News / Asia

World Economic Forum Opens in Burma

Burma's President Thein Sein speaks during opening ceremony of World Economic Forum, June 6, 2013
Burma's President Thein Sein speaks during opening ceremony of World Economic Forum, June 6, 2013
VOA News
The World Economic Forum for East Asia opened Thursday in Burma's new capital, Naypyitaw.  Business leaders, ministers and governments from all over the world are meeting to discuss topics such as foreign investment, development, and trade for the region.  

Burma's President Thein Sein officially opened the World Economic Forum for East Asia in Naypyitaw, alongside the forum's founder Klaus Schwab, who predicted a staggering growth rate of 10 percent for Burma's economy.

The forum is an independent international organization intended to discuss a number of issues facing developing economies in the region, in particular the economic integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

In other sessions, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and reformist minister Soe Thein engaged in a live debate, and discussed the possibility for constitutional amendment, lack of independence of the judiciary, and reconciliation with activists and ethnic minorities.

Aung San Suu Kyi also addressed the role of the military in government.  She was criticized for similar comments made in Hawaii in February, when she expressed "fondness" for the military.

"The military have special place in the hearts of our people.  I want a military that is professional and honorable, and there to defend our nation, and this is the kind of army my father wanted when he founded it," Suu Kyi said.

She also praised so-called cronies who amassed large fortunes under the military regime for now spending the money at home for humanitarian causes, instead of hiding it in foreign bank accounts.

Tarek Sultan, chairman of Agility, a Kuwaiti logistics firm, sat on the opening panel.   He says there is incredible investment potential in Southeast Asia for the next 10 years, but free trade and logistical barriers within the ASEAN bloc present significant barriers.

"I think it is very clear that the largest barriers are the supply chain impediments that are holding back investment and growth.  And in fact the research shows that growth would improve by 10 percent if some of these soft barriers, supply chain barriers, were to be addressed," Tarek Sultan said.

Many rights groups expressed concern that it is still too early in the reform process to hold this type of forum in Burma.  

Burma Campaign UK criticized organizers for ignoring the ongoing human-rights abuses of the army, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the past two years, and shared concern that this type of forum lends legitimacy to a government that persecutes its own citizens.

But Dave Mathieson of U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch believes this type of forum should be regarded as part of the reform process.

"But it is a forum that is basically discussing the future of the country.  It is a forum that is trying to bring together a lot of disparate voices, and talk about all the concerns that we've been talking about for the past two years during the reform process," he said. "So while it might seem a little bit too early and seem as something that is legitimizing the government, I would not actually say so, I think it is a mark of how the country is trying to open up."
 
Mathieson cited concerns about a rush to invest in Asia's last frontier market, and said the biggest human-rights issue being addressed at the forum was greedy land grabbing and displacement, especially in ethnic areas with tentative and fragile peace processes.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs