By Mr Christian Lechervy , Ambassador of France to Myanmar
Every 14 July, the French gather together, celebrate freedoms, democratic and human rights values, assets that all the peoples of the world should share. All over the world, French embassies welcome their partners and friends and express their deep attachment to them. If this year many public events are upset by the rules imposed on us by the effective fight against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, I cannot hide my pride in serving the development of relations between France and Myanmar and inscribing our actions in a long history of friendship.
We sometimes forget that France and Myanmar share a common geography. Our two States both border the Indian Ocean and are committed to the preservation of this environment, which is nourishing and sustaining a rich biodiversity. Moreover, our two nations have long-standing political, economic and cultural relations, which predate even the establishment of our diplomatic relations proclaimed in the first quarter of 1948.
History and culture have nourished our bilateral relations so much that this year we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the joint archaeological mission in Halin (Sagaing Division). Joint scientific research has also been conducted for more than thirty years by teams of paleontologists on the Eocene formation of Pondaung, from which many fossils and objects have been extracted and are now displayed in the collections of the Nay Pyi Taw National Museum.
In 2021, it will be the turn of the French Institute of Burma (IFB) to celebrate its 60th anniversary in Yangon. Without interruption, the French Institute has been a space for education, intellectual exchange and home to all forms of expression and, even more so, to Myanmar men and women, in all their social, age, idea and gender diversities. Its Mandalay branch also conducts this mission of dialogue of cultures and education. This year, more than ever, the French Cultural Institutes in Myanmar and the Lycée Français International de Rangoun – Joseph Kessel were able to present innovative activities, using the digital technologies of tomorrow. Thus, distance learning courses and numerous cultural and recreational activities on the Internet and Facebook have been put online to reach a wide audience. In the garden of the Yangon Innovation Centre was inaugurated on 2 November 2019, in the presence of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a mobile digital museum presenting the collections of twelve French national museums, including the Louvre Museum. Open to the public, the “Micro-Folie Yangon” hosts numerous digital events to enable young people to discover the possibilities offered by digital creation and modelling of heritage sites in Myanmar such as Bagan.
Our cultural relations stimulate the creativity of artists. The first fashion show organized in Nay Pyi Taw in December 2019 showed the inventiveness of French fashion designers and accessories makers inspired by the richness of Myanmar’s textiles. The Goût de France – Good France gastronomy week made gourmets discover how Myanmar’s culinary specialities can combine with French wines and spirits, and how the products of Myanmar’s farmers, fishermen and stockbreeders resonate remarkably with French cuisine. As a symbol of these happy crossbreeds, for the first time in its history the Paris International Chocolate Fair awarded this year’s prize to cocoa beans grown by a French chocolate maker from Myanmar. Alongside cultural and artisanal cooperations, many economic projects promoted by French companies are developing. The companies are small, medium or world leaders. Gathered within the France – Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FMCCI) which now brings together nearly 200 companies, they are all concerned about the sustainable development of Myanmar, respecting the most demanding social and environmental standards in the development of their projects, and offering the best technologies and professional training.
French companies are committed to long-term investment, as demonstrated by their achievements and projects, particularly in the fields of urban planning, consumer goods, energy, services, telecommunications, transport, hotels and tourism. The visit to Paris of several members of the Myanmar government in recent months and a delegation from the Myanmar committee of the French business confederation (MEDEF international) to Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw at the beginning of this year demonstrated the extent to which the development of our economic exchanges is supported by the highest authorities of our two countries. On both sides, we are determined to implement the projects that have been agreed upon, but also to prepare, without delay, those of tomorrow.
Myanmar and France are building a close, long-term relationship based on mutual trust. The quality of our political dialogue enables us to address all the issues that are important to both sides without taboos and to work together in numerous international, regional, Euro-Asian and UN forums. The connectivity of people and territories is a common concern. It is also at the heart of French and European Union development aid programmes in Myanmar. Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and its Yangon office are the driving force and key partner. In recent months, its actions have been particularly supportive of the government’s Covid-19 prevention and control policy. Scientific exchanges, training of technicians, equipment deliveries and financial support have translated our solidarity into action. Those efforts will continue in the coming years as shown by the projects launched with the Reference National Health Laboratory (NHL) and those in the regions and States (e.g. Mandalay), the projects carried out in cooperation with neighbouring countries (e.g. Cambodia, Laos) or those implemented by civil society organizations.
The joint fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects mobilizes all our bilateral cooperation instruments. It has also generated a real surge of solidarity among the French people living in Myanmar. Businesses, French nationals and their families have stepped up local initiatives to support prevention and care efforts in Yangon and in the country side. These spontaneous gestures underscore the attachment of the French to Myanmar and its people. As we have just celebrated the 72nd anniversary of our diplomatic relations, we can say that we are preparing for the future together, together and in all sincerity: “Long live the France – Myanmar cooperation! ».