News / Asia

Burmese President Makes Historic Trip to Australia

President of Burma Thein Sein (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 18, 2013.
President of Burma Thein Sein (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, March 18, 2013.
Phil Mercer
In the first visit to Australia by a Burmese head of state since 1974, President Thein Sein began talks Monday (March 18) with officials in Canberra.  Political reform, social development and trade will be on the agenda, while human rights groups are urging the Australian government to press the Burmese leader on the treatment of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities
 
Australia has acknowledged recent reforms by the Burmese government by easing more restrictions and says it will send a defense attaché and a trade commissioner to its Southeast Asian partner.
 
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the measures were part of growing Australian support for Burma as it continues to build a democracy and strengthen human rights.  However, Canberra’s arms embargo will remain in place.
 
Prime Minister Gillard called it a “first step” toward normalizing defense relationships and also announced aid aimed at helping pro-democracy groups.
 
"Today I am delighted to announce an important new component of our aid program, a partnership for reform between our two countries," she said. "A $20 million commitment to strengthen democratic institutions, deliver human rights training, improve economic governance and promote the rule of law."
 
President Thein Sein appeared at a news conference Monday with the prime minister, and said he believes the two countries are destined to be partners.
 
He says he hopes that Australia will be generous in sharing her knowledge and experiences. He says he feels certain that relations will now enter a new and special phase.
 
Human rights campaigners protested at the Burmese Embassy in Canberra and Parliament House at the start of President Thein Sein’s visit.  Their message is that human rights must come before trade and investment in discussions between the Australian government and the Burmese leader.  
 
Activists are alleging that hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars in Burma, while they accuse the military of committing abuses against minority groups, including Rohingya Muslims.
 
Sean Turnell, an economist at Sydney’s Macquarie University, who closely watches events in Burma, says Australia must address these allegations.
 
“This is an issue, of course, that should be of concern to everyone, but it is an issue that is of concern to Australia because ultimately groups like that may well end up as part of the refugee flow to this country," he said. "So, I would imagine even for selfish reasons it would be an issue that Australia might be interested in talking to the Burmese president about.”     
 
Thein Sein, a former general, took office in March 2011, after Burma’s first election in 20 years.  He has led a process of reform after decades of military rule.
 
In Canberra, he has met the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, along with other senior officials and business leaders.   The Burmese president arrived in Australia following a trip to New Zealand, where he was promoting his country as a destination for foreign investment.  Burma is eager to revitalize its economy by overhauling its infrastructure, including roads, hotels and airports.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More