Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi [2011/12/27]
Meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi
Visit to Myanmar (2)
The schedule for my trip to Myanmar at the end of last year (December 12 to 20) was an extremely hectic one, but it turned out to be a very fruitful and satisfying experience. I’m very grateful for the efforts of all who were involved.
On December 19, my last day in Myanmar, I had the opportunity to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD). She has had a great many visitors since being released from house arrest, but I was one of her first visitors from Japan.
Aung San Suu Kyi lives in an elegant two-story house with a wide lawn, located on the shore of Kandawgyi Lake in the fashionable district of Yangon, close to the city’s downtown area. When I had visited two years before, the street was blocked off and heavily guarded by soldiers, and it had been all I could do to catch sight of the house from a considerable distance. This time, however, there were no guards or soldiers in front of the gate, only the NLD party flag, fluttering in silence, and the surrounding unoccupied buildings.
The NLD party headquarters in the heart of the city, where our meeting took place, is a long, narrow room, bustling with activity. It reminds me of the office of a candidate for public office in Japan. The walls are crowded with sepia-tone photographs of General Aung San and photos of Aung San Suu Kyi. Near the narrow entrance, NLD calendars and other goods were on sale. The place was jammed with people eating at tables along both sides of the room; people meeting in groups; people lost in thought, doing nothing; people staring repeatedly at Aung San Suu Kyi calendars; and people hustling up and down the narrow aisles winding through the place.
Overwhelmed by all this feverish activity, we elbowed our way to the very back of the room, where we had a short wait. I was told that a meeting of high-level staff was being held to discuss important issues, including that of registering the NLD with the government, as well as the strategy for the election expected to be held next March or April. About fifteen minutes after the appointed time, we were ushered up a stairway near the entrance.
We were told that Aung San Suu Kyi was waiting on the other side of a shabby-looking door. When the media people had assembled, the door opened and there was Aung San Suu Kyi, wearing a tranquil smile familiar to anyone who has seen her image on TV or in magazines. She invited me into a modest room of about ten or twelve square meters, entirely occupied by a large desk and seating for six or seven people.
I told her briefly about the Nippon Foundation’s efforts, dating back to the 1970s, to eliminate leprosy, build elementary schools in outlying areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, and disseminate traditional medical practices, as well as its various programs for developing human resources, which include organizing disabled people. Aung San Suu Kyi showed great interest and reacted enthusiastically, interrupting me to ask how she could contact the Nippon Foundation.
She told me of the gratitude of people in Myanmar for the support we have provided. She also said that the Japanese have demonstrated a wonderful sense of responsibility, and that she has been deeply moved by the way people in Japan have endured the terrible earthquake.
In response, I said that Japanese people are not so good when it comes to short distances, and that―judging from the state of relations between our countries―Japan may seem to have fallen behind in providing support to and making progress in Myanmar; but I underscored my hope that the situation can be viewed from a long-term perspective.”
Taking a lighter tone, she said that, when it comes to marathons, Ethiopia is way ahead of Japan; and we both shared a laugh at her comment.
I also had a chance to find out San Suu Kyi’s views on topics that are of particular interest to the Japanese media these days. I was curious, first of all, to learn more about what expectations she had from the Japanese government. She told me that she hopes that the official development assistance provided by Japan will be useful to the people of Myanmar and will help make her fellow citizens more self-reliant in the future.
Another topic that interested me, along with many people in Japan, was her reaction to the recent death of Kim Jong-il. She noted her concerns about the youth and lack of experience of his successor, while noting that the official transfer of power was not expected to happen so soon.
Finally, I queried about Myanmar’s relations with China and with the United States. In relation to this, she expressed her satisfaction at the decision made by President Sein to suspend construction on the Myitsone dam hydroelectric project, which was financed with Chinese capital.
When it was time to leave I handed her a gift and told her it was just a small present that could not come close to conveying my feelings of affection for Myanmar. She replied, with a smile, that my outfit that day―dressed as I was in the traditional ethnic clothing of Myanmar―already conveyed to her those feelings.
As I left this very enjoyable meeting, I told her that I hoped we could meet again after the election for a longer talk.