I am a Burmese exile taking a near-permanent refuge in New York and Sydney. Here are my essays about Burma and anything else I feel like writing about. And posting the articles I like from selected sites. Bridging Burma to the world this Blog is more of a Politically-Oriented Literary Blog than a Plain News Blog or a Sophisticated Thoughts Blog.
Thank you. (Applause.) Myanmar Naingan, Mingalaba! (Laughter
and applause.) I am very honored to be here at this university and to be
the first President of the United States of America to visit your country.
came here because of the importance of your country. You live at the
crossroads of East and South Asia. You border the most populated nations
on the planet. You have a history that reaches back thousands of years,
and the ability to help determine the destiny of the fastest growing region of
came here because of the beauty and diversity of your country. I have
seen just earlier today the golden stupa of Shwedagon, and have been moved by
the timeless idea of metta -- the belief that our time on this Earth can be defined
by tolerance and by love. And I know this land reaches from the crowded
neighborhoods of this old city to the homes of more than 60,000 villages; from
the peaks of the Himalayas, the forests of Karen State, to the banks of the
came here because of my respect for this university. It was here at this
school where opposition to colonial rule first took hold. It was here
that Aung San edited a magazine before leading an independence movement.
It was here that U Thant learned the ways of the world before guiding it at the
United Nations. Here, scholarship thrived during the last century and
students demanded their basic human rights. Now, your Parliament has at
last passed a resolution to revitalize this university and it must reclaim its
greatness, because the future of this country will be determined by the
education of its youth.
I came here because of the
history between our two countries. A century ago, American traders,
merchants and missionaries came here to build bonds of faith and commerce and
friendship. And from within these borders in World War II, our pilots
flew into China and many of our troops gave their lives. Both of our
nations emerged from the British Empire, and the United States was among the
first countries to recognize an independent Union of Burma. We were proud
to found an American Center in Rangoon and to build exchanges with schools like
this one. And through decades of differences, Americans have been united
in their affection for this country and its people.
Above all, I came here because of America’s belief in
human dignity. Over the last several decades, our two countries became
strangers. But today, I can tell you that we always remained hopeful
about the people of this country, about you. You gave us hope and we bore
witness to your courage.
We saw the activists dressed in white visit the families
of political prisoners on Sundays and monks dressed in saffron protesting
peacefully in the streets. We learned of ordinary people who organized relief
teams to respond to a cyclone, and heard the voices of students and the beats
of hip-hop artists projecting the sound of freedom. We came to know
exiles and refugees who never lost touch with their families or their ancestral
home. And we were inspired by the fierce dignity of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,
as she proved that no human being can truly be imprisoned if hope burns in your
When I took office as President, I sent a message to
those governments who ruled by fear. I said, in my inauguration address,
“We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” And
over the last year and a half, a dramatic transition has begun, as a
dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip. Under President Thein
Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform. A
civilian now leads the government, and a parliament is asserting itself.
The once-outlawed National League for Democracy stood in an election, and Aung
San Suu Kyi is a Member of Parliament. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience
have been released, and forced labor has been banned. Preliminary
cease-fires have been reached with ethnic armies, and new laws allow for a more
So today, I’ve come to keep my promise and extend the
hand of friendship. America now has an Ambassador in Rangoon, sanctions
have been eased, and we will help rebuild an economy that can offer opportunity
for its people, and serve as an engine of growth for the world. But this
remarkable journey has just begun, and has much further to go. Reforms
launched from the top of society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form
its foundation. The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be
extinguished -- they must be strengthened; they must become a shining North
Star for all this nation’s people.
And your success in that effort is important to the
United States, as well as to me. Even though we come from different
places, we share common dreams: to choose our leaders; to live together
in peace; to get an education and make a good living; to love our families and
our communities. That’s why freedom is not an abstract idea; freedom is
the very thing that makes human progress possible -- not just at the ballot
box, but in our daily lives.
One of our greatest Presidents in the United States,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, understood this truth. He defined America’s
cause as more than the right to cast a ballot. He understood democracy
was not just voting. He called upon the world to embrace four fundamental
freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and
freedom from fear. These four freedoms reinforce one another, and you
cannot fully realize one without realizing them all.
So that's the future that we seek for ourselves, and for
all people. And that is what I want to speak to you about today.
First, we believe in the right of free expression so that
the voices of ordinary people can be heard, and governments reflect their will
-- the people's will.
In the United States, for more than two centuries, we have
worked to keep this promise for all of our citizens -- to win freedom for those
who were enslaved; to extend the right to vote for women and African Americans;
to protect the rights of workers to organize.
And we recognize no two nations achieve these rights in
exactly the same way, but there is no question that your country will be
stronger if it draws on the strength of all of its people. That’s what
allows nations to succeed. That’s what reform has begun to do.
Instead of being repressed, the right of people to
assemble together must now be fully respected. Instead of being stifled,
the veil of media censorship must continue to be lifted. And as you take
these steps, you can draw on your progress. Instead of being ignored,
citizens who protested the construction of the Myitsone dam were heard.
Instead of being outlawed, political parties have been allowed to
participate. You can see progress being made. As one voter said
during the parliamentary elections here, “Our parents and grandparents waited
for this, but never saw it.” And now you can see it. You can taste
And to protect the freedom of all the voters, those in
power must accept constraints. That's what our American system is
designed to do. Now, America may have the strongest military in the
world, but it must submit to civilian control. I, as the President of the
United States, make determinations that the military then carries out, not the
other way around. As President and Commander-In-Chief, I have that responsibility
because I'm accountable to the people.
Thit-pote-pin inside RU campus.
Now, on other hand, as President, I cannot just impose my
will on Congress -- the Congress of the United States -- even though sometimes
I wish I could. The legislative branch has its own powers and its own
prerogatives, and so they check my power and balance my power. I appoint
some of our judges, but I cannot tell them how to rule, because every person in
America -- from a child living in poverty to me, the President of the United
States -- is equal under the law. And a judge can make a determination as
to whether or not I am upholding the law or breaking the law. And I am
fully accountable to that law.
And I describe our system in the United States because
that's how you must reach for the future that you deserve -- a future where a
single prisoner of conscience is one too many. You need to reach for a
future where the law is stronger than any single leader, because it's
accountable to the people. You need to reach for a future where no child
is made to be a soldier and no woman is exploited, and where the laws protect
them even if they're vulnerable, even if they're weak; a future where national
security is strengthened by a military that serves under civilians and a
Constitution that guarantees that only those who are elected by the people may
On that journey, America will support you every step of
the way -- by using our assistance to empower civil society; by engaging your
military to promote professionalism and human rights; and by partnering with you
as you connect your progress towards democracy with economic development.
So advancing that journey will help you pursue a second freedom -- the belief
that all people should be free from want.
It's not enough to trade a prison of powerlessness for
the pain of an empty stomach. But history shows that governments of the
people and by the people and for the people are far more powerful in delivering
prosperity. And that's the partnership we seek with you.
When ordinary people have a say in their own future, then
your land can’t just be taken away from you. And that's why reforms must
ensure that the people of this nation can have that most fundamental of
possessions -- the right to own the title to the land on which you live and on
which you work.
When your talents are unleashed, then opportunity will be
created for all people. America is lifting our ban on companies doing
business here, and your government has lifted restrictions on investment and
taken steps to open up your economy. And now, as more wealth flows into
your borders, we hope and expect that it will lift up more people. It
can't just help folks at the top. It has to help everybody. And
that kind of economic growth, where everybody has opportunity -- if you work
hard, you can succeed -- that's what gets a nation moving rapidly when it comes
But that kind of growth can only be created if corruption
is left behind. For investment to lead to opportunity, reform must
promote budgets that are transparent and industry that is privately
To lead by example, America now insists that our
companies meet high standards of openness and transparency if they're doing
business here. And we'll work with organizations like the World Bank to
support small businesses and to promote an economy that allows entrepreneurs,
small businesspeople to thrive and allows workers to keep what they earn.
And I very much welcome your government’s recent decision to join what we've
called our Open Government Partnership, so that citizens can come to expect
accountability and learn exactly how monies are spent and how your system of
Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it's
far more likely that your basic needs will be met. And that’s why reform
must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and
those who live without electricity or water. And here, too, America will
do our part in working with you.
Today, I was proud to reestablish our USAID mission in
this country, which is our lead development agency. And the United States
wants to be a partner in helping this country, which used to be the rice bowl
of Asia, to reestablish its capacity to feed its people and to care for its
sick, and educate its children, and build its democratic institutions as you
continue down the path of reform.
This country is famous for its natural resources, and
they must be protected against exploitation. And let us remember that in
a global economy, a country’s greatest resource is its people. So by
investing in you, this nation can open the door for far more prosperity --
because unlocking a nation’s potential depends on empowering all its people,
especially its young people.
Just as education is the key to America’s future, it is
going to the be the key to your future as well. And so we look forward to
working with you, as we have with many of your neighbors, to extend that
opportunity and to deepen exchanges among our students. We want students
from this country to travel to the United States and learn from us, and we want
U.S. students to come here and learn from you.
And this truth leads me to the third freedom that I want
to discuss: the freedom to worship -- the freedom to worship as you
please, and your right to basic human dignity.
This country, like my own country, is blessed with
diversity. Not everybody looks the same. Not everybody comes from
the same region. Not everybody worships in the same way. In your
cities and towns, there are pagodas and temples, and mosques and churches
standing side by side. Well over a hundred ethnic groups have been a part
of your story. Yet within these borders, we’ve seen some of the world’s
longest running insurgencies, which have cost countless lives, and torn
families and communities apart, and stood in the way of development.
No process of reform will succeed without national
reconciliation. (Applause.) You now have a moment of remarkable
opportunity to transform cease-fires into lasting settlements, and to pursue
peace where conflicts still linger, including in Kachin State. Those
efforts must lead to a more just and lasting peace, including humanitarian
access to those in need, and a chance for the displaced to return home.
Today, we look at the recent violence in Rakhine State
that has caused so much suffering, and we see the danger of continued tensions
there. For too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine,
have faced crushing poverty and persecution. But there is no excuse for
violence against innocent people. And the Rohingya hold themselves --
hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do.
National reconciliation will take time, but for the sake
of our common humanity, and for the sake of this country’s future, it is
necessary to stop incitement and to stop violence. And I welcome the
government’s commitment to address the issues of injustice and accountability,
and humanitarian access and citizenship. That’s a vision that the world will
support as you move forward.
Every nation struggles to define citizenship.
America has had great debates about these issues, and those debates continue to
this day, because we’re a nation of immigrants -- people coming from every
different part of the world. But what we’ve learned in the United States
is that there are certain principles that are universal, apply to everybody no
matter what you look like, no matter where you come from, no matter what
religion you practice. The right of people to live without the threat
that their families may be harmed or their homes may be burned simply because
of who they are or where they come from.
Only the people of this country ultimately can define
your union, can define what it means to be a citizen of this country. But
I have confidence that as you do that you can draw on this diversity as a
strength and not a weakness. Your country will be stronger because of
many different cultures, but you have to seize that opportunity. You have
to recognize that strength.
I say this because my own country and my own life have
taught me the power of diversity. The United States of America is a
nation of Christians and Jews, and Muslims and Buddhists, and Hindus and
non-believers. Our story is shaped by every language; it’s enriched by
every culture. We have people from every corners of the world.
We’ve tasted the bitterness of civil war and segregation, but our history shows
us that hatred in the human heart can recede; that the lines between races and
tribes fade away. And what’s left is a simple truth: e pluribus unum --
that’s what we say in America. Out of many, we are one nation and we are
one people. And that truth has, time and again, made our union
stronger. It has made our country stronger. It’s part of what has
made America great.
We amended our Constitution to extend the democratic
principles that we hold dear. And I stand before you today as President
of the most powerful nation on Earth, but recognizing that once the color of my
skin would have denied me the right to vote. And so that should give you
some sense that if our country can transcend its differences, then yours can,
too. Every human being within these borders is a part of your nation’s
story, and you should embrace that. That’s not a source of weakness,
that’s a source of strength -- if you recognize it.
And that brings me to the final freedom that I will
discuss today, and that is the right of all people to live free from fear.
In many ways, fear is the
force that stands between human beings and their dreams. Fear of conflict
and the weapons of war. Fear of a future that is different from the
past. Fear of changes that are reordering our societies and
economy. Fear of people who look different, or come from a different
place, or worship in a different way. In some of her darkest moments,
when Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned, she wrote an essay about freedom from
fear. She said fear of losing corrupts those who wield it -- “Fear of
losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power
corrupts those who are subject to it.”
the fear that you can leave behind. We see that chance in leaders who are
beginning to understand that power comes from appealing to people’s hopes, not
people's fears. We see it in citizens who insist that this time must be
different, that this time change will come and will continue. As Aung San
Suu Kyi wrote: “Fear is not the natural state of civilized man.” I
believe that. And today, you are showing the world that fear does not have
to be the natural state of life in this country.
why I am here. That’s why I came to Rangoon. And that’s why what
happens here is so important -- not only to this region, but to the
world. Because you're taking a journey that has the potential to inspire
so many people. This is a test of whether a country can transition to a
Rangoon University's Convocation Hall where President Obama delivered his speech.
United States of America is a Pacific nation, and we see our future as bound to
those nations and peoples to our West. And as our economy recovers, this
is where we believe we will find enormous growth. As we have ended the
wars that have dominated our foreign policy for a decade, this region will be a
focus for our efforts to build a prosperous peace.
in Southeast Asia, we see the potential for integration among nations and
people. And as President, I have embraced ASEAN for reasons that go
beyond the fact that I spent some of my childhood in this region, in
Indonesia. Because with ASEAN, we see nations that are on the move --
nations that are growing, and democracies that are emerging; governments that
are cooperating; progress that’s building on the diversity that spans oceans
and islands and jungles and cities, peoples of every race and every
religion. This is what the 21st century should look like if we have the
courage to put aside our differences and move forward with a sense of mutual
interest and mutual respect.
here in Rangoon, I want to send a message across Asia: We don’t need to be
defined by the prisons of the past. We need to look forward to the
future. To the leadership of North Korea, I have offered a choice:
let go of your nuclear weapons and choose the path of peace and progress.
If you do, you will find an extended hand from the United States of America.
2012, we don’t need to cling to the divisions of East, West and North and
South. We welcome the peaceful rise of China, your neighbor to the North;
and India, your neighbor to the West. The United Nations -- the United
States will work with any nation, large or small, that will contribute to a
world that is more peaceful and more prosperous, and more just and more
free. And the United States will be a friend to any nation that respects
the rights of its citizens and the responsibilities of international law.
the nation, that's the world that you can start to build here in this historic
city. This nation that's been so isolated can show the world the power of
a new beginning, and demonstrate once again that the journey to democracy goes
hand in hand with development. I say this knowing that there are still
countless people in this country who do not enjoy the opportunities that many
of you seated here do. There are tens of millions who have no
electricity. There are prisoners of conscience who still await release.
There are refugees and displaced peoples in camps where hope is still something
that lies on the distant horizon.
I say to you -- and I say to everybody that can hear my voice -- that the
United States of America is with you, including those who have been forgotten,
those who are dispossessed, those who are ostracized, those who are poor.
We carry your story in our heads and your hopes in our hearts, because in this
21st century with the spread of technology and the breaking down of barriers,
the frontlines of freedom are within nations and individuals, not simply
one former prisoner put it in speaking to his fellow citizens, “Politics is
your job. It’s not only for [the] politicians.” And we have an
expression in the United States that the most important office in a democracy
is the office of citizen -- not President, not Speaker, but citizen.
as extraordinary and difficult and challenging and sometimes frustrating as
this journey may seem, in the end, you, the citizens of this country, are the
ones who must define what freedom means. You're the ones who are going to
have to seize freedom, because a true revolution of the spirit begins in each
of our hearts. It requires the kind of courage that so many of your
leaders have already displayed.
road ahead will be marked by huge challenges, and there will be those who
resist the forces of change. But I stand here with confidence that
something is happening in this country that cannot be reversed, and the will of
the people can lift up this nation and set a great example for the world.
And you will have in the United States of America a partner on that long
journey. So, cezu tin bad de. (Applause.)