BERN, SWITZERLAND – Switzerland announced Friday afternoon 1 June that it will be opening an embassy in Myanmar/Burma “this summer”. The next four years will also see CHF25 million in development funding going to the country, some of it for food security programmes and the rest for demining and vocational training.
The statement from Bern points to political change in the country: “This step is intended as an acknowledgement of the country’s great potential, both economically and as a tourist destination. It also does justice to Myanmar’s growing openness to democracy and political change following half a century of authoritarian rule. Switzerland will also strengthen its development cooperation to support the country’s transition to democracy.”
The move to open embassies soon is shared by other c0untries, including Norway and Canada; 23 countries already have embassies, including the US, China and Russia.
Swiss interests in Myanmar have until now been handled by its embassy in Thailand.
The Swiss Foreign Affairs Department says that opening an embassy
“not only recognizes the democratic progress made to date and encourages further progress but is also motivated by solid interests. As a country located between India and China, a democratic Myanmar will attain increasing geostrategic importance politically. The country has considerable natural resources and good prospects of building on the economic success of bygone eras – following its independence in 1948 Myanmar was the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia and was considered the leading producer and exporter of rice during the 1950s. In addition, tourism is expected to enjoy a massive upswing there.”
Bern acknowledges that “for these reasons, it can be assumed that the presence of Swiss citizens will increase in Myanmar as well, and the work required to support them is a further argument in favour of opening an embassy.”
The government’s statement made no mention of the visit to Geneva last week by Aung San Suu Kyi, activisit who is now a member of parliament, following several years of house arrest. She addressed an ILO (International Labour Organization) conference, her first speech outside her country since 1988.
She spoke Friday at a World Economic Forum conference in Bangkok. The Hindustan Times of India reports that “Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday urged ‘healthy skepticism’ over Myanmar’s dramatic reforms, saying only the rule of law can cement recent political progress and foster clean investment. Speaking at a gathering of world business leaders in Bangkok, she also warned China and the United States against turning Myanmar into a ‘battling ground as they vie for influence over the strategically important nation.
“On her first major international engagement after more than two decades of isolation, the Nobel laureate dampened what she called ‘reckless optimism’ over democratic measures taken under reformist president Thein Sein.”