Burma’s President Thein Sein arrived in Germany on Tuesday with the intention of drumming up investment. In Berlin on Wednesday, Thein Sein was welcomed to the economic heart of the European Union with a guard of honour.
A press conference followed a lunchtime meeting between the two leaders. Thein Sein assured German Chancellor Angela Merkel that democratisation in Burma would follow economic growth. The army general-turned-politician admitted to Merkel that difficulties have arisen as Burma has opened up.
Referring to the last three years as an “enormous democratic process”, Thein Sein told Merkel that the transition was being achieved “without spilling blood.” Merkel was more circumspect, telling Thein Sein that economic growth requires equality and tolerance towards minorities.
Since coming to power in 2011, a ferocious war has gripped northern Burma, leaving hundreds dead and over 120,000 civilians displaced. Religious tension in Burma has also erupted into violence across the country, with recent deadly flashpoints in Mandalay and the Arakan capital of Sittwe.
Germany is Burma’s largest source of European Union investment. In 2013, bilateral trade reached around 250 million US dollars.
While the trade figure has risen since 2011, it is dwarfed by Burma’s partnerships with countries such as China, Thailand and Japan.
Thein Sein was eager to thrash out further deals after meeting with German business representatives in Frankfurt. Merkel kept her focus on democratisation, criticising Burma’s recent clampdown on the media.