Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker expressed shock over the reaction he got Wednesday from a well-known leader of Myanmar when he broached the subject of fighting modern slavery.
The Tennessee Republican had breakfast with Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor and foreign minister of Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, at Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s residence.
“Just to be honest was somewhat shocked that … any official like her could be so dismissive of human slavery, so my antenna certainly has gone way up,” Corker said in an interview.
Corker has prioritized the movement to end modern slavery during his time at the helm of the Foreign Relations panel. So, it’s no surprise he would be one to discuss the issue with Suu Kyi.
“It’s an issue that’s important to me. It’s an issue that’s important to a lot of people, and I just found her to be somewhat arrogant about the issue and dismissive, and I was very put off by her lack of concern,” Corker said. “Much of that activity I know occurs with an ethnic minority that’s not her political base.”
Corker was referring to the Rohingya population, a Burmese group that The Economist has referred to as perhaps, “the most persecuted people on Earth.”
Corker pointed out that Myanmar has been downgraded on the State Department trafficking-in-persons report, which he called a sign that progress could be stalled.
“Based on her response, I could see why,” he said.
Biden’s office did not immediately provide a readout of the breakfast meeting or confirm lawmakers in attendance, though Foreign Relations ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland said he could not attend.
Suu Kyi, who is scheduled to hold meetings Thursday at the Capitol, was at the White House for an Oval Office meeting with President Barack Obama later in the day Wednesday.
Obama said that the United States would “soon” lift sanctions that remain in effect against Myanmar.
“The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that have been imposed on Burma for quite some time,” Obama told reporters. “It is the right thing to do in order to ensure that people of Burma see rewards from a new way of doing business.”
As for the concerns raised by Corker and many human rights advocates, Suu Kyi said,”we want to make sure that everyone who is entitled to citizenship is accorded citizenship as quickly and as fairly as possible.”
“This is what we are trying to do in Rakhine,” she said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said after the meeting with Obama that the administration was encouraged by Suu Ky’s comments on human rights.
“The president made clear in the meeting that it’s important for the Burmese government to uphold the human rights of all religious groups inside of Burma. And we have seen since Aung San Suu Kyi assumed office, a greater commitment to the pursuit of reforms that protect human rights,” Earnest said. “There certainly is more work that needs to be done, and there needs to be a sustained commitment to these kinds of reforms that reflects the priority that the United States places on universal human rights.”