HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: Good afternoon. I'm Hiro Miyazaki, acting director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies. It is so nice to see you all. And thank you for coming.
It is really my pleasure to welcome former US Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell to Cornell. This is really an exciting event for us, given our ongoing intellectual commitment to Myanmar and the Myanmar Initiative we are running, at the moment, in the center, through our Southeast Asia Program. And it's really an honor to have you here, Ambassador.
And this event is cosponsored by the Southeast Asia Program, the Department of Asian Studies, and the International Programs of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The Southeast Asia Program has led a campus-wide initiative, the Myanmar Initiative, since 2013. Cornell is one of only two US universities in which Burmese is taught at all levels.
And, as part of this new initiative, three new courses on Myanmar have been created. And two very successful forums on Myanmar have been organized. And the campus network focusing on Myanmar is growing really rapidly. And you hear "Myanmar" everywhere, in every corner of the Cornell campus, actually. It's true.
So Ambassador Derek Mitchell is a specialist on defense and security in the Asia-Pacific region. He served as US Ambassador to Myanmar from July 2012 to March 2016. It was a critical time for Myanmar, as well as for US-Myanmar relations.
Ambassador Mitchell was the first US Ambassador to Myanmar since 1990, as you all know, when the military government refused to recognize the results of the 1990 elections won by the party of Aung San Suu Kyi and the US downgraded the status of its diplomatic mission. Ambassador Mitchell took his post after the junta allowed elections in 2012 and recognized the results. And he left Myanmar in 2016, when Htin Kyaw, a confidante of Aung San Suu Kyi, was officially named the president-- the country's first civilian president after more than 50 years of military rule.
During his tenure as an ambassador, Derek Mitchell served as the point of contact between Myanmar and Myanmar's government and opposition and Washington. He oversaw President Obama's visits to the country in 2012 and 2014. And he also launched numerous initiatives in the country.
Ambassador Mitchell received a masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He is fluent in Mandarin, and he's the coauthor of China-- the Balance Sheet-- What the World Needs to Know about the Emerging Superpower and numerous articles. He served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, from 2009 to 2011. And before that, he spent many years at the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
He's currently the CEO of Shwe Strategies, and he also serves as a senior advisor to the Albright Stonebridge Group and the US Institute of Peace. The title of Ambassador Mitchell's lecture today is "Myanmar's Political Transition-- Looking Ahead." Please join me in welcoming Ambassador Mitchell.
DEREK MITCHELL: Well, when I was in Myanmar I'd start off these things with [BURMESE], which our friends here from Myanmar will recognize as greetings and felicitations. Thank you all for coming out late in an afternoon. I hope-- 4:30 in the afternoon is a tough time to talk and tough time to keep people awake.
It's also nice to be back here at Cornell. It's my third time here. I was last here in June, for my nephew's graduation. He went to Cornell. He majored in Economics.
And the day I got back, literally the day after I got back from graduation, in the mail I got the invitation to come to Cornell to give this talk. So I forwarded it to him. I said, look! I'm being invited back. You have to come back. They toyed with coming back, my brother and my nephew, but I don't think they made it-- they're going to make it.
And, if those of you know, last time I was here at graduation it rained a lot. And I'm wearing the shoes that I wore that day, and I never thought I would again. I was completely soaked. So I don't mind the cold, as long as it's not raining.
As suggested, I want to thank the professor for the introduction. Cornell is very well known for its Southeast Asian studies. This really is one of the leading institutions. It is an honor for me to be coming here and to be speaking on this topic.
I was eager, when I received the invitation to come. I learned about the Myanmar Initiative from a delegation of folks who came out from the agriculture school, a couple of years ago, to the embassy. And I was able to immerse myself in what was going on at Cornell.
But I do want to say thank you specifically to Professor Miyazaki, to Heike Michelsen, who's here somewhere-- in the back, over there-- from the Einaudi Center, however we say that, for International Studies, as well as those from the Southeast Asia Program and the International Programs of the College of Agriculture Life Sciences, for the invitation.
I have worked on Asia for 30 years, for just about 30 years. I first traveled to Asia in 1988. I spent six months at that time in Taiwan, including two weeks in China, during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.
I just happened to be there, traveling with my brother, in mid-May, and a million people came out in the streets and prevented us from going to the Mao mausoleum. We were kind of really angry. We wanted them to go home so we could see Beijing. But that kind of thing really tied me to Asia, at the time.
But, for me, Myanmar has long been a labor of love-- long been a special place for me. To go to Myanmar is to fall in love with the place. It's a common experience for anyone who travels there. They're very special people, very special-- almost a tragedy, I think, that affects people when you go. A place of tremendous potential. And I'll talk about that a bit in my talk.
I first went there in 1995, when I was a program officer for the National Democratic Institute. I don't know if any of you know, NDI is kind of a political Peace Corps. You go out, and--
You know NDI? Did you work for NDI? You did! Well, I was at NDI in the mid '90s, and I went-- when Aung San Suu Kyi was first released from house arrest, I went and visited her. And, again, to meet her is to be inspired by her cause.
And as I left, or as we left, we said, what can we do for you? And she said, there's one thing you can do for us. She said, right now-- because she was just released-- the light is shining on us. But the light's going to fade.
Keep the light on us. Do not forget about us. Don't let us sort of fade into the blackness of a corner of Southeast Asia that doesn't get much attention.
And that always stayed with me, even as I drifted away from the issue professionally for a while. I went to the Pentagon and did things on the security side, rather than the democracy side and foreign-policy side. That stuck with me.
But, you know, Myanmar is an example, if you look at it, of how politics can undermine the achievements and a potential of a country. It is a country that has a penchant for fractiousness, for division, for self-destruction. They used to say it was the most self-destructive country in the world, in a way-- always found a way to self-destruct. Now, after last week, I wonder. But they are-- [LAUGH]
They are one of the most self-destructive countries in the world. They have less of a margin for error than we do, I think. But I worry about that division, that instinct for dividing and for fractiousness.
And yet it has every resource imaginable. It has oil and gas. It has minerals, it has jade, it has rubies, it has arable land. As the Chinese call it, they call it "the beggar with the golden bowl." That's their term for it.
It's a rich country, but it's a poor country, in a way. It went from being the rice bowl of Asia to being the basket case, despite having all these advantages after independence in 1948. It spoke English, because it was a British colony, and had the best university in the region. Everyone from Southeast Asia, in those days, would come to Rangoon University for their education.
It was the hub of air travel. Pan Am's hub was in Rangoon, not Singapore or Thailand. Best athletes for the Southeast Asia games, leading film institute, it had everything.
And, as I say, 1962, military coup, by Ne Win, and then quasi military rule from the '70s into the '80s. And, from that point, it was listed as one of the 10 least-developed countries in the world, by 1988. So, taking all this potential and dragging it down into underdevelopment-- remarkable underdevelopment.
That's what led to a democracy movement-- 1988-- the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi. Unfortunately, that was suppressed, leading to another military coup, in 1988. Aung San Suu Kyi in house arrest in 1989.
Elections in 1990, which were remarkably free and apparently fair, because her party won, big. But the military said, ah, just kidding. We don't think that's legitimate. We need to have a much more gradual change to democracy.
She was left under house arrest-- forced the democrats either into political prison or to the border or into exile. And another 20, 25 years of suppression and underdevelopment. So, 50 years of systematic underdevelopment-- very difficult to overcome quickly.
As things continued to devolve, in the 1990s and 2000-- again, I got involved in 1990 or 1995, into 2000s-- I favored US sanctions and international sanctions. Trade, investment sanctions, military restrictions, even visa restrictions, and the policy of pressure. The reason why was to stay true to the democratic opposition.
Aung San Suu Kyi was saying, we want to feel the international pressure. Those who would say you're going to hurt the ones you want to help, she said, we're already hurting. Please help us. We need to feel your support.
I call that the "South Africa rule." Because one of the things that wasn't mentioned in my bio-- my first job in Washington was with Ted Kennedy, in 1986 to '88. And the first thing I worked on was South Africa sanctions. The same argument-- you're going to hurt the ones you want to help. Don't push sanctions on them.
And our argument was, the people who are hurting are saying, we're hurting enough-- you know, we need to feel you out there. So we took the advice of the people. We imposed sanctions. And it created change there and talking to folks there.
And I think there was the same in Myanmar. The people were saying-- generally, at least Aung San Suu Kyi as the leader of the democratic oppositions was saying, sanction us. So we did. We sanctioned the country and isolated it for a long time-- 15, 20 years.
The debate will continue. I think there was always a debate whether sanctions or engagement was the right approach. And I'll let the historians work that out. What worked and what didn't, people will debate that forever.
Our policy was dominated, though, by human-rights concerns, human-rights activism. Aung San Suu Kyi became the icon of democracy. She became a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
And it galvanized American attention. I can't think of another issue in the world that has the passionate personal interest of the following people-- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Mitch McConnell, Madeleine Albright, John McCain, George Soros, and Bono. [LAUGH]
Not just a general interest, but a deep, passionate, and personal specific interest. It was almost like a cult issue for people, this issue of Myanmar, this remarkable, bipartisan issue. In fact, when I came on-- as an envoy, and then as ambassador-- I was very close-- my base on Capitol Hill was Mitch McConnell and John McCain.
Those were the folks I went to. We formed a very close partnership. He worked very well with Secretary Clinton. We all said, there are many political things in Washington. This will not be one of them.
And we worked very well. And I sort of hoped that that can be replicated by the secretary as president [RUEFUL LAUGH] and continue that kind of work. But it worked, I think, very well in Myanmar, remarkably and uniquely well, in Myanmar.
But the real question is, did we know, all those years-- did we all really know what was going on in the country? Did we truly understand the country, as we were engaged in our policy and in our interest, our passionate interest, our iconic interest in Aung San Suu Kyi?
It seemed like an easy dichotomy-- the Lady and the junta. She's called the Lady. That's-- she's known that way. Or the monks and the military. People remember the Saffron Revolution. Monks came out, in 2007.
Very simple-- Lady and the junta, monks and the military-- simple, sexy story. But, as you engage more closely, one finds that this is a country that, far from being a simple story, was among the most complicated places in the world, with complicated dynamics, maybe more complicated than almost anywhere else I could find in the world, with just layers of complication.
So, to look ahead at Burma's and Myanmar's future, I think we have to stop and examine the fundamentals, objectively, arguably in a way that no one-- few did, in the face of all the emotion, all the iconography that was surrounding Myanmar over the years. And need to look at it objectively to ensure that we, our engagement, assists rather than obstructs this country's development. It does us no favors to look at as we'd like it to be. We need to look at it as it is.
And, as I got closer to the issue and engaged on the ground, we found that a lot of things we would take for granted perhaps was not the reality. And I would have former secretaries of state, all the way down to just average visitors, after one day, the same comment-- they'd come into my office, or sit around the table at the ambassador's residence, and they would say, I had no idea how complex this country was. Former secretaries of state would go, wow. I was interested in this, but I had no idea.
So, what are the defining elements of Myanmar? And I just want to go through how to think about it. And I should have asked maybe for a map, because that helps. Because number 1 is geography.
This is a country of 51 and a half million people, surrounded by about 3 billion. I mean, it is-- you have China on one border, you have India on another border, you have 170, 180 Muslims in Bangladesh, across a porous border, a front relationship with Thailand. They've fought Thailand over the many centuries.
With that kind of environment, the only thing they felt they had for protection-- I call it, glibly-- were mountains and malaria. [LAUGH] They have this horseshoe of mountains, along the ridge. And then folks would invade, and malaria would take them, and then they'd have to retreat, and then they'd invade again, they'd get malaria, and then they'd retreat.
So they tried to protect themselves. But their identity was about insecurity. It was about vulnerability.
We don't want to be China. We must preserve our Buddhist identity. Very sort of insecure, vulnerable, victim, hyper-- and then it became sort of hypersensitive and hypernationalist identity.
So, as we look at the issues of what's going on inside the country, you have to keep that in mind, that very strong sense of vulnerability and insecurity. Likewise, they have a colonial history. They were colonized by the West, by the British. So their sense of general insecurity to great powers-- big powers, whether they're on their border or otherwise-- very deeply ingrained. So that could be the United States, it could be the EU, it could be the UK, or it could be China.
That also, that colonial history, is very much in the mindset. We must preserve our sovereignty. We must preserve our freedom of action. Very deeply ingrained.
And the third component is what I mentioned earlier, which is the internal division, the fractiousness, the fact that arguably they've never been unified in their history-- peacefully. It's always been by use of force, by military conquest, or by colonization, colonialization. Even that was sort of a divide-and-conquer, divide-and-rule approach.
How do you reconcile eight of these major ethnic groups? And then some count 135. 135 official ethnic groups, the way they count them. How to unite them?
That division, that civil war, is still going on. The diversity is just off the charts. And I'll talk a little bit about the peace process a little later. So those three things-- the geography, that they can't get around, the history, colonial history, and that internal division-- all play off the way they view the world and view their situation.
So I became envoy in 2011, as mentioned. I didn't expect much. I left the Pentagon. People said, why are you doing this? You're ruining your career. Why are you going from Asia to Myanmar, where nothing will ever change?
And I didn't expect anything to change. My expectations were minimal. If we can move from here to here, that would be a success. Lay the foundation.
But the initial goal I had was to get more insight. I knew that we probably didn't know what was really going on in the country. So I gave myself the task of figuring out who was who, on the assumption that, from my NDI background and just from observing the world, that usually there are reformers in these societies. But they can't show themselves, or they don't show themselves until the right moment. We've seen that, over and over, through history, where you think something is a monolith but yet they were always there and something had to change in order for them to come the fore.
I wanted to test that-- of who's who, and whether there was a way that we can leverage those who wanted change and put America's power, America's influence, on the side of change. And do that through, test the possibilities of engagement, through a positive orientation from the United States, not just the negative incentives of sanctions, to see if we can get the change that we all sought for decades.
And there were a lot of people that were unhappy with that and pushing back against that, thought that we were naive, that we were giving in. But thankfully we had Secretary Clinton and then President Obama, who said, go do it. Let's test this. Doesn't work? Fine. Let's test this. Because the old ways certainly haven't worked.
And on my first visit, in September 2011, I didn't have to look far. The people I met with said, we are interested in reform. We're interested in democratic change. We're interested in human rights, we're interested in peace, we're interested in economic development.
We need help. And we want a good relationship with the United States. How do we get there?
And I'm one of those skeptics. [LAUGH] I was part of the human-rights community. I was part of the democracy community. I had my ideas and my ideology about the military.
And so I said, well, that's all nice and good. Those words are really nice. But we're going to need to see it in action. It's not just words. We will need to see this put into action tangibly-- tangible progress.
So, if you're really interested in human rights, you would not jail people for speaking freely. You would not be concerned about free speech. If you were interested in democracy, you wouldn't jail the people that were on the streets promoting democracy. If you were interested in peace, you wouldn't be fighting your people, you'd would be talking to them, in a peace process.
So, if we see these things happening-- if you're releasing political prisoners, you're freeing up the National League for Democracy, you're allowing Aung San Suu Kyi to be part of the process, and if you engage in peace-- as we see these things-- I know you don't trust us, either-- we will take action, too. We will respond.
Because you may think we have been hostile to you. In fact, we have wished you the best. You may not like the way we've done things, through sanctions. But sanctions came from a positive place. We want to contribute to your success, and your path was not a successful path.
So, if you take this path of peace and development and openness, then you will have a partner in reform from the United States. And I said, test us on that, too.
So they did. They released political prisoners, and the ball was in our court. And we had to do something. And we eased up on this or that sanction.
And that became what I term the "action-for-action" approach, which got sort of canonized as the definition of our policy, when we went way beyond that, in subsequent years. But an action-for-action was not a chart. It was just essential-- you take action that we think is credible. You'll see that we also will take actions to "unclench our fist," as President Obama said in his first inaugural. If you unclench your fist, we will extend our hand.
This was, in fact, one of the first tests of that, which is why President Obama was so interested in Myanmar. So they started to do that. We saw what we called "flickers of progress."
And then, in December of that year-- really, November, December of 2011-- was a big risk-- but again, the types of risks that I think bring change-- Secretary Clinton went to Myanmar. First time in 55 years that a secretary of state went to the country. We didn't even have an assistant secretary go to Myanmar in many, many years, until 2009 to test, and it didn't go very well.
But we had decided to give this a shot. We worked very closely with Aung San Suu Kyi, so she was comfortable. And she went, and it was--
She was magnificent. She hit all her marks. She was extraordinarily sensitive. I don't have to go to all the details, unless you want to ask about it in Q&A.
But every word, every body language-- everybody had their knives out, from the human-rights community, waiting for failure. But it was historic. And I talked to the leadership in Myanmar, even the military folks, and I said, that was the difference.
Then we were able to say, OK, they're serious. And then they were able to take more steps for change. We'll see, from the memoirs that are written on the ground, of just how much it made a difference. I can only know what they tell me, but it certainly made a big difference.
So, six weeks later, after the visit, release of political prisoners-- massive release. And basically all the democracy leaders were released, at the end of January. And then Secretary Clinton said, we should have an ambassador there, not just a charge.
I became ambassador. [LAUGH] And an easing of sanctions in May of 2012. Visit of Aung San Suu Kyi to DC, in September of 2012. First presidential visit to Myanmar.
First time ever a US president went to Myanmar-- sitting president went to Myanmar-- was when President Obama went, in November of 2012-- spoke in front of millions of people on TV, at Yangon University, the former Rangoon University-- met by thousands and thousands of people in the streets. It was a remarkable thing to be part of and a remarkable achievement for the president, I think.
But we always knew that the ultimate test-- this is not-- I mean, what was occurring inside the country was a top-down liberalization. The ultimate test, I always had in the back of my mind, was not little bits of, you know, political prisoner here or give a sop there, but elections. 2015 was a time for the elections. And we had to test whether they would truly put power in the balance-- put money in the balance, in essence-- power and money.
They hadn't done that, from 2011 to 2014, 2015. It was all-- everyone felt better, everyone was freer to express themselves, but the structure of the country-- exactly the same.
So they had low capacity to run the elections. We put all our folks in there, and they were open to it. So we had NDI there. We had the International Republican Institute there, the counterpart to NDI. We had International Federation of Election Systems, the Carter Center, the Europeans, all there to try to help build their capacity.
And, in fact, the elections went way beyond our expectations. The NLD won about the same amount of votes, same amount of seats, as they did in 1990. And this time the military turned over power. So, remarkable change and shift during that time.
We can talk about, maybe in Q&A, why did the military decide to do this? The first, the quick answer to that, you know, why would the military accept this whole reform and put all their money and power at risk? I think the first answer to that is, they didn't expect this to happen. [LAUGH] They didn't have a blueprint, in 2010, 2011.
They had kind of a blueprint for how things were going to proceed-- constitutional change, elections. They didn't think the NLD was going to win like that. They didn't think it was going to happen that quickly. And, of course, the constitution remained the same, which gave them certain privileges within the system.
But, sure enough, they turned over power. And it was a remarkable moment. They had their, as I always say, their inked-finger moment. [LAUGH] Around the world, everyone has their inked finger. I dreamt, for 20 years, that Myanmar someday would have that inked-finger moment. And they did. And it was the best day of my time as ambassador, was to be there on election day.
But, as I say, even with that, even with turning over power, civilian power, to the NLD, nothing's really changed. The challenges are still severe. The only change is now who is responsible for addressing these problems. Who is now in control, not the problems themselves.
There's still no institutions. Military gutted at them all, systematically. Little governance capacity, severe underdevelopment, health and education severely underresourced.
And the mindsets are the same. Still vast mistrust in the country. Nobody trusts anyone, because of the division according to ethnicity. And the same kind of zero sum-- if it helps you, it may hurt us.
And these challenges are all manifested in very practical ways. And I'll just list these challenges. And you've, I think, heard about them. I mentioned some of them already.
The defining challenge of the country, I've mentioned a few times, is peace. You cannot have democracy if you don't have peace, if you don't have the ability of these ethnic groups to have a say in their own affairs. They've been fighting the civil war for 70 years, ever since independence.
And it's not just peace with one group or two groups. They have to make peace with about 20 groups. And we've had folks come in from overseas to help-- say, oh, we had a peace process in our country. We'll tell you how it's done.
20 groups? [LAUGH] We thought it was tough. We had two. We had three. You have 20 groups? Much more complicated, I think. So we have to be patient, in that regard.
And it's complicated by financial issues, by resources-- jade and all the rest. Armed groups have a lot of reason to hold on to the spoils. So peace is going to take a long time, but we need to watch that.
Economic development. Jobs. When we asked Aung San Suu Kyi her priorities, she spoke like a true politician. Jobs, jobs, jobs. We need jobs here, to get people to have some hope and some possibility.
It's taken her a little bit of time to get her economic policy in order. She is the first among equals. All the-- as I say, the governance capacity is limited. Things go to her. Almost everything goes to her.
You can't run a country with every little decision-- and not only do things go to her, but people are waiting for her. Which is the natural way people are, in that country. They had the military, for so many years, waiting for the authority to tell them what to do.
And those mindsets are still there, from one leader-- what does she want me to do? I don't want to make a mistake. I mean, it kind of went from a one-party state to a one-party state, but the party, at least, is a democratic party. Makes a complete difference.
But that same mindset is stultifying for policy. And economic policy has been going quite slowly. But their priority, which fits the folks here in this place, is agriculture. 70% of the people live on the land.
And, if you want something that undergirds peace, if you want jobs that are widely distributed-- because everything has to be widely distributed. If it's just in the center, then it just helps one ethnic group. You need it distributed. Everybody's on the land. The Shan live off the land, the Kachin live off the land.
So, agriculture. Getting that issue right is extremely important. And the land issue, of course, is extraordinarily complicated there. So, agriculture, number 1, but also small-medium enterprises-- tourism, et cetera.
Another challenge that remains on the human-rights side, legacy laws against freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of speech. People still go to jail for criticizing the military. Somebody puts a Facebook post that criticizes someone, they're still going to jail for that. Still being brought up on charges, remarkably. So there's sort of these legacy laws that need to be changed. And again, mindsets of authorities need to change.
Religious tolerance. I think you all probably read about the anti-Muslim activities in the country. It's become, in some ways, a defining issue. You hear about "the Buddhist bin Laden." [DRY LAUGH] Who'd have thought of that? Radical Buddhism. [LAUGH]
There used to be a joke in the Onion-- you know, radical Buddhism, like, extraordinarily enlightenment or something. You know? But now that's the image, because there are some monks who--
And, again, it comes back to this issue, as I said, the defining issues of vulnerability, insecurity, of feeling surrounded by-- whether it's Chinese. There's a very deep undercurrent of fear about Chinese influence but also Muslim influence. And they read the papers, and they're not more educated, many of them, than Americans are about it. And we have our own sort of hysteria, in that regard, we're seeing, now.
Well, they say, well, look, they're on the march. They're all terrorists. We have Muslims in our midst. We must protect ourselves.
So they talking about protecting race and religion-- is the term. And even the ruling party, now, is saying that's-- or, not the ruling party, the former ruling party, USDP, is now talking, their priority is to protect race and religion. So they may be playing the race-and-religion card in the next election, as they did in the past election. Didn't work, but it may, going forward.
So this anti-Muslim attitude, generally, in the country that's creating a problem. Specifically, what's becoming the defining issue is what many of you probably know-- the Rohingya, in Rakhine state, which is an extraordinarily complex issue. I would say it's probably the black mark of my time there, is the way the Rohingya issue-- and even the name Rohingya-- we'll get into that-- but the issue of those in Rakhine state, the Muslims of Rakhine state, what they call Bengali.
Their situation is about as bad as it gets anywhere in the world. Their citizens have no one. No one protects them. And they're in pens, and they don't have access to livelihoods. And it's a horrible, horrible situation. And it's very difficult to get at.
But again, it gets to the narrative-- the broad narrative, in Myanmar, we must protect against this influx from Southwest Asia, Muslims who are out to destroy us. They talked about Indonesianization of Myanmar. [DRY LAUGH] What they'll say is, we used to have Buddhism in Afghanistan. It used to be a Buddhist country. Indonesia used to be a Buddhist country. Bengal used to be a Buddhist area.
And now it's all Islamic. It's all Muslim. They're coming after us. We're the last bastion of pure Buddhism. Mandalay is a center of Buddhist scholarship. You know, Sri Lanka also has that. We must protect ourselves from this onslaught.
So we're not aggressing, as-- unfortunately, this is the way of the world. You know, when you're victims you can do anything to anyone, because you're just defending yourselves. Beware of those who consider themselves victims. They're the ones you have to worry about the most.
And that's what they think. They're victims. And Rakhine is a microcosm of that. They're one state, and they're one of the ethnic groups that have fought the Bamar, the majority. They feel an existential threat.
And if you listen to their narrative, it makes sense, from their perspective, that they are-- it used to be a proud kingdom. They used to be an independent kingdom-- 250, 300 years, independent kingdom. And now, they were taken over by the Bamar.
They're a tiny state, and there are about 2 million people. They are 2 million. The Muslims are 1.1 million or more.
And they feel demographically their culture, their heritage, is at risk. And nobody cares. All the world talks about is the Rohingya. They don't talk--
There's no Rakhine lobby. They call them Rohingya. Rohingya is a name that hearkens back to separatism and extremism.
They have their narrative that we can say we don't agree with. But we can certainly say that the way they're dealing with that narrative is not the right way, through aggression and violence. But they have a narrative, that people don't understand.
And if we don't understand it, and if we act as if it's all about just this one group and the Rakhine don't have their own underdevelopment, their own victimization, then we actually make the problem worse. They go back in their bunker, and they feel, no one cares. We have to take care of ourselves.
And that is somewhat of how this has been playing out for years. And that's a narrative, unfortunately, not in the mainstream back here. And I should say that there are people who should be in a position to tell that story honestly who have not. And it is a travesty, in a sense.
But, having said that, the Rohingya are in a terrible, terrible, terrible situation. And we can talk more, if you like, in Q&A.
The final key challenge, I would say, among many challenges, is the role of the military. Again, the system hasn't changed. They have 25% of the parliament. They have pretty much their own say in how they deal with the peace process or with the fighting that still goes on in the north.
They're not completely out of politics, but they just don't want to run the country anymore. And what they say is, we'll move out as long as we feel confident the civilians can move in. Well, that's going to take some time. We don't know.
And related to that is the constitutional change. The structure of the country is the same. The military's role is the same. Unless the constitution changes. nothing is really institutionalized, going forward. So the challenges are immense.
And this easy thing that we love-- the sexy issue, the Lady and the junta, and we all want to get behind it, and for democracy-- well, there's been a lot of progress on the human-rights and democracy front. They need to work things out. But now we're into the real world. Now we're into the long slog, as it were.
But that's where friends are tested. And we say we are partners in reform, we are your friends, we are there for you, and we need to step up and continue that friendship. We need to help them with their limited capacity. We need to help them understand their briefs. And we need to stand by them through assistance work, over the long term, as we go forward.
From their perspective, by the way, there's a deep desire for US engagement. You know, we just ended our sanctions for good. The investment sanctions that were lingering, President Obama got rid of in September. Because Aung San Suu Kyi was OK with it. So, a complete open book, in terms of our engagement.
And one of the reasons for that, frankly, was the people want us there. They're very pro-American. Again, it has something to do with their concerns about China.
But they see us, for a Western model, a US model, as appealing. They see us as the gold standard. It's kind of quaint, nice, to see that. I keep telling them, don't watch TV. Just look at me. [LAUGH]
Literally, for some time, like, you know, democracy is good, democracy works, democracy-- no, no, don't look over there. Look at me. Democracy--
--this works. I can't imagine being the ambassador now, but, uh-- [LAUGH]
But there is that, you know-- but I was very honest with them. I said, look, they did see us as a model, because of "e pluribus unum"-- "out of many, one" kind of stuff. And we're multiethnic, multireligious, multiracial. And I would say, absolutely honestly to them, I'd say, look, we are somewhat of a model, but we're also a cautionary tale.
Learn lessons of what we did wrong. We took a long-- you know, we're not out of the woods. We have racism. We haven't gotten rid of racism. Look on television!
I said, I'm not going to oversell America to you. I'm going to tell you, honestly, that this is something that is never over, that you're going to fight this generation after generation after generation. You can get it right now, with all your ethnic groups. But I guarantee, in 20 years there'll still be residue of people that want to protect race and religion. And you have to decide, as a people, what kind of country you want to be.
So, you know, I didn't sugarcoat the United States. But I said, but we have learned lessons that you can avoid. We have made mistakes. If you can avoid those, you'll be further along than we. And then you just have to fight as a people for the type of country you want to be, going forward. So we can help, in that, because they do, I think, look at us as a model, for better or for worse, in a positive or perhaps a negative way.
We also have to recognize the issue of China, as I mentioned. I mean, the China factor is a big one. They have a border of 2,200 kilometers with China. And we're far away.
And China believes that Myanmar-- they should have a special place in Myanmar. This is their special-- in fact, one of them said privately to a colleague of mine, they'll always be our tributary state. [LAUGH] Which is a scary thing. That was a scholar who said that.
But I do think it reflects that we-- this is on our near abroad, on our border, we should have a special relationship, here. And they were very concerned about me, about the United States, about what we were doing and why we were doing it. Part of the isolation-containment strategy kind of thing. Encirclement.
China, of course, talks win-win. They think zero sum. So we have to recognize that. And it's a problem for our partners, for our friends. In the region, we have to be sensitive to that and understand China's perspective on this.
I can be quite open, because I've been open in the past with folks, that when I was ambassador, a new Chinese Ambassador came. And he came for an introductory meeting. And we were going through things, and he was saying we should work together on-- you know, great, we'll work together on things.
He said, but don't go to Kachin state. [LAUGH] We don't want you in Kachin state or Shan state. You must respect our interests.
I said, well, um-- [LAUGH] I won't tell you everything I said, but I essentially said, uh, [LAUGH] you know, this isn't about you. And the interest that we'll be most interested in is Myanmar's interests. And we have a concern. We can talk about it. But let's set that aside, so that superpower competition doesn't create an added burden.
You just heard the challenges the country has. They don't need any more challenges. So we can talk. We can talk about that.
But that attitude of, we don't want you near our border-- and every time I went to Kachin state, they would interview everybody that I met with and ask, what's he up to? And after that meeting, I actually went to Kachin state, just before I left. [LAUGH]
It wasn't to stick it to them, it was-- I had a trip anyway. I wanted to go the far north. And I wonder what he thought about it. But it was-- you know, we're not going to be told what to do. But that is a factor, as we look at Myanmar.
But, as we engage on being partners in reform, I sort of operated under certain principles. One is that we show we understand their country. I made sure my embassy got certain books. We actually had a little book club. You read this, and we'll talk about it.
So that they understood that we were part of history, and that was something special. So it wasn't just another country to State Department foreign-service officers. That we respected the history, culture, their perspective, and that we were rooting for them.
I made a point of that, that we really wanted them to succeed. That the only thing that was holding them back, frankly, was them. And if they got out of their own way, they could succeed.
And, of course, "do no harm" was always a good developmental principle. And thinking about not just what we did but how we did it being important. By modeling transparency, modeling openness, modeling that practice.
So, when people said, what are your democratic, your democracy programs? I said, everything we do is a democracy program. Because everything we do is meant to bring people together and to facilitate conversations across ethnic lines and to talk and to be open, ourselves, and to take questions and show, this is the way that democracy should function. Not that it always functions perfectly here, but that's the way it should function.
So that was, I think, very effective. Now, people would say, back here, policy-wise-- skeptics would say, you were betting on change. I know your policy. You're betting-- and they used to say that, even when we were-- when I was out there. Say, oh, you're betting on change.
I used to get livid with that. I said, we're not betting on change, we're shaping it. We're helping to shape it. We're helping, through engagement, help to create the best we can-- with respect, behind the scenes. You know, not doing anything nefarious, or--
But they're sovereign. But we're not sitting back, watching things go on. We are out there, engaging to show them there may be another way of thinking about things. Maybe doing it that way is not the right way. Here's another way of thinking about it. And putting, again, the weight of the United States.
Betting is passive. I had a sense that folks on the Hill who were skeptics and against our-- and in the human-rights community, some of them-- were betting on failure. And they were waiting for the election to go badly. In fact, three days before the election they declared it a fraud. [LAUGH] Human Rights Watch, actually, four or five days before the election, said it's a travesty and a sham.
I saw one of the Human Rights Watch guys, who I actually respect, I saw him in Shan state the night before the election. And I said, you guys should be ashamed of yourselves. I said, when did you start being NDI, first of all, or IRI, who know elections? And, you know, I just found it hard that they would just summarily dismiss something out of hand like that.
But I think, through our good-faith advice, through encouragement, we were putting the US weight on the side of reform. And the analogy I give to this-- and I know nothing about this sport, whatsoever-- [LAUGH] but it seemed to be the right one-- maybe you can correct me, those of you who know it, is curling. [LAUGH]
What I think this sport is-- [LAUGH] there's a guy with a, you know, with that little whatever you call it. Must be a name for it. And he rolls it on the ice.
And there are guys sweeping in front of it, trying to get it to go into the circle, trying to get it into the bull's-eye. I felt we were-- among many others-- but we were like sweepers, you know. But respectfully. We were kind of sweeping, trying to help it get to the point.
So, while others were betting, saying the election is terrible, we were out with organizations and with the US in the lead in a coalition on the ground, trying to shape, trying to help shape so that the election went well. "Went well" means it was free and fair, and people had their voice. It wasn't a particular outcome. It was that people accept the result and there was, afterwards, stability, after the election.
So that was just one, there. And that was-- so, the curling analogy, we were there, sweeping in front, trying to help success, such as it were. And, you know, I think it was successful, to a degree. But we still have to watch. OK.
So, just some bottom line, and then a conclusion, here, as we hit the-- I was told to speak for 50 or 55 minutes, so that's why I'm speaking so long. Questions are always the most interesting.
The bottom line-- and I think I sort of got to it, earlier-- was the one fundamental question yet to be determined, is the unifying national identity of the new Myanmar. What unites the country, to create one out of many-- "e pluribus unum," as I would tell people there? It is, as I said, arguably never held together peacefully, rather than through use of force.
And they have competing visions. The one vision you hear from people on the ground-- we are a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious country. And we have a mosque and a temple and a church, sitting side by side, in every major city. And it's true. And people have lived side by side, in peace.
But there's also that competing mindset-- we are a Buddhist country. They are a vastly majority Buddhist country, but, then again, protecting race and religion-- we are Buddhists, we must protect Buddhism, and that's where our emphasis should be. And the others are somewhat-- are allowed to be here, but we are Buddhists. Again, analogies with the United States, I have to say, as our demography changes, and therefore our definitions of who we are have to evolve with it.
But that's very important, of, what are the principles of this country? What is the new identity of a new Myanmar that arguably has never existed? And this is, frankly, where Aung San Suu Kyi should be the one-- the leader. She is the founding mother, as it were. Where her father was the founding father, founding daughter-- I don't know what you'd call her.
But they're both the founders of Burma, for him, and Myanmar, for her-- an independent country. And there is nobody else that, I think, has the credibility to provide a vision. Here's who we are. Here's what we're striving towards.
Not all the details. The details have to come out in the peace process. The peace process, essentially, is nation-building. It's not a peace process, per se.
My biggest worry is a bunch of guys with guns figure things out. That's not the way it should go, in the peace process. It should include women and youth and civil society. Because it's nation-building, in that peace process.
But, even broader than that, at 30,000-foot level, what is the vision for this country? What are the founding principles, that people will look back on and say, that's what we're striving towards, even if we're not getting there? Just like our founding fathers did that, through the Declaration of Independence-- and, you can say, Lincoln and others-- provide that vision, so we always fall back on that, even if we're falling short in that goal.
And that unique opportunity of her being in the leadership is important. I've yet to see it happen, though, yet. And believe me, we've talked about it.
She and I have talked about it several times. President Obama and I talked to her about that, at one point. And I think it's still-- it's not too late.
But I think it's very, very important. This moment is very, very important to lock in certain things, certain principles. But that is a really important issue for the future of the country, aside from simply dealing with the peace question.
So, in conclusion, I mean, this is a work in progress. Nothing about the country is irreversible. People keep asking, you know, is it irreversible? Is it-- even 2013, nothing is ever irreversible, in a democracy or otherwise.
It's a fragile time. I think there's a unity in deciding to move forward. They've seen 70 years of degradation through division. That's, I think, where they have an advantage-- is that they've seen how bad it can get, so they go, we have to have peace. We have to be united.
I think that's hopeful. But it is no time for complacency or a mission-accomplished moment. Which I say advisedly, because I gave an interview for a magazine there, just as I was leaving, and on the front cover of the magazine was "Ambassador Mitchell-- mission accomplished." [LAUGH]
And I said, you don't understand. I mean, three different ways, that is not good. [LAUGH]
One of-- the way you're thinking about it is the way I thought about it. [LAUGH] So the last thing an American wants to have in a banner is "mission accomplished." But also that it was if I had done something to create this, or that anything had really been accomplished. Because it's still a work in progress.
But I think we do need to remain thoughtfully and consistently engaged in Myanmar, because Myanmar matters. Myanmar matters. Myanmar is at the crossroads of Asia. It links the dynamism of South Asia with the dynamism of East Asia. It's a missing piece, there.
The reason there was a rebalance or a pivot to Asia was not because suddenly we love Asia and all that. It's because our interests are in Asia. Our economic, our security, our political. I mean, we see the history of the 21st century is going to be written in Asia.
And this country has been held back by itself. It needs to be part of this change. And, if it does, it's going to help the United States. You know, it has an impact. It has international impact.
It's health issues. It's the epicenter of drug-resistant malaria. They have drug-resistant tuberculosis. HIV/AIDS, there. Human and drug trafficking.
You know, nonproliferation. One of the things that I worked on was North Korea. They were the leading customer for North Korea, in the old days. So, these things cross borders. A lot of the things we want to see in a stable Asia require Myanmar to get its act together, open up, and allow us to engage.
ASEAN unity. ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-- very important missing piece. And as long as we were alienated from Myanmar, we were alienated from ASEAN.
And, of course, any country that struggles for democracy and human rights is someone that, I think, Americans naturally gravitate towards-- the underdog. Those-- and, as I say, the people are remarkable. It's a place that is struggling for long-term-- and I think everyone who goes feels attached to it-- in trying to achieve the values that we cherish, for better or for worse, and struggling with the same questions that we struggle with.
So that's why we say we're partners. We're not educating them. We're working with them. And maybe, in the end, they can teach us a few things, if they get it right.
So, in the end, I think we found what we projected, that what we projected onto Burma was what we wanted it to be but not necessarily as it actually was. I think it's created some cognitive dissonance, but it doesn't serve us. I think we now need to look at it without blinders or rose-colored glasses in all its frustrations and vexing complexity.
It's harder. It's not as interesting or sexy, but it's the way it is. And I think we have a lot, as I say, of interest.
The implications of the new administration. I don't know. No question about Hillary Clinton's commitment. That was personal.
The Clintons-- I mean, I hosted-- of course, I went with Secretary Clinton, and then I hosted Chelsea, and then I hosted Bill-- President Clinton. And he said, this is a family project. We all feel connected to this. So there was a lot of hope in Myanmar, I think, as well as those of us who care, that that would be good if she were president.
But I doubt-- I'm almost certain-- I'm certain the new president will not have the same kind of interest or commitment. That doesn't mean that we'll forget about the country, but it matters. We'll have to see. Nobody knows what his policy is going to be.
Though essentially, as I mentioned, Myanmar policy was bipartisan. So hopefully that, with the Congress and others, will make a difference.
And the final thing I'll say is what I think I'd said earlier, that what's happening in Myanmar parallels what's happening here. That democracy is not a spectator sport. And these are all the things I used to message to them.
And that democracy tests every citizen-- every generation. That we're only as great as we make it. That the United States is only exceptional in its core values but not because somehow our people are immune to human frailty and human nature.
Nothing is irreversible. Regression is always possible. And that the challenge of achieving unity and diversity and a more perfect union is never done.
But, in a multiethnic, multireligious society, you would tell them you have no choice but to talk and to communicate and to compromise, because you're all different. So you can understand each other's perspectives and interests and insecurities.
And it starts at the local level-- in the classroom, in the community, in your immediate environment. And President Obama said in his speech in Rangoon University, at Yangon University, he quoted that old line-- I'm not sure where it came from. But the most important job in a democracy is not president. It's not politician. It's citizen.
And so I would say that to people, there, that democracy doesn't stop at an election. Democracy starts from an election. And then it's up to us to follow through, as citizens of what kind of country we want to be. So that is the challenge of Myanmar and, daresay, no more than here at home.
So, thank you for listening. And I'll take questions.
So. Any questions, or--
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you. Thank you very much for a really fascinating talk. And I feel like I've become a lot more informed on Myanmar, even though I thought I was on Myanmar.
So I have two questions, actually. I don't know how related they are. So the first thing that I would like to ask is in terms of, like, the, current government structure in Myanmar. So, I know the US and a lot of US organizations have interests and also have provided consultation with the new government, in terms of how they should go forward with reforming [INAUDIBLE] proceedings. And one of the issues that have been brought up by different people is the way that the current NLD government is quite centralized and how, as you also said, that every decision has to go up to-- every issue has to go up to Aung San Suu Kyi for her decisions.
And how do you see-- what are the advantages of, like, what was the-- what do you think are the purpose of the current NLD government, in terms of keeping that governing structure? And what are the challenges for-- in terms of using that structure, in terms of addressing regional grievances?
DEREK MITCHELL: Mhm.
AUDIENCE: My second question is about the role of military. So, yeah, so, I think that you also mentioned that the military's thing right now is, one of, like, the most-- like, the serious issue that we have to deal with. And so, during Aung San Kyi's visit to the US, the US also agreed to drop sanctions on these military generals and also their businesses.
So they are having a lot of criticism on that-- decisions, right? At the same time, I understand that there could also be some purposes of, maybe we are giving them more opportunities to engage in the economy and to, like, become wealthier, become capitalist, and they will release their hold on power. So I'm just kind of wondering on your opinion on that. What are the implications of this kind of dropping of sanctions on these generals, going forward?
DEREK MITCHELL: Right. Thank you. Two very good questions.
Government structure-- I mean, as you say, there's a structure, and they're trying to finally create a bureaucracy. They're trying to create a government. It used to be just get orders, you salute, and you go do it.
And they would put people in these positions-- the military did-- as a gift. You've done well, I trust you, you go do that. And they wouldn't govern. I mean, there was a-- the military governed itself, and then they allowed a lot of things to happen, outside, just, well, people will take care of themselves.
So now they have to create a government. And they have to create a bureaucracy. And they have to create channels of communication and have decision-making structures.
It's very difficult. These are folks, again, who were activists, who were on the outside, who, in the best of circumstances, would have a difficult time governing. Which we've seen in democratic transition after democratic transition around the world.
That you would get the opposition coming in. They were good at being opposition. They're not good at governing. And then, the next time, a reformed version of the ruling party would come back in, saying, we're the professionals. We know how to get things done.
That's the danger. I mean, as I say, the reason why we need to engage now is that we need-- if democracy is going to succeed, democracy needs to deliver. It's not enough for the election to go well, but democracy needs to lead to jobs, it needs to lead to governance, it needs to lead somewhat to peace or a peace process, and people need to feel that things are getting better.
And the NLD has inherited-- you know, was granted, upon "winning"-- this completely-- as I say, every institution destroyed. I mean, a completely destroyed system that they're trying to build up.
So, on the one hand, you can say that the reason it is the way it is because of Aung San Suu Kyi's personality. She has a very centralized personality. She has a very dominant personality. And she doesn't trust many people. So she wants the big decisions, or even the small decisions, to go up to her.
Which is reasonable. And she's even acknowledged that, privately. Yeah, you know, I am strong-willed, and I've-- you know, authoritarian in my own party, kind of thing. So it creates a problem for governance.
But they also have to figure out how they're going to govern. And she does need to trust people. And some of the ministers are qualified. Some are less.
So, you know, it seemed that the first ministers that were put in place, the thing that seemed to extend through all of them was they were loyal. They were trusted. Not necessarily qualified, but they were trusted by her. But that's not necessarily what's needed.
The good news is, what we're hearing-- and again, I haven't been there since the new government came in-- I left just before-- was that the debates inside the ministries are very active. They're having real conversations on real issues, of economic change, of laws, of investment laws. I mean, hard conversations and really thoughtful conversations are being had.
So, on the one hand, you don't want them to rush and make decisions quickly that are bad. You want to be patient and let them work these things out. On the other hand, people are waiting to see the results. So we have to sort of balance that.
And the anniversary of the election in Myanmar was the first anniversary-- was our election day, here. So they've had a whole year, and there really isn't a clear economic policy. You can say they took over in April, but really it's a year since they won, and they didn't have an economic policy. So people are getting nervous. Foreign investors are getting nervous.
So I think we need to, again, be patient with it. There are some positive things that are happening with the system, but they do need to pick up the pace. And she does need to figure out how she is going to govern.
There's another factor which gets to that issue I mentioned of providing the vision-- thing-- you know, the vision of the country-- is something I've been really harping on, and I think others on the ground have picked up on, is strategic communications. How do you talk? How do you engage people? How you talk about what you're doing in a way that's democratic, that creates its own momentum?
And you're not getting that. It's still kind of opaque, at the top. They're not providing their visions. People are not going out and talking about things, engaging with populations, and--
So that, I think, is also very important. To me, strategic communications is democratic governance. It's how you listen and not just stand up top and say, we're now going to do x.
And it's very important, now, for her to model that. I mean, she's the democrat-- small-D democrat. And she's the one who has to show, this is the way our country should be. Just like George Washington sort of set the standard for us, by leaving office or doing other things, to show, this is how you do it.
So it's not enough for her to produce in terms of goods. She has to produce in terms of her service, in terms of the democratic mindset that needs to develop over time-- how you talk to each other, not at each other. And that also, I think, is not happening to the degree that it needs to and is really, you know, a window now, so that people don't get used to this being the way that things should operate.
So that's the first question. The second question-- I'm sorry, I'll be quicker in my answers-- the role of the military. And the sanctions idea.
The easing of all-- or the removal of all the investment sanctions, from my understanding-- and I favored it, but I didn't know all the details of it, as they went through it in the State Department. But apparently it's something that was either on or off. If you get rid of the sanctions, the investment sanctions-- you got rid of the executive order by the president, in essence, something called [NON-ENGLISH]-- you couldn't keep the military businesses on. It was, everyone came off all at once. It was part of the same executive order.
So that got caught up in all this. For better or for worse. Some people will say it's good that they would engage with internationals. They can increase the way they do business-- the corporate social-responsibility component. We can debate that. But it is the way it is. And that's the business side.
I don't agree that we want militaries in business, though, over the long term. That's not healthy, for them to be involved in business. These businesses are for retired military. And they are kind of a pension fund for all the other retired military.
So they get money in, and they use it to pay off their people who have retired. So they take care of their own. So it's not a normal business. But they should be out of the business of business, and the government should be providing pensions and doing that kind of thing through a normal budget.
But mil-to-mil, our engagement with the military is still sanctioned. It's still limited. So it's not a free-for-all, in terms of our engagement with the military.
And, in fact, we've been very clear, with Aung San Suu Kyi and publicly, we will take the civilian leadership's guide-- civilian leaderships lead-- as our guide. Because we believe in civilian control. So we'll listen to her.
If she says, yes, work with the military on x, we'll work with the military on x. And we tell the military that. Yeah, but we think they're the elected leadership. We'll listen to them. If they think it's in the country's interest, that's democracy, so we'll follow them.
But I do think, in principle, we should be engaging them more. Because they are engaging the Russians, the Chinese, and those who are not giving them new models, new methods. Aung San Suu Kyi in 2012 said to me, we want your military to engage with them, because we want them to have new models and new methods.
Now she sees this as leverage for change, to get constitutional change and other things. So we'll let her take the lead on that, for better or for worse, because she's the elected leader. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Thanks very much. I appreciate your comments, Mr. Ambassador. I wondered whether you could give us your reading of special economic zones in Myanmar.
It seems to me arguably they're a sort of Petri dish in which we can look to see some of the processes related to the emergence of Myanmar in this new phase. And it seems that it relates very much to a number of the critical processes that you've drawn attention to-- the unfinished story of the battle for resources amongst a number of different interest groups within the country, as well as the place of Myanmar geopolitically. Comments on that would be most interesting, I think.
DEREK MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, it is wrapped up in some geopolitics, as everything is. There's sort of three SEZs that are talked about. And, as I lose my blood sugar, I always forget the--
I mean, one is certainly Thilawa, which is just outside Rangoon, run by the Japanese, done according to international standards, run by a Western-educated economist that's now the deputy governor of their bank. Great guy. And it seems to be working pretty well. Some limitations, and it was not easy, because they had to move people off land and compensate them.
But Thilawa is sort of Japanese-driven, close to Rangoon. There is Dawei-- is what I've been trying to remember-- Dawei, just south of that, in Mon state, which had been driven somewhat by Japan but really is a Thai thing. This is for the Thais.
And it was meant to be a whole area with power plants, but mostly it was a road-rail network to get the gas from the south offshore into Thailand. Because Thailand, something like 40% of their gas comes from Myanmar. So, if that's shut down, Myanmar needs the gas all of a sudden, [LAUGH] Thailand's in trouble.
So this was one, the Dawei. But that got in trouble, because of the way it was rolled out. It did not talk to people locally. It got caught up in politics, human-rights abuses, land confiscations. And it wasn't economically viable, after a time.
It's still alive, but it's more of a Thailand thing. Thilawa, I think, is very much-- seems to be going pretty well. It's a Japanese thing.
The third one is in Kyaukpyu, in Rakhine state. And that's Chinese. And that is another-- that's an interesting one and very geopolitical. Because most folks who see what's happening in that one, that's all the way across to the west, off the Indian Ocean-- Bay of Bengal, there.
I even had somebody who was sitting next to the guy in charge, the Chinese in charge-- I was on an airplane. And a guy named Serge Pun, who's a Myanmar businessman-- you probably know Serge Pun-- he was sitting there.
And he says, this is not economically viable. They're just doing this for Myanmar. He was right. Half of it was right. It is not economically viable at all.
But it is geopolitically important, because what the Chinese care most about, probably more than anything else-- well, two things. One is to keep the United States off their border. That's what they'll care, most of all, so we don't have some airstrip in Kachin state or something, which is not going to happen. But they don't want that kind of thing.
But they also want to protect the pipeline and the rail line-- from the west, from the Indian Ocean across into China. That's the way they get over what they call the Malacca Dilemma, the sea lanes that are controlled by the United States, through Singapore into the South China Sea. So that's why they were so concerned about the United States engaging. They thought, aha, you're trying to shut down our answer to the Malacca Dilemma, with our oil and gas pipeline that was going to service and fuel, basically, the southwest of China-- Yunnan.
So the Chinese have started this. It's gotten a lot of controversy, locally, because people-- you know, again people have lost their land. There's an anti-China sentiment, now, in Rakhine state.
And actually there's some division, there. People who are anti-China say, we shouldn't be focusing on what they call Bengali-- Rohingya. We should be focusing on China. This is a distraction.
Meanwhile, what I hear is that the Chinese are saying, ah, the Rohingya thing is an American trap. They're trying to create instability, so that our-- so that they can create a problem for our [LAUGH] our Kyaukpyu SEZ and the port that we're building and, you know, undermine our ability and our reputation to move stuff. Again, that mindset of-- this conspiratorial mindset.
So it does have that kind of geopolitical bent. But, I mean, Kyaukpyu, if they handle it right, and they want to develop Rakhine state, and it's done willingly by the Rakhine and contributes to development, it's very much needed. But it really depends how they implement that.
They don't want Americans anywhere near there. We've sent people there to say, we'd like to take a look. No-- no Americans. Keep them out. It's not cool. [LAUGH]
But you're right. They can be Petri dishes, as they were in China. I think they were meant to follow a Chinese model, to see how these things might work.
I imagine there will be ones developing on the east coast of Myanmar, with Thailand. It would make sense that they make something-- you know, the Myawaddy area, near Thailand, one, or Kareni, Kayin-- sorry-- Kariang, I guess-- Kareni area-- that can be an SEZ.
So they could potentially expand these. But I think they're trying these things out first to see what works. And the problem with the east is that is where the fighting is. So, if there's fighting, you don't get much investment. You don't have roads. You have instability that gets in the way of economic development. So they're trying to put it in places, first, where there's not the same kind of instability.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. I'm wondering about what particular mistakes of American democracy that you urge the Myanmar government to avoid. Especially, as you mentioned, regarding the multiethnic and multireligious nature of our countries.
DEREK MITCHELL: Yeah. Well, I talk about the racism that's endemic in the United States. And I'll talk about-- I mean, I was there at the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. And say, only 50 years ago did we have this enshrined in law.
And I talked about how, in our-- I would quote the Lincoln-- this is my July 4th speech, but "with malice towards none," "binding up the wounds," et cetera. And that we had a civil war for four years. And 100 years later, we're still fighting, in some respect, and we're still--
100 years later, Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, we finally got around to settling some of these issues. And I said, it holds us back. It makes us weaker. It makes us less of a strong, unified nation.
And since then we've only grown and become a better country. And just-- I said, I don't need-- what I tell them, actually, is, you don't need to learn any lessons from the US. Just look at your own history. What about your own history don't you understand? What about the last 70 years don't you get?
You're fighting yourselves, and you're now not the leader of Asia but a basket case, but underdeveloped. You don't need to listen to us, though, you know, this is what someone like a Martin Luther-- I would quote Martin Luther King, I'd quote Lincoln, I'd I Washington.
I'd quote as many people as they might know, because they're very high-profile figures, and quote them, so that this is the vision. And it took us years and years, decades, to get over this. Don't do that. Don't do that. It's only going harm--
And we can make that case right now. I mean, we're never more divided, and that's not making us strong. It's making us weak. So those are the types of things I would talk to them about, really.
AUDIENCE: At the end of your talk you made a very interesting discussion of what are possible unifying visions for Myanmar, you mentioned Buddhism as problematic, that and the person of Aung San Suu Kyi. I wanted to throw out a third possibility and see what you thought about it. And it's one that, from a political standpoint, perhaps we tend to think about less. And that's language.
So, in the case of Burma, because of British colonialism, unlike Thailand, it wasn't possible during that period to establish Burmese as the national lingua franca in the way [INAUDIBLE]. But in the last 70 years, I think you can detect a real progress of Burmese as the true lingua franca of the nation. We see this here, where we get refugees, typically Karen, and in the case of younger people who grew up in refugee camps in Thailand, they don't speak Burmese.
And they tend to want to learn it, despite the background, despite the attitude towards Burmans and towards the military. In fact, that's a desire among them. It's identified as the language of their place.
So the question is, do you see that? A role for the language as a unifying force-- or something else, for that matter-- a present force in the country?
DEREK MITCHELL: Well, there's no doubt, a country needs to have a language that's common, in order to-- otherwise, you will be-- as they are, today-- quite fractious and localized. So it's not for me to decide. But certainly-- I mean, we don't have an official language, but people know, just practically, in a practical sense, to learn English is to be able to function best in the United States, and in the international realm. People learn English for that same--
It's not demanding it, it's just practical. And people may come to that realization that Burmese is practically important. And that will be kind of unifying.
I don't know that it would be-- certainly in the near term-- that that is a unifying identity for all. Because they've been fighting over exactly that. Many of them--
I mean, you could say ethnicity divides, but some places it's not ethnicity, it's language. They have the same ethnicity, but they have a different-- I mean, it's hard to divide where the divisions are, in Myanmar. But language is one of them.
And they're fighting over the preservation of their culture, preservation of their language. So if you make that-- I mean, that's exactly what I think the military would want and the Bamar would want-- unify over our language. And that will be fighting words.
So practically, yes. In terms of identity, you know, that amorphous thing that holds people together and thinks, we are one, and we are-- you know, the soft power, the internal soft power, what's attracting and unifying us, I don't think that's going to be it in the foreseeable future. The one area could be is where it is for us. I mean, what's the unifying thing for us? Democracy. You know, supposedly. The Constitution, democracy.
So, for such a multicultural, diverse place, that might have to be-- those principles-- rule of law, equal justice, all our languages and religions are equal under the law. And then allow people to come naturally to, OK but we need to not speak our hill-tribe language. It's not going to help us, once we come down the hill, if we want to develop-- or Shan, necessarily. We want to preserve that, but we also need to learn English and Bamar-- you know, Burmese. But they'll have to work that out.
AUDIENCE: Hi. Thanks so much for the presentation. I wanted to ask a follow-up question about the role that the military plays in politics today. And it's my understanding that, in consultation with the Indonesian military, the Burmese-- the junta leaders tried to sort of plan and anticipate what they could expect after liberalization. And that they've identified a couple of ministries-- I believe Interior and Security, which they retain some sort of extraconstitutional privileges.
And I wonder, how does that-- I mean, I think it's reasonable that they would want to do that themselves. But how does that complicate US policy towards Burma? And how did you-- how do you navigate the challenge of pressing for maximum liberalization as possible, but doing it in a way which is just politically feasible?
DEREK MITCHELL: Right. That's the essence of diplomacy, is, well, what are your priorities? What's doable? So that the three are Defense Ministry, the Home Affairs Ministry, and Border Affairs. Those are the three sort of security-minded.
So basically that runs the country. The Home Affairs folks run the police. [LAUGH] They have administrative-- they run the General Administration Department, GAD, which reaches right down to the grass roots. So you can say the military still runs the country, in terms of administration, though the commander in chief of the military doesn't really, you know-- he doesn't run the GAD. It sort of runs up to him, sort of, but it also runs to the president.
But yes, those things are institutionalized in the constitution-- I didn't mention that-- as well as the 25% in the parliament and things like that. So my view was, get as much as I can from these guys who are in power. Make them comfortable with continuing reform, to tell them that it was in their interest, to get to the election.
That was mine-- I mean, while I was there. And I always said, every year is a new universe, because there are new dynamics and new priorities for that year. But there was always that goal-- get to the election, and then.
Aung San Suu Kyi certainly wanted to get at those things. She wanted to get at them immediately. Her priority, frankly, was so-called 59(f) of the constitution, which deals with her ability to be president. It basically says, you can't have any family members, a husband or kids, who have a foreign passport. Hmm, I wonder who they meant by that. [LAUGH]
You know, it was the Aung San Suu Kyi amendment. Or codicil.
But, I mean, ironically, there have been a lot of military guys who are unable to move into to senior levels, because they were caught on their own petard, as it were. There was the guy who was vice president-- or, I'm sorry, he was the mayor of Yangon-- chief minister of Yangon. He wanted to be vice president and then found out his daughter had an Australian passport. [LAUGH]
And there were a lot of giggling. [LAUGH] It's like, ha! Not just her.
But it also gets to, I have to say, that one, just on that point, for a moment-- again, it's very important. As we looked at various items, a constitutional provision, the changes that were put forward-- and there was a constitutional committee in the parliament, in 2014, 2015, that looked at these.
So there were things like-- I think the one that was most popular and most likely to happen first is ethnic rights-- ethnic minority, ethnic nationality equality and rights. That will probably happen first, through the peace process.
But the one that had the least support for change was 59(f). And if you poll people in the society, and you just read them that line, that a person can't have family with foreign passports, that got the least support for change. If you said it was Aung San Suu Kyi, they'd say, oh, no, we want it. We want her to be president.
But if you ask them, just, blankly, you wonder why. Why, what I talked about earlier-- their fear of foreign influence. Their fear of their neighbors, that there'd be a Chinese that comes in or something,
And then-- so we'll have a Chinese passport, and then China will run our country. Or Britain. I mean, it was because Aung San Suu Kyi was related to a British man, and-- then Britain will colonize us again. There's always that fear that she is a Western tool.
That insecurity about, we are this far away from being colonized again or being overrun, you know, is very deep and very real. And it's not just about her.
So she's gone after these three, on taking away those three military-designated ministers. But I don't know how quickly that's going to happen. And I didn't push very hard at that stuff.
I pushed much more on 59(f), in part because, I said, look, the people want her to be president. So finding a way around that would be helpful. But I didn't push too hard, because the constitution is extremely sensitive in any country.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned that 30% [INAUDIBLE]
DEREK MITCHELL: Yes.
AUDIENCE: Because the land belongs to the government in this case--
DEREK MITCHELL: Yes. That's right.
AUDIENCE: So, what do you see in that--
DEREK MITCHELL: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: --in the future?
DEREK MITCHELL: Yeah Everything is owned by the government, but, of course, people do have rights to land that there's-- they have these pieces of paper that tells, I have title to this for long-term periods of time-- 50, 70 years.
But no, this is a huge, huge, complex problem, of how do you-- because people have-- they show their piece of paper. It was from 20 years ago, and it was taken. Somebody else has a piece of paper, and it overlaps. And there's somebody who's squatting there, who's been there for a while. Or the military has taken it. There are just overlapping claims to this land.
And there's a committee in the parliament that's looking at land tenure. I mean, it's fundamental. Everything is about land. Not just agriculture.
But there are international investors who say, how can we invest, when we don't know who owns the land? Who do we do business with? Some guy can say, yeah, I have tenure to this land-- title to this land. Come in and invest! And you get there, and somebody else goes, no, that's mine.
So it's very, very complicated. There are groups trying to figure this out, both within the parliament but also international groups, trying to help them. USAID are-- when I was there, and I think still is-- a leader on agricultural development and land-tenure reform and land-rights legislation.
But, again, people come in from outside, and they go, this is more complicated than I've seen in any country. But the fact is, there's a lot of land. There's not that many people, for how many-- or how big the country is. There should be a way of figuring out how to parcel this out in a reasonable fashion. But that's going to be a long slog. But it's another definitional, very fundamental issue that is going to take some time.
AUDIENCE: Thank you, Ambassador, for your lecture. My question was, do you think the revolution and the progress can be sustained after Aung San Suu Kyi? She doesn't look it, but she's 70. And, from everything you've said, like, it being a bipartisan support, it could be because of the iconic figure that she is. And would people, like the government of the US, would they be willing to support who is less charismatic, somebody who comes after her?
And so my second question is, if you do think there are people over there who could sustain and take this revolution for change forward, could you name them, so that we could follow them? [LAUGH]
DEREK MITCHELL: Um-- she's unique. There's only one Aung San Suu Kyi. I don't think there's going to be anyone like her for a while. So, I mean, people would ask me, during the old days-- you know four years ago, which is the old days-- when I was envoy I went over there-- what do you fear most? What keeps you up at night?
And I'll say, something happening to her. And to Thein Sein, at the time, too-- the former president. Because, at the time, they were working together and he was continuing the reform. And it wouldn't necessarily have happened if he weren't president. Very important that he was there and the people around him.
But she's a unique figure-- absolutely unique figure. And that's why I keep saying, she has to be the one to lay the foundation now. So that people can look back and say, those are our founding principles. That's our guide. She, who is so important to this country and is viewed as kind of the identity of the country, in a lot of ways. Let's go back to that, as a touchstone.
There's a fear, though-- and just getting a little bit of a tangent-- that there's a tension between, is she the great Bamar leader, or is she the great Myanmar national leader? Is she the unifying figure? And that's up for grabs.
I mean, there was skepticism from many of the ethnic nationalities that she really cared about them. She was just another Bamar nationalist. Well, we cared about-- when everyone, as I say, cared about a Lady and the junta, that was a Bamar. That was a Burman discussion. That was a Burman fight, for who's going to have power at the center.
It had something to do with the ethnic nationalities, because everyone was fighting against the government, so there was unity. But it really wasn't about peace and ethnic rights, per se. It was more about Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD.
Now that there is a new day, then you see the fissures. And you see what people really believe what this was really about. And that's a danger, if she doesn't prove herself the unifying figure, that she's listening to the ethics and she's viewed by the ethics as something above it all. In fact, that's what we invested in, is that unique figure, Aung San's daughter, that transcends politics, that transcends division, you know, besides which there is no one.
Now, there are other people that have, during the resistance, as it were, were high profile. I mean, Ko Naing was in political prison, but he doesn't want to be involved in politics. He's done his time. He wants to be an artist. A great guy, but he just doesn't want to-- he's more in the civil-- he wants to do civil society work, get people at the grass roots mobilized to take care of things and not be involved in a political game.
Ko Ko Gyi was his partner in the '88 generation folks. He's a good friend. He has political ambitions. Does he unify? There's nobody, I can say, that does.
That doesn't mean-- well, there are two things to say. One is, it doesn't mean that they can't persist, that someone can't rise and be legitimate and still provide vision and take the next phase of, quote, "the revolution." But there are limitations, there.
And what we've also worried about-- 50 years of systematic degradation. Remember that. 50 years. If it were 25 years, that's one thing. That's one generation. This is--
You have people in their 70s-- like Aung San Suu Kyi, 71, now-- who speak English, were educated in the West, who have some exposure to the world. You've got people in their 20s and 30s, now, who are getting exposure to the world, who are being developed. There's a gap, there, what we call the "missing middle."
What happens after her? She and her generation are around to provide some memory of the way it was and some education. They remember the democracy in the '50s, before the coup. After them, either people left the country, or they were in prison, or just there was no education. The capacity is not there.
What comes after her is a big question-- not just her, but her generation. Who's going to follow up to lead and to deliver? And we have that in our minds as AID or as [INAUDIBLE] and Britain or others.
We don't have much time to waste on getting people up to speed and thinking about, how do you build these bridges for the next generation? But it's a big question mark. And your question is the one everyone wonders about.
Which is why-- and I would just say one more thing on this-- it was also a unifying. That's why she won as she did, I would say, last year, in 2015. Because even in areas-- in Kachin areas, in Shan areas, where there were Kachin parties and Shan parties-- the NLD won everywhere. And people said, look--
And it was very smart. It was very considered. They said, we could have voted for our parties, but that would mean more division.
We need one leader to get this done right now. We need someone strong, a single figure to do this, and we're going to vote for the NLD to do it. In five years, it may be different.
And when I first got there, in 2011, I would meet with civil society. And they would say, we don't agree with everything she's doing. But she's the only Aung San Suu Kyi we have. [LAUGH]
And when she passes from the scene, 100 people will try to take her place. And that's not going to be good for the country. We have to invest in this moment.
Which is also why we, as a country-- that's why I was pressing, we must invest in this moment. We can't sacrifice another generation to test whether things would change. We have to get in now, otherwise the place will have no hope of succeeding.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, my question is, you know, you were there. The liberalization comes with all this big, now, package. So now the investors that start going there, where are they investing? What sectors are they investing on?
And then also the government-- the private sector, and also the government, where they are investing on. Are they investing on education and, like-- yeah, I would like to know.
DEREK MITCHELL: Yeah. Traditionally, no. Education, health were, like, 2%, 3%, 4%, and the military was 25%, you know. Just way imbalanced. And it was just a travesty. And there were people back in the States who would say, why are we going to give them health money support, if they're not going to support themselves?
But you're talking about the government. This is the previous government. It got better, in the previous government, but they're still in the single digits, as far as I know, in health and education.
With a budget going up. That means more money. Still, both in terms of percentage and the pie is bigger, because they were getting much more investment.
But now you have a new government. And the first budget they're going to put together is being formed in a few months-- basically now. Their fiscal year is April 1 to March 31. So now they'll be putting together a budget. And we'll see how they readjust.
But the military has traditionally had control over that budget, and they would put it much-- most of it into the military and things like that and not health education. So hopefully that will shift, with the new government.
AUDIENCE: The last question. So, during your tenure, I presume, of course, that the embassy spearheaded a lot of different initiatives. And I was wondering if you could just speak about the ones that you felt were the most successful and the ones that were the worst failures. And, in thinking about them, I'm kind of interested, you know, how much were the successes and failures a result of, say, the design and execution of the initiatives, versus the things you couldn't control-- the landscape of stakeholders, social forces, interest, even just timing of events and whatnot, that could confound designs or initiatives?
DEREK MITCHELL: Right. I mean, again, it was all a work in progress. And it was starting from a very low base. I mean, the biggest success, I would say, frankly, and the thing that I felt was most successful-- and I even had-- well, I don't know if it's self-regarding, but I had the British say it was American leadership at its finest, was the election.
I'm really proud of how-- and it wasn't just the United States. I mean, there was a coalition of countries-- Norway, the EU, the Brits, the Danes, the Japanese. I mean, everybody wanted to help. They all had their row--
And 18 months before, I got my folks together, and then I got my fellow ambassadors together and said, we need to work on this now. This is all based on the election. Everything we've worked for will be success or failure, based on this.
And we coordinated really well and succeeded in producing what I think was an election that was reasonable-- reasonably free and fair, altogether. And I felt very, very good about that. And I think that was because-- and it is how I tried to do my job, out there, it was coordination. I mean, everybody wants to help. Everybody's rushing in and wants to help Myanmar, because they're the new thing, and they are the underdog.
And we're not the only ones. Much more money's going in from Britain and from the EU and from Norway than from us. The challenge, then, as they get this tsunami of interest washing over them, is for them to absorb it.
It could just wash over them. It can create corruption. It can create distortions. We knew that, from the very beginning. I knew, as we started to open that--
And I could feel it. In my one little room in the State Department, I could feel the tsunami, the waves, starting to come. We have to stop that. We have to try to channel this, best we can, and take a lead in doing that through our efforts.
So I thought we did a pretty good job at that. And the government, then, took a lead on establishing mechanisms of coordination. And Aung San Suu Kyi is all over that.
Said, we will coordinate. You come to us if you want to do anything. [LAUGH] It's a little too much, because we're not going to necessarily do what she tells us to do. But we should certainly take the lead from the country and not drive from our side, but listen and say, how can we help?
So the coordination worked best, I think, on the election. And we had coordinated mechanisms for a number of different things. The one where maybe it worked, to prevent the worst from happening, but obviously it didn't succeed in the best way, was Rakhine state, as I mentioned. You know, I started a Rakhine working group, among all the ambassadors and UN agencies, to talk about it and share thoughts so that we can speak with one voice and ensure they knew we were watching and they shouldn't do something untoward.
Now, things got worse and wor-- I mean, they got stuck in their pens, and they didn't get education and health, as much as we pushed. On the margins, they get a little more. But, um-- certainly didn't get much better.
We begged the government. I told-- in fact, in front of Secretary Clinton, with Thein Sein, in Cambodia. He was going on about something called the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, which is the bogeyman for them. So, you know, there's a group on the margins, on the border, in Bangladesh, who is the RSO, who are the terrorists, who are the ones coming after us.
And they used to be a big deal. And, frankly, we look at this stuff, as the US government-- we didn't see it. To me, it was, like, a couple of guys on a website, you know, saying stuff. [LAUGH]
But they believed the Rohingya Solidarity Organization was real, and the Rohingya were the forward edge of this, and we need to protect ourselves. And I said to him, in 2012, we don't see it now. But if you continue to keep these people in these pens, this will be a problem. You're going to create despair and lack of hope, and people will get, um-- what's the word? Um-- they will radicalize.
Now, I'm not sure it's necessarily happened yet. We don't know what happened a month ago-- October 9th, I guess. But something is going on there that escalated things. Everything we feared.
And I begged Aung San Suu Kyi, last year, before the election. I said, the day after the election-- you should be preparing now-- get a point of contact we could work with on Rakhine. That will be an issue for you.
And-- wait, wait, wait, wait, and then something blows up, and we're in a worse situation than ever, there. And the thing that the Rohingya and the Muslims in the country fear the most is something done in their name. I mean, they fear a Muslim extremist doing something in the country more than anyone in Myanmar, believe me. Because they know that the result will be a no-holds-barred effort.
And so we have to understand, is we-- I even told folks in the UN this, that, in the past, when we supported human rights in Myanmar, we knew we had 90% of the people on our side. When we support human rights now, for these people, the Rohingya, we know we have 90% of the people against us. That means we have to deal with this very differently. We have to be very thoughtful, very careful.
Again, as I talked about, the Rakhine narrative and the victimization, the sense of vulnerabil-- all these things-- again, it's not to dismiss or to accept their narratives. But it is real. And, if we're not careful, we can contribute to the problem by our standing up and being morally superior, of-- like the "say the name campaign" for President Obama. You must say the name Rohingya, or we're not protecting the Rohingya.
The name issue is the worst place to start. That will stop discussion, full throttle. And yet you have-- I'll name names-- [LAUGH] Nick Kristof, the New York Times-- thoroughly irresponsible. I mean, I give him respect for spotlighting it a little bit, you know, keeping it in the limelight.
But I talked to him for 90 minutes about the issue-- didn't care. He's going to tell his story about the Rohingya. You know, he's going to get his Pulitzer Prize for saving the Rohingya.
And he gave, I think, Rohingya false hope, you're going to win through the New York Times editorial page. And, by pushing these things, I think he did damage. I think a lot of these folks do damage, by not caring to understand and not telling the full story. Because, by--
But, if you can give the Rakhine a sense that we actually understand what they're saying-- which is true in all diplomacy. Maybe that's my final word. All of diplomacy, if you would listen to them and show you understand them, that you're in their shoes and you get it, the walls come down. Then you can have the discussion. You know?
And that's where I think I felt best, when people would say, oh, you understand us. You get us. I appreciate-- you know? And I'd say, well, I'm learning. You know, tell me more.
I spent hours and hours with the Rakhine, listening to them. And then I would use their words back at them. There's a better way. I get you.
But what you're doing is not helping you. How about thinking about it this way? You know? So the people that want to stand on the moral high ground-- not saying it's not moral to stand up for the Rohingya. It is. But the way you do this has to be thoughtful and smart, because of the environment that we're in.
So, the complexity-- if I left-- I always said, if people left Myanmar after I was ambassador, saying this is more complex, and I'm more confused than when I arrived, good-- I did my job. [LAUGH]
Because it is a complex place. But that doesn't mean that we run away from it. It means we just need to understand and embrace it. Thank you all.
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Former U.S. ambassador to Myanmar (Burma) Derek J. Mitchell described country's transition to democracy, Nov. 17, 2016 in Lewis Auditorium. Mitchell is CEO of Shwe Strategies LLC and serves as a senior advisor to both the Albright Stonebridge Group and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The lecture was organized by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies in collaboration with the Southeast Asia Program (SEAP) and the International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP-CALS).