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Marty Natalegawa Indonesian Foreign Minister

Myanmar: Engaging the isolated


NDONESIAS Foreign Minister

Marty Natalegawa recently said
that now is the time to engage one of
the most isolated countries in Asia,
to ensure that any positive political and
legal changes happening in the country
would be irreversible.
Myanmar President Thein Sein last
month suspended a hugely unpopular
China-backed dam project on the Irrawaddy Rivera decision considered
by many as a victory for Myanmar opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Others, however, see it as an encouraging
sign that the country is easing its dependence on China.
Foreign Minister Natalegawa shared
his views with Tempo reporter Gita Lal
on the prospects of Myanmar chairing ASEAN in 2014, and meeting with
Myanmar democracy leader Aung Sang
Suu Kyithe fi rst by an ASEAN chair
during his visit. Excerpts:
What message will you convey to Aung
Sang Suu Kyi?
I have the greatest of admiration for
who she is and what she has done. I
would wish to encourage her though,
not only to reflect on the present but
also on possibilities for the future. Daw
Aung Sang Suu Kyi has the potential to bridge Myanmar of the past, and
Myanmar of the future. The prospect of
Myanmar chairing ASEAN in 2014 will
make all these developments that have
been taking place in the country even
more irreversible.
Many have pointed out that changes
taking place in Myanmar are not enough.
Its a case of a half-empty or a halffull glass. Some may say what is happening now in Myanmar is not sufficient. I respect that idea. But I look to
the future. My message to Daw Aung
Sang Suu Kyi would be, here is a strategic juncture for us to lock in what has
happened, make sure there is no regression, place markers, and build on
that. One of the key ingredients to encourage [that changes must remain
irreversible] is that prospect of Myanmars chairmanship.
This is your view on the prospect of
Myanmar chairing ASEAN one day?
It offers the possibility to provide further motivation for Myanmar to accelerate the momentum for change. I shall
be interested to ascertain above all, the
feelings among the civil society groups in
Myanmarhow they view this prospect.

Sanctions applied by the US and the European Union on Myanmar have made it
very difficult for multinational companies
to operate there. Will this change?
A clear understanding of what these
sanctions aim to achieve is needed. Is
it simply a political instrument to express displeasure? To say that this is
an expression of protest, and therefore
sanctions need to be brought in? Or is it
an instrument to bring about change?
If it is the former then it becomes very
open-ended. Do these countries feel developments in Myanmar are significant enough to warrant the removal of these political sanctions although
the impact is economic? Or is it meant
to encourage change? If so, then they
would have to recalibrate the instrument as changes occur. This is something that the parties which introduced the sanctions must decide. We always believe that Myanmar is a country
whose default position is [one of] isolation.
What do you mean?

For a country like Myanmar, to be

put in isolation doesnt hold much fear.
On the other hand, having engagement, interaction, these are factors that
can bring about greater awareness
of the expectations of the international community. If I was asked, which
of the approach offers more prospect
for bringing about change, it would be
more engagement. Engagement is not
endorsement. If you have expectations
and issues to communicate, you have to
For the thousands of refugees who may
want to go back to Myanmar, what will
bethe prospect of securing sustainable
This point underlines even more comprehensively the kind of challenges
Myanmar faces. We need to have democratic dividends, we need to have development dividends for people in Myanmar to see, and the government especially, to see that the changes they
bring about will be responded to. Heres
where the sanctions issue comes in.
These sanctions have caused harm and
impacted more on the ordinary people in Myanmar, rather than the targets
they were intended for.
What do you hope to achieve through
your visit to Myanmar?
Myanmar has expressed its wish
to chair ASEAN in 2014 so my visit is
partly to ascertain what is the state of
affairs in Myanmar, with regard to preparing for the chairmanship. We all
need to acknowledge the important developments taking place there. The release of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi has
been long overdue. The [2010 November] elections, the formation of the new
government and the subsequent intensification of dialog between Daw Suu
Kyi and government, as well as the recent releases of political prisoners.
Are external forces capable of influencing the government of Myanmar?
Myanmar is undergoing change. Elements outside Myanmar, whether they
are countries or opposition groups,
must begin to adapt to these changing realities and must not simply be doing more of the same. It takes all of us to
be able to have an open mind. By simply
acknowledging changes, we are saying
that we cannot revert back from where
we are now. If we do not even acknowledge it, there is a potential to slip back.

NOVEMBER 8, 2011 TEMPO| 53