Myanmar president Thein Sein this week became the first leader from that country to visit Australia in 39 years. The president collected a number of goodies from Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the form of new aid and increased diplomatic presence at the embassy at Nay Pyi Taw. Outside Parliament House, a street rally threw a dose of reality on the proceedings, with protesters pointing out the very real human rights abuses in Myanmar.
It is easy to explain why Thein Sein accentuates the positive. He and his country have both gone from pariah to flavour of the year in international relations. And there can be no doubt Myanmar and its president deserve credit for reversing the descent into military-ruled despotism and a narco-state.
But the truth is that Myanmar today cannot gain respect merely by putting up the successes of reform to provide cover for its ongoing failures. Ms Gillard, to her credit, refused to share Thein Sein's enthusiasm when he told the Australian press: "What we are undertaking has no parallel in modern times."
Instead, she took care to point out that "it will take time" for Myanmar to fully emerge from its dark days. Australia admires the progress made, however, and remains optimistic of further advances. She set up a limited, two-year A$20-million (613 million baht) aid fund. Australia will also post a defence attache at the embassy in Nay Pyi Taw in the hope the Myanmar army will move towards becoming a professional force.
Thein Sein's visit was something of a victory tour, and a reset in relations with Australia. Still, Ms Gillard could have done a better job of articulating what she sees as priorities. The peaceful protesters outside the Australian parliament deserved better recognition.
Without doubt, the most pressing human rights problem in Myanmar is the plight of the Rohingya. It is the most important issue precisely because Thein Sein and most of his government do not believe it is a human rights problem. The refusal of the government to recognise the minority group as citizens is not part of the problem; it is the core.
Myanmar's policies towards the Rohingya drive and shape all other problems _ the violence in Rakhine state, the flight of boat people to Thailand, the loss of life, the worries of neighbours and the United Nations, and the growing concern about Myanmar in the Muslim world.
Myanmar refuses to recognise the Rohingya as citizens, and denies them identification and travel documents alike. This problem could be halted quickly by the president and his government. It is shameful that it continues.
Drug trafficking, the violence in the Kachin area and the heavy outflow of economic refugees affect millions of Myanmar citizens and people in Thailand and other countries. Without doubt, Thein Sein faces challenges as he moves to reform a tyranny into a free society. But fixing the serious human rights abuses is part of the challenge, not a separate problem, as he seems to suggest.
Ms Gillard voiced the common and popular hope that Myanmar will become a responsible and thriving member of the world community. But the protesters locked out of her meeting hope the transition will include rapid and responsible attention to fixing human rights problems as well.