Los Angeles, CA – Marking a significant milestone in the history of US-Myanmar relations, the new Myanmar Consulate General office opened at 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 1590, in downtown Los Angeles yesterday (May 2), further strengthening the bilateral relationship between the United States and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Key elected officials and members of the business community commemorated the event with the grand opening ceremony from 10 am -11:30 am.
Mayor of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Honorable Michael D. Antonovich, presented a welcome scroll to His Excellency U Kyaw Tin, Myanmar Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and a commemoration plaque to the Honorable U Aung Kyaw Zan, the first Myanmar Consul General on the West Coast. The Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, sent a congratulations scroll to warmly welcome the Consulate to the city. Honorable Judy Chu, Member of US Congress from California’s 27th congressional district presented a Certificate of Congressional Recognition to the new Consulate General. The celebrations continued with a Gala Dinner honored by officials and business leaders from both countries later in the evening with over 200 attendees.
The US-Myanmar Exchange & Gala Dinner took place at the Hilton Universal Hotel on May 2 from 5:00-9:30 pm. The event marked the first time that community, private and government sectors have come together to learn and exchange information on culture, tourism, social-political climate and business investment between the United States and Myanmar. It was organized by Network of Myanmar American Association, Aung Zay Media and Myanmar Gazette.
Recognizing the strength and growing influence of the Myanmar community in California, several US lawmakers and California legislators attended the event. California is home to the largest number of Myanmar/Burmese Americans living in the United States estimated to be over 200,000 (2010 US Census data and 2013 BACI Refugee data). Honorable US Congresswoman Judy Chu, who is familiar with Myanmar issues, spoke enthusiastically about the growing activism of the Myanmar American community in Southern California. She vowed to work on improving U.S.-Myanmar relations and promised that she would take the community’s message to Washington DC. Ms. Chu has been involved with Los Angeles’ Myanmar-American community for almost ten years. She recently attended the Southern California Burmese Association’s annual Myanmar New Year celebration also known as Thingyan Water Festival, with nearly 5,000 participants along the West Coast.
Importantly, Honorable US Congressman Alan Lowenthal from California’s 47th District, serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Subcommittee on Asia Pacific, sent his congratulatory message to the US-Myanmar Exchange & Gala Dinner.
Honorable Bradley James “Brad” Sherman, representing California’s 30th congressional district, presented Certificates of Special Congressional Recognition to the three key event organizers for their outstanding and invaluable service to the community.
Honorable Ed Chau, California Assembly member, also representing the 47th District, and Betty Yee, California State Controller, were among the featured speakers representing the State Government.
His Excellency U Kyaw Myo Htut, Ambassador of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United States of America, sent a letter to convey his heartfelt congratulations to the organizers of the US-Myanmar Exchange & Gala Dinner, particularly the Network of Myanmar American Association, Aung Zay Media Group and Myanmar Gazette.
His Excellency U Kyaw Tin, Permanent Representative of Myanmar to the United Nations, New York, reiterated Myanmar’s determination to invigorate bilateral relations and bolster economic ties with the US, and stated that this opening of the new Consulate General Office reflect the US’s engagement and encouragement of the ongoing reform process in Myanmar. He asked the US business community not to wait until Myanmar’s reform process is complete or every condition perfect, but to help Myanmar develop quickly through increased trade and investments.
Honorable U Aung Kyaw Zan, the newly appointed Consul General in Los Angeles, noted the historic milestone reflecting the blossoming of Myanmar-US relations over the past four years and expressed his heart felt commitment to serve the growing populations of Myanmar descent in the US and all Americans interested to know more about Myanmar and/or to visit.
In the lively panel discussion with Jonathan Karp, Executive Director of the Asia Society Southern California, Daw Khine Khine Nwe, Joint General Secretary of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and member of the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), explained how businesses in Myanmar are embracing corporate social responsibility (CSR) today and how the MIC has been encouraging foreign investors to practice socially and environmentally responsible business conduct. She reminded the audience that social responsibility is part of Myanmar culture and expressed the Myanmar business community’s desire and preference for US/Western investment, but pointed out that the easing of US Sanctions has not helped Myanmar much since it is only a suspension subject to annual review which causes most US companies to remain in the wait-and-see mode. “If the US government is really serious about helping Myanmar, then sanctions must be totally lifted” said Daw Khine. She asked the international community to rethink the 4 L’s that portrays the behavior of most potential US investors (Look, Listen, Learn and Leave or Linger) and stated that this should be changed to Look, Listen, Learn and Let’s do something about it.
Ms. Karen Knudsen, Director of External Affairs, East-West Center, spoke about the East West Center’s ground breaking seminar program for journalists including the 2014 International Media Conference in Myanmar that resulted in rare frank discussions among participants from all sides of the media spectrum, from government representatives to journalists who had been imprisoned or banned during the years of military rule. The EWC was established by US Congress in 1960 to promote better relations and understanding among the peoples and nations of the US, Asia and the Pacific through cooperative research, education and training.
Dr. Miemie W. Byrd, President of Suu Foundation, addressed the dire healthcare situation and the crucial need for capacity training in Myanmar and shared the work her foundation is doing to support health and education in Myanmar. The foundation’s vision and goals are established by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Myanmar parliamentarian Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The speaker called upon Myanmar Americans and said that if every person of Myanmar descent in the US donated only $20 a year, there would be $6 million available to educate, to expand capacity training and to reduce poverty and death rates in Myanmar.
The dinner began with a welcome message from Aung Min Naing, co-chair of Net Myanmar, followed by a video message from internationally acclaimed Hollywood actress/producer Michelle Yeoh who has challenged traditional views of Asian women by creating very strong female roles. She spoke about her passion for Myanmar and her role in helping the Suu Foundation, a humanitarian organization dedicated to advancing the health and education of the people of Myanmar (Burma). Honorary Co-Chairs are former First Lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State and current Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.
Two California based Myanmar diaspora business leaders addressed the audience. Steeve Kay, President of Kay Family Foundation, noted the urgency of establishing peaceful coexistence for the myriad of ethnic nationalities in Myanmar and suggested that Myanmar Chinese and Myanmar Indian communities should also be counted as an ethnic group since large populations of Chinese and Indian are still living in Myanmar. He talked about the work his foundation is doing to improve lives there. Dr. Tony Chan of ABC Pharmacy Group spoke about his realization of the American Dream and encouraged the business community to find ways to engage with Myanmar counterparts.
Myanmar business representative, Mr. Tin Myint, Director of Suntac Technologies and Managing Director of Suntac Power, Myanmar, presented the audience with what his companies are doing to provide clean, affordable and reliable energy sources. He even talked about the work he has done for US companies recently entering Myanmar including Coca Cola but stressed that in order for Myanmar to fully develop and develop fast, US sanctions must be unconditionally lifted instead of leaving it in suspension as it is being done now.
Saisawan Klungness, CEO of AIM Star Network Corp. USA, represented the US based multi-level marketing company selling a variety of consumer products in the Asia Pacific region. She shared their phenomenal growth experience since entering the country 2 years ago and encouraged US investors to take a serious look at Myanmar.
Anthony Nelson, Director of US ASEAN Business Council congratulated the successful organization of the US Myanmar Exchange and Gala Dinner that will help raise awareness of opportunities in Myanmar and hopefully help bring some of the investment that people in Myanmar need.
U Win Aung, President of The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) sent his heartfelt congratulations and stated that the “Myanmar American Community can play an active role in days to come not only to further enhance and consolidate the bilateral relationship between Myanmar and US but also participate actively in our new era of economic development for mutual benefit.” The dinner ended with closing remarks by Noelene Kao of Aung Zay Media.