Aung San Suu Kyi and Australia’s new relationship with Myanmar

Parliament house flag post

Aung San Suu Kyi and Australia’s new relationship with Myanmar

Posted 12/11/2013 by Cameron Hill

The Australian Government has confirmed that Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Australia from 27 November to 2 December. This will be Suu Kyi’s first visit to Australia and follows her visits to the US, the UK, Europe, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand over the last eighteen months.

Traditionally, Western images of Suu Kyi have portrayed her as a lone heroine fighting tyrannical army generals. As Myanmar experts like Andrew Selth have argued, with her release from house arrest in late 2010 and the far-reaching reforms that are taking place in Myanmar, Suu Kyi now inhabits a much more complex set of roles in contemporary Myanmar politics.

First, Suu Kyi is the leader of a political party, the National League for Democracy, which faces the very real prospect of sweeping to power in the 2015 national elections but which is struggling with issues of technical capacity, internal democracy, and succession. Second, since her election to the parliament in April 2012, she is a practising politician who is now involved in and required to take positions on contentious issues like the revision of the 2008 Constitution, land disputes, and the peace and reconciliation process with ethnic minorities. Third, as the daughter of the country’s most famous independence hero, Suu Kyi is both a product and a critic of the special role that the military (tatmadaw) has played in Myanmar’s political history—a complex relationship that was reflected by the controversy surrounding her recent participation in Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day proceedings. Finally, she remains the international figurehead for Myanmar’s democracy movement and has had to grapple with difficult questions from global human rights activists about her attitudes toward the status and treatment of religious, particularly Muslim, minorities

In sum, Suu Kyi has moved from a political outsider to an  political ‘insider’ who, alongside senior government party figures like President Thein Sein and Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann, will play a key role in any future constitutional grand bargain ahead of the 2015 national elections. Any such bargain will involve elements of compromise and consensus, processes not usually associated with her iconic status in the West and which may require her to take a conservative position on some issues. To quote one US-based Myanmar expert, ‘she is in a difficult position—she can be a moral force or she can be a politician but she can’t do both because in any democracy or representative government, a politician must make compromises that undercut their moral position’.

Myanmar’s political and economic future is important for Australia. Since mid-2011, Australia has pursued a closer engagement with Myanmar in response to the country’s political and economic reforms. In June 2011, the Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, became the first Australian foreign minister to visit Myanmar since 2002. This was followed a year later with a visit by his successor, Bob Carr, and the visit to Australia by Myanmar’s current President, Thein Sein, in March 2013. Senator Carr travelled to Myanmar again in July 2013, the most recent visit by an Australian minister. Australia’s Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, has also just visited Myanmar where she met with Suu Kyi.

This new era of engagement has resulted in closer bilateral ties:
  • the autonomous financial and travel sanctions that Australia had applied to Myanmar were lifted in July 2012, with the arms embargo the only restriction retained.
  • the two countries have moved to 'normalise’ the trade and investment relationship with the appointment of a new Australian trade commissioner to Myanmar.
  • defence and security links have been strengthened, with Australia announcing earlier this year that it would post a resident defence attaché to Yangon, a post which has been vacant since 1979.
  • Australia’s aid presence has been increased with new programs in areas like basic education and governance, and the commitment by the previous Labor government to increase development assistance to $100 million annually by 2015.
Myanmar will be in the international spotlight in 2014 as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit meetings. These meetings will be an opportunity for Myanmar’s neighbours and development partners, including Australia, to discuss its future reform plans. The meetings will also be an opportunity to discuss the risks that threaten further reform. These risks include the deadly outbreaks of sectarian violence that have occurred across Myanmar since mid-2012 and which continue to challenge its democratic transition.

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment Sport illicit drugs people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget health financing gambling school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA emissions trading Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations people smuggling dental health National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure poker machines ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament political parties Census constitution High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth paid parental leave Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy violence against women domestic violence mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing money laundering Productivity asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets health reform Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration health system Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship human rights citizenship Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals

Show all
Show less
Back to top