Monday, 27 July 2009

No Questions Please, We Are Burmese Diplomats

(Watch your mouth Minister!)

The 42nd ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/Post Ministerial Conferences/16th ASEAN Regional Forum concluded last week, with the meeting of the ARF, the region's premier security forum at which the first human rights ‘watchdog’ was endorsed.

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who attended the meeting, also urged its members to press for more democratic reforms in Myanmar.

However, apart from accusing Clinton of interfering in the affairs of the ASEAN, in a commentary in the state- run newspaper Myanma Alin Daily, it is not clear how the State Peace and Development Council(SPDC), or the military government, would react to the pressure. There is however no way of knowing, especially when the leader of the delegation Nyan Win, the Foreign Minister, avoided talking to the media.

In fact, for many decades, Myanmar delegations have always looked as if they have been forced to attendt heinternational meetings and conferences, while other nations’ diplomats were seen enjoying the opportunity and making the most of these occasions becuase such meetings are important chances for them to boast about their countries, their beliefs, their policies, their plans and most of all their success.

So why do Myanmar diplomats always avoid talking to the media? Sir Chan Tun and Major Aung Lin Tut, the two former Myanmar Ambassadors expressed their opinion :

“The Position for Foreign Minister has been changed at least 4 times during the SPDC reign. Obviously, anyone who spoke to the media was fired. The first one out was Ohn Gyaw, who now lives in Australia.”

“ Nyan Win learnt fast. He saw his predecessors either forced to retired or kicked out. He survives mainly because he avoids the media.’

“He was only a second training officer in the military, with the Major General rank. When Win Aung was dismissed in 2005, Nyan Win became the Minister, with very little international, diplomatic, or even civilian experience. That’s why he is so reluctant to speak English. He is not equipped to stand up and speak in front of a group of people, let alone the international media.”

“The poor guy, has no power either while other Foreign Ministers like the US’s are number 3 in the country but in Burma this position would be just the joint 20 or something. They come after SPDC members and other top Generals. When Than Shwe says this, you just have to say this. It is quite possible that he would have liked to express his own opinion but the moment you have done it, you face big trouble at home.”

In the neighbouring country Thailand, one can observe that the Foreign Office staff are specially trained to acquire conversational and interview skills for the media and it looks like the more you talk, the more famous you get, thus ensuring your promotion.

Myanmar, widely known as Burma, once produced a talented diplomat U Thant, who was elected twice to carry out the United Nations’ General Secretary duties in the 60’s. At present, however, the country has a Foreign Minister, who doesn’t speak much. And the readers should feel free to keep on guessing whether he has a speech impediment, didn’t learn English at school or is too afraid of upsetting Than Shwe and the senior Generals.

(The original article by Htet Aung Kyaw in DVB. Translation by Nay Chi Oo)

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