Aung San Suu Kyi heads to Thailand Tuesday for her first trip abroad in more than two decades, ending an era of isolation and cementing her arrival on the global stage.
The former political prisoner, who won a seat in parliament in historic April by-elections, is expected to meet the Thai prime minister, attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia and meet Burmese communities during her several days in the country.
Suu Kyi, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, will emerge into a world transformed — the skyscrapers and frenetic activity of Bangkok presenting a stark contrast to her home city of Rangoon, with its crumbling architecture and frequent power outages.
She is due to arrive in Bangkok around 1440 GMT. The Nobel laureate’s plan to leave Burma for the first time since 1988 comes as dramatic changes sweep the country, after decades of outright military rule ended last year.
Suu Kyi, fearful that she would never be allowed to return, had refused to travel abroad in the past, even when the former junta denied her dying husband a visa to visit her from Britain.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies in Japan’s Kyoto University, said the visit signals “she is very confident in her position, confident with the ongoing reconciliation and political reforms”.
“She is going to say ‘My country has moved on and pro-democratic development is on the way’.”
The trip will also “convey a message” from the Burmese government that its reforms, which have caused unprecedented thawing of relations with the international community and easing of tough sanctions, are sustainable.
“Before the sanctions can be removed, the government have to earn legitimacy big time, so that is what they want from Suu Kyi’s trip,” he told AFP.
The 66-year-old icon will meet Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during her trip, but the timing has yet to be confirmed, the premier’s secretary general Thawat Boonfeung told AFP.
Suu Kyi is also set to visit Burmese migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province, south of Bangkok, on Wednesday according to local activists.
Thailand’s workforce is heavily reliant on low-cost foreign workers, both legal and trafficked, with Burmese nationals accounting for around 80 percent of the two million registered foreign workers in the country.
Suu Kyi is then expected to travel to the north of the country to meet some of the roughly 100,000 refugees displaced by conflict in Burma’s eastern border areas.
She is scheduled to speak in an open discussion with World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and appear at a session on the role of Asian women on Friday.
Burmese President Thein Sein, who is credited with a string of reforms that have prompted the international community to ease sanctions, has postponed his official visit to Thailand, which would have clashed with Suu Kyi’s trip.