What do you worry about the most?
I worry that even those who want to reform are not quite sure how to go about it. There is so much to be done: This is why I am keen on an assessment by the World Bank as a first step towards finding out what we need to do.
Some say that the regime undertook the recent reforms because they believe that China is gaining too much influence here and they want the United States and the international community as a counterbalance to China? What is your view?
It’s not necessarily connected with our relations with China. A lot of officers in the Burmese Army have always wanted to have good relations with the US. Previously we have had good relations with the U.S. and some of the generals were trained in the U.S. The Minister of Labor had a stint at Fort Benning.
I heard he is the President’s liaison to you. Is that so?
That is right. He has been the liaison between me and the government for several years—since 2007. A few times a year we had a meeting at a government guest house.
What did you think of him?
He is intelligent, which is a plus. He has good will. He wants the right kind of changes. Before 2004, they had a designated liaison officer. But he was removed.My first liaison officer was a major and he rose through the ranks. At the end he was a brigadier. I knew some of the army quite well. I was the responsibility of the military intelligence.
You have some familiarity with army thinking?
Of course. And you must not forget that I come from an army family.
So they treated you well? They wanted to talk to you and find out if you were going to give up?
They understood early on that I was not going to give up.
[If democracy comes to your country], would you put people on trial for crimes against humanity? You previously mentioned the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa instead of the Egyptian model of putting people on trial in cages.
I am a great admirer of Desmond Tutu. I like quoting his words that he believes in reformative rather than retributive justice. I think he means it and I mean it, too. I don’t like putting even animals in cages. I would hope that people should be treated with dignity whatever they have done.
Right now, you hope for what?
I hope to win all the seats in the elections, which are very few. They aren’t giving it to us. They are going to contest this election themselves [the UNDP, the ruling party].
Do you think you can win all 48 seats?
Has there been a history of a 100 percent win? There are other democratic parties contesting the election.
Did President Obama ask your opinion about sending Secretary Clinton to Burma?
He asked if I thought it was a good idea and I said yes.
And you got along?
Yes, she is very nice and very intelligent. I like intelligent people.