THE LEADERS Magazine
APRIL, MAY, JUNE 1998 VOLUME 21, NUMBER 2
An Interview with Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman, State Peace and
Development Council, Union of Myanmar
In his first conversation with the press after assuming military
leadership of the government of Myanmar. Chairman of the State Peace
and Development Council Senior General Than Shwe is eager to explain
exactly what is taking place in his country and to set the record
straight on his attitude forward the West. " In spite of any sanctions
the United States has against us " he says, we bear no hastily and no
anagonism toward the United States ".
Although Myanmar is using its wealth of natural resources to develop
its economy and has good trade relations with its neighbors in the
East. Shwe feels that lifting the sanctions imposed by the West
because of the opposition to military rule would, in fact, help build
the economy further and lead to the establishment of a democracy. Most
important , Shwe stresses that by removing sanctions and offering
assistance, the West would facilitate the "banding over of state power
back to the people more quickly ". "My genuine desire ", he says, " is
to see our country develop and prosper, and to see the emergence of a
Is this the first conversation you have had with any member of the
Why have you decided to speak now?
In our previous experiences with people from the media, whatever we
said was usually misinterpreted, and sometimes misinterpretation can
give rise to misunderstanding. I wanted to clarify these
misunderstandings. But I personally live a very quiet life, so I
don't push myself to talk to the press.
This is a good opportunity to show the world that you are a statesman
who is concerned for your nation and its future. As such, one of the
things you are focusing on now is rebuilding the country; for you
politics comes later. But as you know, countries in the West are under
the impression that you think it's necessary to have the security of a
nation before you have democracy- that you can't have people voting if
the votes are not honestly counted. Can you explain this to those in
the West who seem to be anti-Myanmar?
As you are aware, we are vigorously engaged in the national
reconstruction of the country. We are working for the development and
peace of our nation. At the same time, we are trying to place our
country on the path of democratic system. So, first we have to
establish conditions of peace and tranquility, and law and order. At
the same time as we are trying to establish political stability ,
however, we must also build up the economic foundation of our nation.
So we're definitely trying to do both.
Of course we believe it's not national for the armed forces to assume
responsibility for the save for a very long time, but you must realize
that because of the particular circumstances and conditions in our
country, the armed forces have to assume responsibility for a certain
period of time.
U.S. sanctions have hurt business investment in Myanmar. Here you are,
on the border of India and also of China, a country the United States
has had and up-and-down relationship with, sometimes it's good for
trade, sometimes it's's had for human rights . Aren't the sanctions
the United States has imposed on Myanmar, and the influence it's using
on European nations, driving you more toward China?
It's true, the United States has instituted sanctions against our
nation. But because we have developed a vibrant border trade with our
neighboring countries of India, China, and Thailand, and because of
the assistance and support from other countries is the region, the
impact of the sanctions is not so great.
Whether the result of these sanctions has an effect on our
relationship with other countries, I want to say that Myanmar has
always tried to maintain friendly ties with all countries in the
world. We have been consistent in this policy throughout our history.
So, In spice of any sanctions the United States has against us, we
bear no hostility and no antagonism toward the United States.
But isn't that driving Myanmar closer to China?
No. I wouldn't say that U.S. sanctions are pushing us toward China. We
want to continue to maintain good, cordial relations with all
Our country has a lot of natural resources, and we are able to utilize
them very well to develop our nation's economy. In addition, the
countries in our region cooperate well with us, which also helps in
our economic development. Of course, if we get assistance from
countries abroad, it will help us develop our nation even more. Having
international assistance and support will greatly facilitate our
economic and political endeavors and will also help us build a
democratic system more quickly by facilitating the handing of state
power back to the people.
My genuine desire is to see our country develop and prosper, and to
see the emergence of a democratic system. It is toward this end that
we are putting our best efforts. I believe that if instead of imposing
economic sanctions on our country, the world community would help us,
we could reach this goal within three years.
If there were a change of mind in the United States, we could develop
cordial relations there.
Everyone in the diplomatic community is asking when will your
constitution be finished, and when will there be free elections? I
know you're still working on the constitution, but the West want to
know when it will be complete.
Let me say that we have no intention of prolonging the precess
unnecessarily. If we receive international assistance and support, the
process of establishing a democratic system in our country will be
speed up. But if there is a hostile altitude from other countries, the
process of democratization could be prolonged. However, we on our
part, have no intention whatsoever to unnecessarily prolong this
The American Government has said off the record that they think the
constitution will be written and that elections will be held, but not
until a time when the military can win the elections.
Well, you know, the people will elect whom they like.
Would you consider a high-level visit to the United States and Europe
to discuss the World Bank, the sanctions, and the pride of the nation
of Myanmar? Also to urge the necessity for all those involved to
understand that the sanctions are hurting the people of Myanmar, not
the government, which will pursue its course and hold constitutional
elections when the time is right?
The problem is that we are having difficulty getting a visa.
But you should be able to get a visa to come to address the United
Nations as a head of government.
If there is such and opportunity, of course.
Since the United States has friendly relations with Thailand and has
military bases there, Myanmar could offer the United States a
strategic position between India and China. Wouldn't it be in both
your interests if you could have discussions with the United States
along these lines?
It is something to think about. Because of the geographical and
geopolitical face of being located between India and China, two very
big neighbors, we try to maintain good relations with both those
countries. It would not help us if either China or India had
unfavorable views toward us. We believe that if there were a change of
mind in the United States, we could develop cordial relations there
One of the most popular ways a big multinational company can invest in
developing nations is by arranging to come into a country and build a
power plant. The company would have a contract to run the power plant
for a certain number of years until it could make back a mutually
agreed upon profit, and then it would turn over the entire plant to
the developing country for free for future use. Are any of these kinds
of projects under consideration in Myanmar? Would you welcome them?
One thing we chose to do after assuming the responsibility of running
the government was to introduce an economic policy, and we invited
foreign investment from abroad. Toward this end, we have set up
necessary rules and procedures. We have our own regulations and laws
for the kinds of investments you describe.
And in which areas would you be interested in having this type of
investment-power plants, roads?
One sector that comes to mind is hydroelectricity, because, as you
know, we have resources for 3,000, 5,000, or even 10,000 megawatts.
Another potential area is offshore drilling, because we have a lot of
natural gas resources. There are already companies interested in this
You already have Texaco, ARCO, and Unical. Is there still room for
Yes. These companies are working with us on a joint venture, but we
believe there is much more potential to be tapped in downstream
industries, such as gas, fertilizers, and methanol.
What is your vision for Myanmar in the next century? What are your
present priorities, and what are your priorities for building this
nation in the future?
Our vision is to establish a peaceful, prosperous, modern, democratic,
and developed state, utilizing the natural resources available in our
country. We are also a member of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) and are trying to fulfill the vision set our for all
ASEAN countries in what is called a "Vision 20/70 statement.
Which ASEAN country do you think best understands Myanmar?
Since we have been able to develop very close contacts with the
leaders of all the ASEAN countries, I would say all of them have a
good understanding of and very good relations with our country.
And what are your feelings toward the United States?
Let me again recreate that we have no ill feelings whatsoever toward
the United States. As you know, I am a soldier, but at the same time,
I am also a Buddhist. I faithfully try to follow the Buddhist
teaching, which says on should not corertain antagonistic of hostile
feelings toward others. Although the United States may have some ill
feelings toward us, we have no ill feelings toward the United States.
World leaders are human too. You have seven children, and your are a
grandfather. You don't smoke, you don't drink, you are very quiet, and
you probably have never shouted in your life. How can you be so calm?
Actually, you know, I try to be calm and senene. Even now I am
thinking that when I retire, I will devote myself to religion. I don't
have any worldly desires; I just want to live a quiet and peaceful
life. When I am doing now is because I love my country.
An Interview with His Excellency Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt ,
Secretary -1 state Peace and Development Council, Union of Myanmar
Since a regained independence from Great Britain in 1948, the Union of
Myanmar (formerly Burma) has suffered almost continual political
unrest lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, secretary-1 of the State Peace
and Development Council, blames this largely on a constitutional
clause that enabled any or all of the country's myriad " national
races " to secede - which is precisely what they did, with the
military and the communists alternately jockeying for overriding power
. Finally, however, " group after group of armed forces, " Nyunt
reports, have " Laid down their arms and entered our legal union, "
with " only one group left to join the rest."
Nyunt offers another sign of impending cooperation: " some of the
leaders of these armed groups are even taking part in the convention
that is drafting the new constitution. " Perhaps the " peace and
stability throughout the country" with not be long in coming.
As the Union of Myamar continues its struggle toward domestic harmony
and the reconciliation of its many ethnic groups, what internal
programs are being implemented, and have they been successful to date?
To understand the programs that will determine our future, it is
necessary to understand our past.
We have hand a very long his of dissatisfaction and insurrection, Our
country is a union composed of 135 different national races. Of these
races, the largest group is the Bamar, who represent about 80 percent
of the entire population and live on the plains and in the delta area
of the country. The rest of the people live n the remote mountainous
Our country was ruled by Britain for nearly 100 years, under the
different administrative systems, until we regained our independence
in 1948. Before this could happen, however, the British said that we
had to have a constitution, which contained one very special clause.
It said that 10 years after we regained our independence, if the
national races so desired, they could secede from the union.
Not surprisingly , soon after we regained our independence, the
leaders of the different national races expressed opposing views, and
as result, the country faced armed insurrection. Various groups took
up arms against the government for ideological, economic, racial, and
even religious reasons, and the communists went underground.
In 1958, there was a split in the ruling political party. And since it
was the 10th year of our independence, some national races decided to
take advantage of the clause in our constitution and secede from the
union. Event after the government changed hands back and forth from
political parties to the military, there was still much
dissatisfaction on the part of the national races that were trying to
secede. Therefore, in 1962, the military recede. Therefor, in 1962,
the military resumed responsibility for the state and formed the
revolutionary council, which ruled the country from 1962 to 1974. In
1947, a new government was formed, run by the Burma socialist Program
Party, which tried to lead the country with a socialistic economic
system. When, as a result of economic difficulties, the system didn't
work, a majority of the people expressed the desire for a change of
government. So the communist took advantage of the dissatisfaction and
incited riots and unrest which led to anarchy, Those were the
disturbances of 1988- when innocent people were being beheaded and
there was much looting- the year that finally caused the military to
assume the responsibility for the government.
Our first task was to build back law and order and peace and
tranquility in the country, and then to from the administrative
system, which had broken down completely, and to have it function
smoothly. Our second task was to achieve unity, reconciliation, and
reconsolidating among the national races. Members of our military
council went into the jungle to have talks with the armed troops to
bring them under legal umbrella to help achieve our tasks. In previous
governments, the one stumbling block to discussions was that we always
asked the armed groups to give up their arms and surrender. So now in
our discussions we told them they didn't need to surrender yet.
Instead the government is trying to establish an understanding, and to
win their trust and confidence.
Little by little, in discussion after discussion, we finally reached
an agreement that they would give up their arms when we drew up a new
constitution. So group after group of armed forces, 17 in all so far,
laid down their arms and entered our legal union, which drove out the
communists. These forces are now working with us for the development
of their regions, and of course, we are providing assistance and funds
for that development. Some of the leaders of these armed groups are
even taking part in the convention that is drafting the new
After the moment, there is only one group left to join the rest, and
then there should be absolute peace and stability throughout the
country. When the last group joins the legal union, there will no
longer be any armed insurrection in the Union of Myanmar.
An Interview with His Excellency Brigadier-General D.O.Abel ,
Minister, State Peace and Development Council, Union of Myanmar
As the Union of Myanmar struggles to create a multiparty, democratic
political system , the action government finds its efforts thwarted by
public misconceptions and subsequent economic sanctions. In the
following interview, Brigadier-General D.O.Abel , minister of the
State Peace and Development Council , explains how the political and
Social reforms that are being instituted to support the country's vast
natural resources, particularly in the areas of agriculture and gas
reserves , make Myanmar a haven for foreign investment.
The military government of Myanmar has said that it is working on
rewriting the constitution, and after that, there will be open
elections. What do you think the timetable will be for the completion
of the new constitution?
Actually, the military is sort of a caretaker government but it is not
rewriting the constitution. We have formed a national convention with
representatives from the entire spectrum of society in Myanmar -
workers, farmers , students, armed forces, civil service people ,
national races , and political parties. The national convention is
empowered to write up the framework for the new constitution.
For our first two constitutions, we didn't have a system like this,
where the major tribes and national races have the opportunity to
express their desire to be included in the constitution. We are note
supposed to interfere in this process, and it is up to the convention
to decide when they want to convene. So far they've finished the first
two thirds of the proposed constitution.
We have not given the representatives a timetable, but we are asking
them to speed up as much as they can .The national races and some of
the major tribes have their own ideas of what they want for their
territories , so we must gave them time to make decisions. Our
government is stable now and when the constitution is promulgated, we
will step back and there will be a new democratic system.
Why do you think the United States has imposed sanctions on Myanmar
and has suspended cooperation with your country?
We can see only two reasons. One is that they say we are slowing the
process of democratization. But the first declaration we made when we
came to government in 1988 was to democratize the country. The second
reason, they say , is our violation of human rights. But this is not
so. The United States is accusing us of things we haven't done .And
this is a problem.
How can this viewpoint of the United States be changed?
Actually I think it's the viewpoint of a few prominent and very vocal
people in Congress. Once the constitution is promulgated and we have a
new government, I think the problem should be over. Influential people
should come to see for themselves how the lives of Myanmar's people
are completely changed and how they are benefiting from these changes,
We have schools, we have clinics, we have good jobs, we have goof
On western television, whenever there is an interview with a dissident
from your country, there is never anyone from the Myanmar government
to present the other side of the story. How can that be corrected? If
the press came more frequently and stayed longer, they would get the
right feel for our country. But they come and stay one or two days,
meet the wrong people, hear rumors, and don't get firsthand
information. Of course, without firsthand information there is only
speculation. The press has the wrong perception of us because they
come with preconceived ideas.
It's true that people need to see your country for themselves. There
is almost no crime in Myanmar, and yet there are those in the West who
say it's dangerous to come here. If more visitors came, they would see
How is Myanmar's economy as far as the future is concerned?
Since our independence in 1948, this is the first time Myanmar has
enjoyed a positive, stable economy. When we took responsibility for
the government, the situation was very bad. Our economy was in the
negative. Our GDP was - 15 percent. Today we have an average growth
rate of 7.5 percent, and when all the investments come upstream, the
situation will be much improved.
How about inflation?
Inflation is still in the double digits, about 21 percent.
What will the government do to correct the inflation problems? There
are several remedies for inflation. The first is to enhance production
substantially, the second is to have a tight budget, the third is to
encourage savings and the fourth is to put into position austerity
measures - especially by the state government public departments - so
we don't waste money.
Is there a unified currency in Myanmar?
Today, we use six major currencies in Myanmar - The U.S dollar, the
British pound sterling, the Japanese yen, the French franc, the German
deutsche mark, and our own kyat. Our daily rates are based on the U.S
dollar. We feel that the currency is overvalued, and so we have to
devalue it .Not having a unified currency is one of the major issues
foreign investors feel uncomfortable about. In 1988 our finance
minister talked to the IMF and asked for a cushion to devalue our
currency so that the poor would not be affected, but they refused us.
So we cannot move ahead. We need a cushion like Indonesia is getting,
like Thailand is getting, like South Korea is getting .We are only
asking for $1 billion a year for three years, and we'll devalue the
currency. Once we can unify the currency, that will be an asset for
There must be wonderful opportunities for foreign investment in your
infrastructure, especially for companies that specialize in planning
systems for governments, as well as companies using computerization.
Actually, there are a lot of opportunities, especially in
telecommunications, public works, in the electrical power and energy
sector, and in the transportation sector. We have opened up quite a
lot to foreign investors. Of course, the leaders in those sectors are
U.S. companies. We are not prejudiced against American businesses, and
we are open to their investments, but because of the sanctions. I
think they are holding off for a while.
What type of investments is Myanmar most interested in having from
We prefer investments in our vast amount of resources, including
industrial, metals, minerals, timber , agricultural products, oil, and
gas. But if they want to use Myanmar as base for manufacturing because
of its good labor force, human resources,etc , we would like that
You already have large interests in offshore gas with two American
companies, Texaco and ARCO. How are they developing?
Very well. We have joint ventures with both of those companies. In our
first project, we have 11 trillion cubic feet of gas under reserve, of
which 625 million cubic feet a day will be piped to Thailand by July
Our side of the pipeline is almost complete, and so is the Thai side.
So Thailand's western seaboard will receive 625 million cubic feet a
day, and Thailand also can receive a billion cubic feet of gas per day
via the pipe we have built .We have recently found a new gas reserve
that is 17 trillion cubic feet and we are now negotiation for that gas
with India and Bangladesh.
This will bring considerable revenues to energy and resources. Yes,
considerable revenues. Texaco's gas will go to Thailand also, but it
will be used to generate energy that will be put on the national grid.
Now the company is putting up turbines on the border. The first set of
turbines will be for 1500 megawatts, with an additional 1500 megawatts
Are joint ventures best, or is the government open to privatization of
Yes, of course we are open. Our privatization committee clearly
defines what the private sector cna do on its own without any
interference from the government. In the interest of the state nand
the people, we have opened up to privatization the mining sector, the
petrochemical oil, and gas sectors, the telecommunications sector, and
the energy sector. The fishing industry now has been completely
privatized, so the Ministry of Fisheries is only there to see that
fishing is done in a regulated manner. The transportation industry has
been almost privatized, including, for instance, road transport. We
have started privatizing some sub sectors of our rail transport on the
mail line, but air transport has been privatized.
Because of U.S. sanctions, American companies are prohibited from
investing with you?
Not only American companies. The sanctions have an effect on other
countries and make them fearful of investing here, For example, any
Japanese companies that are operation here in Myanmar cannot operate
in the state of Massachusetts. They and other multinational companies
don't want to invest here because they are afraid of retaliation from
the United States.
Many countries in the wold, including the United States, have problems
with narcotics trafficking across their borders. Does Myanmar have a
Yes, we do. Poppy was not a crop in Myanmar, the British brought it in
from South America. They allowed the farmers to grow poppy here and to
sell opium, and that led to the famous opium wars. After that, three
divisions of the KMT of China came into Myanmar and started the
sophisticated cultivation of poppy, even setting up small technical
schools where they taught the processing of heroin, Our government
went to the United Nations for a way to stop the trafficking from our
The United States, Myanmar, and Thailand came to the meeting table.
Finally, one of the KMT divisions returned to Taiwan, one set up in
Northern Thailand, and one group remained in Myanmar, refusing to
leave, but they all had links with each other. They used our local
people to grow poppy and they processed the opium and the heroin,
which was always sent out through their contacts. All the narcotics
went to Thailand, to China, and to India. After we came to terms with
the heavily armed locals who were growing poppy, we reached an
agreement and pledged that Myanma will stop growing poppy by the end
of the century. In Myanmar we have very few addicts because the
punishment is severe. The rest of the world thinks we are the ones who
deal in narcotics, but actually we are the ones who have pledged to be
rid of this phenomenon forever.
Your government is now also engaged in a major program for education
and health. What plans in these areas do you have for your people?
I am a member of the National Health Committee. We have drawn up our
master plan, which we've been implementing since 1989. This includes
health care and clean drinking water for all people, from the village
level on up, by the year 2001. Our education program is teared toward
a pro democratic system.
What is your dream for Myanmar in the 21st century?
We would like to be a democratic country, to enjoy peace and stability
in the region. Our main objective is to be a democratic nation.
Many people outside your country think the military that are presently
ruling Myanmar are serious and conservative, but underneath your
uniform, you have a sense of humor. What do you do for fun in Myanmar?
Most men play golf. We have seasonal golf tournaments in various parts
of the country with ambassadors, and with the military and their
families. I like to visit the sick, the home for the aged, and the
school for the blind, and, since I'm a Christian, I like to go see my
parish priest and have a talk with him. In Myanmar, the family is very
important. On the weekends we like to spend time with our families.
Even though I'm a military man, I'm the same as anyone else in my
family. We all work together.
But the refusal of a cushion is probably based on the Old World
political view of the United States.
Yes. I met with the president of World Bank who told me that
technically we are okay, but politically, he can't do anything. He was
Is there no way that a person from Myanmar can meet with a counterpart
in the United States to begin a better understanding of these problems
and look for solutions?
Of course there is. There are ways, there are means, but both sides
must be agreeable. We are agreeable. So we're waiting for the United
States to come and talk to us. We're willing. They should be Willing
too. After all, Why not?
Myanmar's Foreign Affairs
An Interview with His Excellency; U Ohn Gyaw,
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Union of Myanmar
Despite the ongoing efforts of Myanmar's military government to unite
its people and to guide its growing economy, the Western press has
refused to accept its good intentions, accusing Myanmar's leadership
of human rights violations, among other offenses. In the following
interview, Myanmar's minister for foreign affairs, His Excellency U
Ohn Gyaw, tells the other side of the story, explaining why his
country needs to keep its 135 national races united, and attempt to
forge amicable relations with the countries of the world.
Myanmar has been misunderstood by many in the Western world. The
Western press always writes about Myanmar's problems involving human
rights. What is the real story from your point of view?
It seems to me that the turning point for the press was during the
chaos of 1988 particularly after the present military government
assumed responsibility for the country. From that point on, the press
became more belligerent, more critical. But the government's primary
objective at that time was to maintain law and order. In the
contemporary history of Myanmar, the army has always taken over
whenever there has been any need for that kind of stability. In 1988,
there was anarchy, and the protest was initially against the socialist
government. This was a government that the West, particularly the
United States, along with the World Bank, was cooperating with. But,
after the military government assumed responsibility, U.S. cooperation
ceased. We announced that Myanmar would change its political system
from a one-party system to a multiparty system, and our economic
system from a centrally controlled to a market-oriented one.
The media in the West had been determined to make Myanmar an immediate
democracy. They were familiar with the example of the Philippines,
where after people took to the streets, the country became a democracy
overnight. But our country had already had democracy in 1948. This
democracy had failed because of the weakness of the 1947 constitution,
which had the clause that 10 years after Myanmar's independence in
1948, any national race that opposed the union could secede. But even
with as many as 135 national races we were still a union, a whole, and
so we couldn't allow any race to leave. That is why the military had
to assume state responsibility. And that is the main point - the press
did not understand that we valued our existence as a union.
How do you see the future relationship between the United States and
Myanmar has nothing against the United States. But there is a handful
of people in the United States who are trying to manipulate the
system. If the United States could be friendly for the last 50 years,
why not now? We haven't changed; we are not fighting against or
destroying the interests of the United States or its citizens. In the
United Nations, whenever we feel Russia is doing right, we vote in
favor, whenever we feel Russia is doing wrong, we vote against. And
when we feel the United States is doing wrong, we vote against them,
As foreign minister, you must have many interesting relationships with
your counterparts in the People's Republic of China.
Yes, I do. Of course, the way we are dealing with China is not foreign
minister to foreign minister, but with five principles of peaceful
coexistence and personal diplomacy. In the '50s, we developed the,
principle of peaceful coexistence with China, which is now becoming
the world order. The five principles are: non-aggression; a mutual
respect for sovereignty; to resolve issues without serious action; to
respect territorial integrity; and equality.
What do you think of the Chinese?
We have been dealing with China for long time. Before we became
independent, of course, the Chinese dominated the local economic
scene, from selling noodles to running big shops to owning land. After
wt became independent, we wanted to be independent economically as
well. So, gradually the Myanmar people took over the European,
Chinese, and Indian businesses. The Chinese or Indians that remained
Of course, Myanmar's independence was ahead of China's, and over the
years our leaders have visited back and forth. Each year three or four
high dignitaries from China come to visit, including the foreign
minister. So this is how we Cultivated friendly relations with China.
And the same thing with India?
Yes. Our relations with India are not very active right now. But the
government is trying to cultivate more cooperation.
As foreign minister, what are your dreams in the years ahead for
relations with India, China, and the United States? How do you see
things moving, and what would be your hope for the future of Myanmar?
My dream would be to see the whole ASEAN area free of conflict, and
with fewer economic difficulties, with mutual cultural exchanges, with
enough food for all the people, and with the steady development of
industrialization. We would like to peacefully coexist with our
neighboring Countries. We depend on the welfare of other countries by
promoting the welfare of those countries, and this will make our own
standard of living rise.