Suu Kyi: Be Wary Of 'Reckless Optimism' In Myanmar

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Myanmar's opposition leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi is expected to ask for more aid and investment in her country in a speech on Friday. Suu Kyi, who is making her first visit outside Burma for 24 years, is due to addresses the South East Asia Economic Forum in Bangkok.


Delegates at the World Economic Forum on East Asia met this week in Thailand to see if Asia can help keep the world economy growing, but the forum was overshadowed today by the presence of a special guest. Myanmar's opposition leader, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, is making her first trip outside the country in 24 years.

As Michael Sullivan reports from Bangkok, she warned that her freedom is just the first step, not the last, on a long path toward reform in her country.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, was a no-show at this week's World Economic Forum. He was supposed to attend, but cancelled after learning Aung Sang Suu Kyi had been invited, too. He had to know she'd be getting all the love and he was right. Suu Kyi's presence, the talk of the forum and a boom for attendance, as well.

Delegates packing the forum ballroom this morning to hear Suu Kyi talk about the reforms that have led indirectly to her first visit outside the country in more than two decades.

AUNG SANG SUU KYI: When I'm asked this question, are the reforms in Burma irreversible, I say this depends on how committed the military is to this reform process.

SULLIVAN: It was a reminder that while Myanmar's president Thien Sien has embraced political and economic reform, the military from whence he came could still put the brakes on it if it feels threatened. Another reason, Suu Kyi suggested, why cautious optimism should be the order of the day when it comes to Myanmar.

KYI: We would like the world to look at how much progress there has been on the political front, as well as on the economic front. These days, I'm across a lot of what I would call reckless optimism. That is not going to help you. It's not going to help us. So we need a balance report. A little bit of healthy skepticism, I think, is in order.


SULLIVAN: Corruption, lack of transparency, implementing the rule of law - all remain challenges for Myanmar, she continued. But the country's biggest priorities, she said, are education and job creation, the kind that comes with responsible investment.

KYI: We do not want more investment to mean more possibilities for corruption. We do not want investment to mean greater inequality, greater privileges for the already privileged. We want investment to mean, quite simply, jobs - as many jobs as possible. It's as simple as that.

SULLIVAN: Articulate, eloquent, forceful and direct, Suu Kyi also spoke of what it was like leaving her country after 24 years, much of it spent in detention or under house arrest. She thanked her Thai hosts for their hospitality on this trip and the Thai Airways captain who invited her into the cockpit on the trip here from Myanmar's capital.

She'd seen bright lights and big cities before, she said - New York, London, but that was a long time ago and...

KYI: This time, I was completely fascinated by the lights because, when I left Burma three days ago, there were candlelight demonstrations going on all over the country, protests against electricity cuts that had been plaguing us for a month or so. And I thought, 30 years ago, the scene that met my eyes on landing in Bangkok would not have been very different from what would have met my eyes landing in Rangoon, but now the difference is considerable. And this is what went through my mind. We need an energy policy.


SULLIVAN: Both a good story and a subtle hint to her government that she'll keep pushing as the leader of the opposition, as Myanmar struggles to lift itself out of the economic and political isolation of the past half century. Suu Kyi winds up her trip to Thailand with a visit to a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border. She'll then return home before embarking on another foreign trip - this one to Europe - where she will, among other things, formally receive the Nobel Peace Prize she won, but was unable to collect, in 1991.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok.

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