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Returning business to Burma
Jim Middleton talks to Burma's parliamentary speaker Khin Aung Myint about reform and investment.

The speaker of Burma's upper house, Khin Aung Myint, says he's a friend of democratic reform. Now, he's in Australia trying to drum up support for foreign investment.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Few countries have gone through such a remarkable in such a time as Burma.

Less than two years ago opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest. Now she's a member of parliament. And the country's president says he would accept her leadership should her National League For Democracy win elections scheduled for 2015.

One of the key figures from the former military government leading the reform push is Khin Aung Myint, speaker of Burma's upper house.

Earlier in the week he was in Australia leading a delegation promoting business opportunities and seeking foreign investment.

Mr Speaker, it's very good to be talking to you.

You are known as one of the key reformers in your country's government. Your country has gone through extraordinary changes in the last two years. What was it that convinced you and other members of the government that now you had to open up, that the old ways were not satisfactory anymore?

KHIN AUNG MYINT, SPEAKER OF THE UPPER HOUSE, MYANMAR PARLIAMENT (translation): After Myanmar regained independence, we practiced a parliamentary democracy system. And after that system became defunct for many reasons a one party system was practised.

During this time Myanmar became bankrupt both politically and economically. As a result, there was a popular uprising in the whole country and the military was obliged to take control.

The military knows the wish of the people. The wish of the people is to get democratisation.

In a change from one system to another, the constitution is important. That is why we worked on getting the constitution drafted. After the emergence of constitution, we had an election based on the constitution and also acted on implementing the changes. The changes were implemented with great momentum.

JIM MIDDLETON: You say that the reforms and the movement towards democracy is a reflection of the people's desire, but was not the people's desire for this change evident many years earlier than 2010?

KHIN AUNG MYINT (translation): Sudden change from one system to another can be very dangerous, and that is why we needed time to ensure a smooth and bloodless transition. There is a very thin line between a democratic system and anarchy, and that is why there could be unrest.

That is why we needed time. The smooth transition in Myanmar has become such a role model, and it is being studied as a subject by many countries.

JIM MIDDLETON: Earlier this year, a spokesman for your president told our network that some senior members of the government were worried about the pace of change in your country. Is there any chance, do you think, that the changes, the reforms, could come to a stop and, indeed, even be reversed?

KHIN AUNG MYINT (translation): All these reforms were pre-planned and there is no likelihood that it will either stop or change. All these changes will still be implemented with greater momentum.

JIM MIDDLETON: President Thein Sein says he would accept Aung San Suu Kyi as president were she and her party, the National League of Democracy, to win the election scheduled for 2015. Would you be prepared to be part of a government led by Aung San Suu Kyi if she were democratically elected by the people?

KHIN AUNG MYINT (translation): I'm very friendly and close to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and we have discussions frequently. I also helped a lot in getting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament.

We are now working together hand in hand with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

From the beginning we agreed we would set aside the things that we do not agree upon and work together on the thing that we could agree upon. Since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's entry into parliament, we have been walking the same path.

It is the desire of the people that Aung San Suu Kyi becomes president of the nation. I welcome that with pleasure. I don't have any issues working together with her on a personal basis.

JIM MIDDLETON: Ethnic unrest has been a problem for your country for decades. How important is it for the country's future, its future prosperity and also for even greater global acceptance for the ethnic problems in your country to be resolved and speedily?

KHIN AUNG MYINT (translation): It is a country with over 100 different ethnic nationalities. Since independence there were many armed ethnic opposition groups. These are in the minority. All other nationalities nationwide are living in unity and harmony.

This issue is not about ethnic nationality but armed opposition. These armed opposition groups do not represent their ethnic nationalities. But the government is now negotiating peace with the armed opposition groups.

But as you know, this is a very sensitive issue. The ethnic groups that have a substantive number of the population need to be given their own rights, their own culture and their own language. Don't get this wrong, this is very important, it means giving them democracy and human rights. This is my belief. If we continue on this path, there is no reason for dissent amongst the various ethnic nationalities.

JIM MIDDLETON: If I could I turn to Rakhine State where there was terrible violence in recent months. Do you accept that the Rohingya are or should be citizens of your country with the same rights and responsibilities as other groups within the community?

KHIN AUNG MYINT (translation): In the list of Myanmar's ethnic nationals Rohingyas do not exist because the common border between Myanmar and Bangladesh has been infiltration. There is a citizenship law in Myanmar and in accordance to this law there are some of the Rohingyas who become citizens. For those who became citizens in accordance with the citizenship law, we accepted them totally and completely. And we absolutely do not accept those who cannot become citizens outside this law. This is an internationally accepted standard.

JIM MIDDLETON: I know you are very pressed for time. I won't trouble you anymore. You've been very generous, Mr Speaker, thank you very much indeed.

KHIN AUNG MYINT (translation): Thank you.
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