Nobel Peace Prize-winning freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi has encouraged the Australian government to look beyond bolstering relations with “whoever happens to be in power at the moment” in countries including her native Myanmar (Burma).
“After all, aren’t Australians supposed to be rather inclined to take risks?” Ms Suu Kyi said during her first visit to Australia, in which she also held talks with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on human rights, aid and democracy.
Mr Abbott told reporters after meeting Ms Suu Kyi in Canberra on Thursday she was an “icon of democracy”.
“She has suffered for her country, she has suffered for her belief in democratic freedoms,” he said at a joint media conference.
“It’s certainly good to have you here as now someone who is able to travel and to be in your parliament.”
Earlier on Thursday Ms Suu Kyi was in Sydney where she called on foreign governments to take a long-term view of her country as it worked to shed the vestiges of a brutal military regime.
While she understood the impulse for governments was to try to bolster relations with entrenched power, the smart money was on her pro-democracy party.
“I think many governments, not just the Australian government, generally like to get on with whoever happens to be in power at the moment,” she told an audience at the Lowy Institute.
“But as I said, it’s better to look to the long run.”
Ms Suu Kyi urged foreign investors to consider the good of her country, which has recently allowed elections.
“I know that when business invest they invest because they expect to make a profit,” she said.
“(But) you cannot divorce economics from politics, and I would like Australians investing in Burma to promote the right kind of political policies – that our country as well as their business might prosper.”
The National League for Democracy leader was under house arrest in Myanmar for most of the period from July 1989 to November 2010 and is running for president in 2015.
Ms Suu Kyi said the people of Myanmar shared Australians’ aspirations and it was important that international pressure remained to achieve constitutional change in her country.
“We all want peace, we all want security, we all want freedom,” she told reporters.
“What we hope to get for democracy in Burma (Myanmar) is a healthy balance between freedom and security.”
Mr Abbott said he understood some of the “exhilarations and frustrations” of being an opposition leader, having been one for the past four years until the September election.
“Let’s hope as time goes by for you in your country the exhilarations are greater and the frustrations are lesser.”
Ms Suu Kyi was scheduled to meet with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Thursday afternoon.