David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi press conference
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Prime Minister David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi gave a joint press conference in London on 23 October 2013.
Well, it’s a huge honour to welcome Aung San Suu Kyi back to Number 10 Downing Street. It’s great to have you back here. You are hugely admired in this country. I’m one of your greatest admirers, for everything you’ve done for your country, but also everything you stand for in the world. Your example, your perseverance and your belief is a huge inspiration to people across Britain and people around the world. We wish you well with everything that you are doing and want to do everything we can to support you.
We’ve had some very good discussions today, firstly, to welcome the progress that has been made in Burma. There has been progress with your party fighting and winning by-elections and with the release of political prisoners. But I think the most important message is that that progress needs to be sustained, and in particular, we need to see the constitution amended. It would be completely wrong for elections to be held under a constitution that really excludes one person – who happens to be the leader of democracy in Burma – to be excluded from the highest office in the land. Those would be no elections at all in my view. Those would not be democratic elections. The constitution has to be changed in that way and in other ways, and we will do everything we can to build the international pressure to send the clearest possible message to the Burmese government that these changes must be made.
We’ve had very good discussions about the future of Burma, about the importance of dealing with the ethnic conflicts and ensuring the rule of law throughout Burma. Again, we’ll do everything we can to support you in that vital cause, including helping with military-to-military contact and also helping with security reform in Burma as well.
Finally, we discussed the issue of aid and development and your very clear agenda of wanting to see action in Burma in terms of helping young people get jobs. This is in terms of helping economic development and making sure that growth in Burma is growth with equity, growth for all - we want to help with that. And we also had time to mention the specific project of the Rangoon General Hospital, where we’ll be leading an effort to restore and revive that hospital. As part of the work that I’m very proud Britain is doing that in Burma to help with economic and political development.
It is a huge honour to have you here. Please say what you like to our press and then we’ll take two questions. Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi
I’m very happy to be here and to be able to discuss what has been happening in my country since I was here last year. As the Prime Minister said, the crucial issue at the moment is amendments to the constitution. If the process of democratisation is to move forward and if it is to be sustainable, we have to amend the constitution to make it a democratic one. One that will ensure that the future of our society is going to be rooted in genuine democratic institutions.
Now, this is particularly important because the legislature has formed a committee for reassessing the constitution. This committee has to submit its report by the end of this year. So over the next two months it is essential that everybody understands the importance of amendments to the constitution, why we need these amendments, what kind of amendments we need, and who needs to be involved. Without the support of the ruling party, the USDP and the military, it will not be possible for us to amend the constitution as it is, because the provisions for amendment are so rigid. I’m told that it’s the most rigid in the world. I have been told by constitutional experts that there is no other constitution so difficult to amend as the Burmese one.
And because of this, without the support of the ruling USDP party and the military representatives in the parliament, we will not be able to amend the constitution. We would like the world to be aware of the fact that our public, our people, want amendments to the constitution. My party – the NLD – has been running a campaign acquainting the general public with the situation – the constitutional situation, why we want the constitution to be amended and how it can be amended. And the great majority of our people, as soon as they understand the issues involved, they are firmly for amendments.
And these amendments are necessary also for internal peace, because ethnic nationalities want the kind of system that will mean equality for all of them, egality, and will mean the kind of situation which will create unity. What they want is a true union, a federal union, that will guarantee their rights and that will guarantee that their traditions and their aspirations are preserved and understood.
So amendments to the constitution are what we have to aim at now, as the most important programme, if you like, to be implemented between now and the end of the year. Of course, there are many other issues that have to be addressed in Burma, and one of them is what we have been discussing - jobs for the jobless, particularly for the unemployed youth. The numbers of unemployed youth in our country are great and this a great danger for us. Unemployed youth means that there is always the possibility of instability in our society, and we need also to help to educate our youth so that they might become employable. What we need are jobs and on-the-job training, the kind of investments and development programmes that will not only provide our young people with jobs, but also help them to equip themselves to hold down worthwhile jobs in the future.
And we want development in the country to be inclusive - meaning not just gender-inclusive, but ethnic nationality-inclusive, class-inclusive and inclusive of all those in our country who wish to be a part of the process of development and democratisation. These two have to go together. Unless they go together we will not be able to sustain the progress that we hope to achieve. And while there has been some progress it has not yet been enough. In order to carry it forward we have to address these very important issues of constitutional change, of inclusive development, which must have at its heart providing jobs for our young people, and for others, but particularly for young people.
Thank you. Thank you very much. I think we’ve got two questions.
A question for each of you, if I may, please. Prime Minister, I’d like to ask you about a domestic issue please. After your comments in Prime Minister’s Questions today about green taxes, what happened to, ‘Vote blue, go green,’ ‘Hug a husky,’ and support for wind farms? Some of your Liberal Democrat colleagues are accusing you of a panicky u-turn on environmental policy and are saying that they will oppose you. What do you say to what the Liberal Democrats are saying?
And to Aung San Suu Kyi, if I may, please, you’re a distinguished human rights campaigner. Our Prime Minister is being urged by the Foreign Affairs Spokesman of the Labour party – the opposition Labour party here – to boycott the Commonwealth Conference in Sri Lanka next month because of their human rights record there. I wonder what your view of that is, whether Mr Cameron ought to boycott it or turn up, and I’d be interested to hear your response to that as well, Prime Minister.
Okay, well first of all, let me deal with the green issue. This government has made huge steps forward in terms of environmental policy. We’re the first government ever, anywhere, to set up a green investment bank, and that bank is making serious investments in environmental projects. We’ve seen huge investments go into renewable energies, we’ve seen just this week the biggest investment into low-carbon energy with the deal to bring on stream Hinkley Point C.
So I think this has been a very sound government in terms of the environment, but we do have to make progress on this issue of energy and electricity prices, and there are some plain facts that we have to deal with. And the first plain fact is there are only four bits to an energy bill. There’s the wholesale price of energy, which we can’t control. There’s the cost of getting that energy to people’s doors; that is, the National Grid. Then there is the extra charges, taxes and tariffs that we put onto that bill. And finally, there’s the energy company profits.
It’s those last two that we need to act on. We need to make the energy market more competitive, and that’s what we’re doing, bringing in new competitors and having an annual market test. That will make a real difference. But yes, we should also look at rolling back the cost of some of these taxes, tariffs and charges that have been put in place. They’re responsible for around £112 on someone’s bill today. If we’re serious about getting energy prices down and helping families, it’s no good having some phoney freeze policy, [Party political content], which is something of a con. What you need is to actually look at what is causing bills to go up.
So that is what we’re doing. It’s something we’ve been discussing in the Coalition over the last few weeks. We’re making some progress. We need to make more progress because I want to help people this winter paying their bills. That’s why we have cold weather payments, winter fuel payments, an enlarged state pension, the Warm Homes programme and we are taking £135 of people’s bills. We need those things, but also for the future, need to look at what is causing energy bills to rise. We need to get rid of some of those causes so that we’d have sustainably low energy bills in the future. That’s what we’re doing. But we can do that while also being a government that cares about the environment, as I always have done.
On the issue of the Commonwealth Conference, it’s entirely a matter for me to decide. My decision is the right thing for us to do is to go to the Commonwealth Conference as leading members of the Commonwealth and have some very tough conversations with the Sri Lankan government. I’m not happy with their human rights record. I’m not happy with what they’ve done following the conflict and we’ll have some very frank conversations to make those points.
[Party political content]. No-one is going to be listening to the British Foreign Secretary and the British Prime Minister if we’re not there. [Party political content]. Britain should be engaged in the world and we should be engaged with Commonwealth countries. We should be winning and fighting arguments and having some very, very tough conversations with the Sri Lankan government. This is what we’ll be doing in a week or so.
Thanks, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Aung San Suu Kyi
I was often asked this question over the last 20 or so years, whether people should come and engage with the Burmese military regime as it was then or they should keep away. I’ve always said that I believe in engagement, but that they should engage with us, the opposition, as well. So I think if you go to Sri Lanka and you engage with all those who are involved – all other stakeholders and not just the government – I think that would be very helpful.
Very wise words. I’ll be going to the north of the country as well, and I think what Aung San Suu Kyi has said is absolutely right.
Aung San Suu Kyi
This is what I always said before, so I’m not going to change my mind now.
Quite right. Now, hold on, was there another question?
I have a question for Aung San Suu Kyi. You’ve said that Myanmar is just beginning to learn that freedom of thought is possible, but you want to make sure that this right is preserved. So my question is, why hasn’t freedom of religion been preserved? And what is the exact timetable that you and President Thein Sein have in order to grant citizenship and the rights of citizens afforded with it to minority communities?
Aung San Suu Kyi
You talked about freedom of religion. I think you must – you need to be aware of the fact that under years and years of the military regime, we didn’t have freedom of anything at all. And freedom of religion also did not exist, and it was not just for freedom for religions other than Buddhism. The Buddhists also had certain impositions placed on them. You must have heard of the Saffron Revolution of 2007, when Buddhist monks’ demonstrations were put down very, very brutally by the then regime. So freedom of anything at all does not exist when there are no basic democratic rights for the country as a whole.
You talked about what kind of time frame we had in mind. Now, I think you seem to think that I’m a member of the government. I’m not. It’s for the President and his government to set a time frame for their policies with regard to citizenship or any other matter that government has to deal with. If you want me to give you a time frame, you’d better make sure that I become President quickly.
I think that’s a brilliant point on which to end. We look forward very much to welcoming you back to Number 10 Downing Street after that great day. In the meantime, thank you very much for coming today and thank you very much ladies and gentlemen, the media, for coming to see us. Thank you.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Thank you very much.