Zin Mar Aung, a former student activist who spent 11 years as a political prisoner for her opposition to Myanmar’s military government in the late 1990s, won re-election to her seat in the main city Yangon in November, but was not allowed to take her seat when a coup ousted the elected government on Feb. 1. After joining fellow ousted lawmakers in the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, in March she was named Minister of Foreign Affairs of the National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel administration that rejects military rule. She wrote an open letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week urging him to talks to all sides of the conflict in her country. RFA Myanmar Service editor Aye Aye Mon spoke to Zin Mar Aung about the NUG’s stance on diplomacy by China and ASEAN, a policy shift on the Rohingya, and other issues facing the shadow cabinet.
RFA: China’s foreign minister has said Beijing’s priority in Myanmar is to meet and work with all parties concerned in the interests of the people. But just before the conference, the Chinese ambassador to Myanmar had met only with the military chief and made no efforts to meet with NUG representatives. What does NUG think of that?
Zin Mar Aung: China often says they are doing things in the interests of our people. But it is not the case. Though the entire world can hear the voices of our people, our neighboring countries pretend not to hear them. Referring to Min Aung Hlaing as the ‘leader of Myanmar’ showed total ignorance of the people’s desires. That’s why we sent the open letter and let the people know about our position.
RFA: Have you received any response from them?
Zin Mar Aung: No, but they have notified us that they have received our letter.
RFA: Some people have expressed concern about Chinese factories in Yangon and projects including the Belt and Road Initiative in our country. Do you think Wang Yi’s words will later be transformed into deeds? Do you think they will approach NUG somehow?
Zin Mar Aung: We have contacted the Chinese Foreign Ministry two or three times. Only if we have stability in our country and have a stable political system, will we be able to protect foreign investments. At a time when the military cannot even protect the lives and property of the people, how can Min Aung Hlaing provide protection to Chinese investments?
RFA: How important do you think China’s role will be in the rehabilitation of our country?
Zin Mar Aung: We have all along accepted the importance of China’s role. That’s why we want them, as an important ally, to understand the true situation of our country.
RFA: At a recent news conference, the NUG said it would recognize the Rohingya and would give citizenship to those who deserve it, and that it would abolish the 1982 Citizenship Law. However, Rakhine people have not accepted the Rohingya. Do you have any concerns about problems that could arise because of the NUG statement?
Zin Mar Aung: We had expected there would be concerns based on our policy statement. The decision was not made one-sidedly. We had listened to the voices of various stakeholders in Rakhine and had very frank discussions about what is acceptable and what is not. Some of them said even though they do not want to use the name Rohingya for various reasons, they have no objections about others using the name. And the Rakhines do not want to be blamed for the current plight the Rohingyas are in. There are Rohingyas who were citizens before the 1982 law and there are issues about their registration cards being taken away. When the time for implementation comes, we will have to carry it out very systematically, in accordance with domestic and international norms, to give recognition to these former citizens. Right now, we just want to let the people know our basic principles and policies that could guarantee their future. And we won’t be able to implement this until we can bring an end to the military dictatorship and bring out a federal democratic system that recognizes and guarantees human rights.
RFA: The International Court of Justice has fixed July 23 as the date for the second hearing in the case raised by Gambia. Aung San Suu Kyi attended the first hearing and people commented she had defended the military against the charges it faced. Will the NUG attend this second hearing if invited?
Zin Mar Aung: We have no intention of attending that hearing to defend the charges. We will accept whatever the court decides.
RFA: Aung San Suu Kyi told her lawyers recently that she didn’t have any news of the outside world. Do you think she will agree to the new developments and the work the NUG has done, especially the new policy on Rohingya? Because of the sensitivity of the issue, she had even avoided using the word ‘Rohingya.’
Zin Mar Aung: This is very difficult for me to answer. I have been in prison, too. Even though there was a news blackout we could still get bits and pieces of information in there. So I think she might know.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane