1 April, involving I think 48 by-elections in which Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic forces will participate in, and she herself as a candidate, together with the establishment of a human rights body in Burma, which immediate called for the release of all political prisoners, so it wasn't a patsy.

So the call I made in June was we should give this a go, and I was therefore subsequently on the phone to my colleagues around the world saying that should be the case. I congratulate Hillary [Clinton] for her visit. I think it was very effective and very useful.

We are Burma's second largest development partner in the world. We are working multiple projects on the ground in very basic service delivery, and I have seen some of their work on the ground. But it's carrot and stick in some respects. We've got to respond positively. We reduced our sanctions list on Burma last week. We, I think, did it unilaterally. Got a bit of trouble for that.

But my view is you've got to encourage. Until we have evidence that it's going to slide in the other direction, as positive things are anticipated or happen you've got to go back the other way. Otherwise President Thein Sein turns back around to the Burmese military and says, "I am sorry. I have got nothing to show for what I have done." And I think that would only end in tears.

About the Author

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Dan Washburn is Asia Society's Chief Content Officer. The Financial Times named his book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream, one of the best of 2014.