Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne discussed the elections in Burma on Channel News Asia on 2 November.
Female Interviewer: So let me ask you firstly what is the British Government’s position for the upcoming Myanmar elections?
Jeremy Browne: Well we don’t recognise the elections as being legitimate. There are over two thousand political prisoners in Burma; people who would wish to stand for election are not able to do so, so it is not an accurate reflection of the view of the people of Burma, and for that reason we don’t think the elections are a legitimate process.
Interviewer: Do you not think though that this is a step in the right direction by the military rulers?
JB: Well I think you either have a proper set of elections or you don’t have a proper set of elections and we’ve looked at these elections and we don’t regard them as a proper set of elections. I mean what are the purpose of elections? They are to express the, the views of the population of that country and to have a parliament, a government, that reflects the views of the people who voted in that country.
Now if you have a distorted process at the beginning, you have restrictions on who can be candidates, you have more than two thousand people in prison for their political beliefs, then you’re not able to get an outcome that is an accurate reflection of popular sentiment.
Interviewer: So would you support then, obviously some party to be NLD obviously Aung San Suu Kyi’s party are, are, well they’re, they’re being sensitive about it, they’re suggesting a boycott. Would you, does the Government support a boycott?
JB: Well I think that’s for people to decide themselves, some people will wish to express their views on the regime by choosing not to vote, others will wish to vote for candidates who they feel most closely reflect their own views. And I can see why different people would take different opinions and that’s for the individuals concerned to decide for themselves.
Interviewer: Do you think it would be helpful if the opposition groups were more united?
**JB: ** Well again I think it’s for them to decide for themselves, but I mean we, we the British Government have a, a clear position. It’s not for, for any country to decide how a country is run, there are lots of different ways that a, a democracy can take shape and some countries can have a democracy with a left wing government and some can have democracies with a right wing government and some might have greens in it and some might, you know, there’s lots of different ways that different countries come to different decisions.
I suppose the, the central point for us is does the Government actually reflect the, the opinions, the views, of the people in the country? And if it doesn’t reflect the views of the people in the country we don’t feel that the process is legitimate and fails in its core function. So you know, would we like to see people in Burma try and bring about a process which did reflect the views of people in Burma, regardless of quite what form those views took? Yes we would. I mean that would seem to us to be a healthy process, not just for us of course but more importantly give to the people of Burma.
**Interviewer: ** Well it seems that the UK then is at odds with UN Chief Ban Ki Moon. He said that’s it’s not too late for, for free and fair elections.
JB: Well it’s pretty soon to the polling day. I mean I’m speaking to you here in London in the middle of the week, it’s this weekend, the polling day, so I think, you know, let’s, let’s be realistic. The, the mould is pretty set in terms of the elections, in terms of the people who are allowed to be candidates, in terms of the positions that have been taken in terms of the political prisoners who are not allowed to stand for election themselves.
So I don’t think it’s possible at this hour to suddenly conjure up something that represents a, a full blown democratic process and the election, we can see what the, what the election is and for us, the British Government, you know the test for an election is does it accurately reflect popular opinion, popular sentiment, within the country. And I don’t think you can have popular opinion reflected if people who represent strands of opinion, who have popular support, are not allowed to stand and in some cases are kept in prison simply because of their political beliefs.
Interviewer: Well moving on then, would you look to see the ASEAN nations take more of a robust role?
JB: Well I’ve, I’ve been really enthusiastic since I became a Minister six months ago about the potential for ASEAN as a whole. I mean if ASEAN were one country, and I know, you know, lots of different countries have different traditions, but were it one country it would be you know knocking on the door of super power status. It is a really exciting, dynamic part of the world, its economies are, are in many cases growing strongly, and there’s a really good news story to tell about ASEAN.
And I think ASEAN nations as a whole probably have cause to reflect on, on the situation in Burma and think, you know, is that the situation that we want to say to the rest of the world? Are the ASEAN nations held back by having Burma as part of their team? And I think they are, and it would be good for ASEAN as a whole to recognise the benefits of having a free, fair, open, democratic Burma as part of the ASEAN family. It would be good for the neighbouring ASEAN countries, but most importantly of all it would be good for Burmese people themselves.
Interviewer: Well some ASEAN nations, notably the Philippines, have been quite vocal about how the group should be doing more and, and would take your point and say yes, you know, they, they let us down. Would you though really be looking for a bit more concrete action? The, the group seems very divided.
JB: Well I mean, yes I think is the short answer to that which is that, you know, ASEAN is a set of countries with different traditions and, you know, different rates of progress, different levels of prosperity, but they are collectively working more and more together and it is a part of the world which is rising in importance and rising in prominence. And I think the ASEAN countries, as they become more important, with that greater power become, comes greater responsibility as well.
And, and one of those responsibilities is to look at the ASEAN countries as a whole and say, are those countries ready to step up to the next level and does a Burmese regime in their midst with their appalling record on human rights, with their unwillingness to hold a proper open democratic election, does that reflect well on ASEAN as a region? And I think there are lots of people in the ASEAN region who would think it doesn’t.
**Interviewer: ** Well moving on then. So you said you could comment on China, I believe your, your Prime Minister is, is off with a very large delegation next week.
JB: He is. He’s going with our Finance Minister, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, but also our Business Secretary, our Climate Change Secretary and our Education Secretary. So five Members of the British Cabinet travelling to China, what would be a really important high level opportunity. It’s the first time since he became Prime Minister that our Prime Minister has visited Beijing and it’s a really good opportunity for us to further strengthen the relations between Britain and China. We want to have a partnership for growth between our two countries, we recognise the amazing progress that has been made in economic terms in China, now the second biggest economy in the world, but also of course there’s a long way to go. It’s an enormous country with an enormous population.
We think there are real opportunities for our countries to work closely together, particularly in the economic sphere and trade sphere, but in other areas as well in terms of educational links, cultural ties, and trying to make sure that we protect the environment. So there’s a, there’s a big shared agenda and the Prime Minister really gets, you know, focused to that agenda by being in person in Beijing, meeting the leading people, the leading figures, in the Chinese Government, and we’re optimistic it will be a very successful visit.
Interviewer: Getting some advice about the Olympics do you think?
JB: Well I was in China myself a couple of months ago and I visited the Birds Nest Stadium in Beijing and it’s extremely impressive, it’s iconic actually. I stood on, I crouched on the starting line where Usain Bolt started his, his race, which sort of blasted him in to history. And it’s a great, it’s a great stadium, architecturally, British company involved in the design and construction, perfect example of the two countries working together.
And of course we’re looking forward to having the Olympics here in 2012 and you know a different target, every, every Games is different, Athens before that, Sydney before that, different Games, but obviously they passed the Olympic baton on to us and we want to put on a big show.
Interviewer: Although we won’t have the budget that they have had.
JB: Well I think the, each Games will, will be different and each country that hosts the Games is in a different point in its own development. But, you know, Britain has an amazing sporting and Olympic heritage. We hosted the Games just after the Second World War, that’s the last time we hosted the Games in this country. Now obviously the world has changed and moved on a lot since then, but what we are hoping is that people come to London and to the other places in Britain where the Games are being held in 2012 and they see a country that is confident, that is doing well, and we are looking forward to welcoming people from right around the globe and making it a real celebration of sport.
Interviewer: Well this is a surprise question which I think’s going to come as a bit of a disappointment now. Perhaps I gave it too much of a build up. But around this time of the year with people that we interview we often ask for our year ender for them to look in to the future and I wonder if I could ask you as a member of the Government, also obviously the Foreign Office, if you could look at 2011 and, and sort of describe a little bit what you think the big challenges for Britain will be next year in, in 2011.
**JB: ** Well I think there’s some specific challenges. We have taken the difficult measures necessary as a new Government in London to get to grips with our terrible budget deficit that we inherited in May. And I think that people will see in 2011 Britain being increasingly a confident country economically, the best place to invest in the developed world, our economy growing, us pulling out of the global recession, but also getting our public finances under control.
And we will be confident players on the world stage, and that world is changing very rapidly. We have big growth rates in Asia, we obviously have established economies like Japan, but we have the economies that are growing strongly like China, like South Korea, like many of the ASEAN economies as well. So it, the world is taking a new shape. We have the G20 Summit happening in South Korea a few weeks from now and that will set the tone as well for 2011.
And I think the, the, the task for Britain is to make sure that we play a leading constructive enlightened role in what is an exciting change to the world order. And Asia is becoming a more prominent, more important part of the world. And we don’t resent that, it’s fantastic what is happening in terms of the opportunities for hundreds of millions of people around Asia whose prosperity is increasing, whose opportunities to, to live a life that would have been unimaginable for their parents and grandparents.
And that is, that’s exciting for them, it’s exciting for us, and we want to be, we want to be part of that in a positive way. We want to improve trade links, we want to improve cultural links, and we want to make sure that, that Britain and Europe more generally is part of that emerging and growing Asian success story in 2011 and beyond.
Interviewer: Well I think you just secured a, a very warm reception in Singapore with that answer.