August 17, 2022

Event Coverage Highlight

Pederson Portrays Plight of Suu Kyi in ‘Burma Spring’

Allan Dodds Frank and Rena Pederson.

Allan Dodds Frank and Rena Pederson.

Click here to watch the program on YouTube >>

Rena Pederson, author and former speechwriter for the U.S. State Department, began following Aung San Suu Kyi when she first heard the pro-democracy activist had received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She visited Myanmar, also known as Burma, and tracked Suu Kyi’s struggle from a distance for more than two decades. Finally in 2003, she sneaked past guards with the help of a diplo­mat to interview “The Lady,” who was still under house arrest during the 15 out of 21 years from 1989 to 2010 that she served as a political prisoner.

The interview is featured in Pederson’s biography of Suu Kyi, The Burma Spring: Aung San Suu Kyi and the New Struggle for the Soul of a Nation.

Pederson discussed her biography during a book night on June 10, the same day Suu Kyi made international headlines with an historic visit to China to meet President Xi Jinping.

Pederson said she found Suu Kyi to be an elegant and bright woman, who surprised her with “a charming sense of humor.” Rena told Suu Kyi that she meant to keep the interview brief in case they might be interrupted by po­lice, and had written just 20 questions on a sheet of paper, to which Suu Kyi chirped “20 Questions? It sounds like a quiz show.”

A few months later, Suu Kyi was sneaking out of confinement on the way to talk to supporters when hired thugs attacked her convoy. Student “honor guard” defend­ers linked arms to protect her, and more
than 200 people were beaten, Pederson said. “The military had guns, she had students.” Suu Kyi was eventually detained and taken to prison. She was released to house arrest, but this time in complete isolation. Pederson was one of the last people to talk to Suu Kyi for seven years.

Rena shared with attendees a list of her “reasons you should care about Burma,” including human rights abuses against Rohingya, Chin and other ethnic and religious mi­norities, opium farming and production, environmental threats and Burma’s key role in China’s global trade expansion.

In 2008 the two countries agreed to build an oil and gas pipeline to connect Kunming in China’s southern Yunnan province with the Indian Ocean. A $20 billion rail project along the same route was suspended last year.

Elections are slated for October or early November this year. Due to provisions in the country’s constitution, Suu Kyi is barred from running as a candidate because she was married to a foreigner, Michael Aris, the Cuban-born grandson of a Canadian ambassador, who died in 1999.

“Suu Kyi will be walking a tightrope,” Pederson said of her visit to China. Myanmar is caught in a “game of thrones” between China and Western nations, she said.

Click in the window below to watch a clip of Pederson’s remarks.