Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi embarks on 17 day tour of US; Government announces further reforms

Updated On: Sep 19, 2012

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi began a two week tour of the US on Tuesday, which will see her meet US officials, make visits to meet with Myanmar's large diaspora community and make numerous speeches across the country.

Her trip coincides with a visit by President Thein Sein, who will head to New York on September 24 to address the UN General Assembly.

In her first meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ms. Suu Kyi called on the administration to dissolve the import ban Tuesday in her first U.S. appearance. Mr Sein's visit is also expected to convey Myanmar's urgent need for ongoing import ban and other American sanctions to be eased.

After their meeting, Mrs. Clinton stressed that Washington wanted to work with the leaders of Myanmar to continue opening up its economy and political system.

"We've taken steps to exchange ambassadors, ease economic sanctions, and pave the way for American companies to invest in the country in a way that advances rather than undermines continued reforms," Mrs. Clinton said. "And we are in close contact with government and opposition leaders."

Neither Mrs. Clinton nor other U.S. officials on Tuesday confirmed that a move was imminent to lift the U.S. ban on Myanmar's exports. Ms. Suu Kyi's 17-day trip to the U.S. is being used to spotlight the historic changes in Myanmar in the past two years, as well as the need for continued reforms.

Report: Suu Kyi Calls on U.S. to Lift Export Ban (WSJ, 18 September 2012)

Report: Myanmar democracy icon Suu Kyi begins key U.S. tour (Reuters, 18 September 2012)

Political Prisoner Release

In Myanmar, more than 500 prisoners were granted an amnesty on Monday in the latest in a series of prison releases since reforms began.  

The opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi said it confirmed at least 87 political detainees were among the 514 prisoners granted amnesty. Other groups tracking prisoners gave similar totals, based on information from the freed prisoners, their friends and their families.

The announcement is seen as another step that could strengthen Myanmar's links with the international community, although the US has maintained it wishes for "the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners."

Report: Myanmar Releases Hundreds of Prisoners (New York Times, 17 September 2012)

Economic Reform

Meanwhile, further economic reforms in the country were announced earlier this week, as Myanmar said it would privatize 26 or more state-owned enterprises through auctioning, leasing or establishing joint ventures with local and foreign investors on Tuesday.

As companies such as Western Union Co. (WU) and Coca-Cola Co. announce plans to operate in the country, Myanmar officials are also preparing to take control of a financial system largely run on informal cash transactions.

According to Maung Maung Win, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar, the government will allow foreign banks to enter joint ventures with local lenders next year, followed eventually by incorporated subsidiaries and full branches. The ownership percentage will depend on the new foreign investment bill that has been passed by parliament and is awaiting the president’s approval.

Myanmar has made it easier for its citizens to move money this year, introducing debit cards to pay for local goods and authorizing several private banks to accept remittances from migrant workers in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Foreign companies can transfer funds to Myanmar through four state-run banks, and that privilege may soon be extended to private lenders, he said.

The latest reforms are seen as preparatory measures that are being taken as Myanmar's central bank plans to implement an independent monetary policy in the first half of next year.  

Report: Myanmar Targets Independent Monetary Policy Next Year: Economy (Bloomberg, 16 September 2012)