Myanmar a Reliable Partner, says PM Modi

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Bangladesh is likely to seek Modi’s help in resolving the Rohingyas who are declared stateless people in Myanmar. Dhaka claims that they are not their people, while Myanmar is trying to push them out to Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s Foreign Affairs Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin was in India between July 14 and 17 on an official visit where he called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who conveyed India’s commitment to deepen the India-Myanmar bilateral relationship.

This is the first high profile visit since the Indian Army conducted a covert military operation against militant undergrounds active in the restive border region inside Myanmar in June. At the meeting with the visiting foreign minister, Modi emphasised Myanmar’s centrality for peace and stability in the region.

PM Modi said that India attached the highest priority to its relations with Myanmar, and conveyed India’s commitment to deepen the bilateral relationship in all areas, including in political, economic and security spheres and people to people contacts. Modi also called for greater bilateral collaboration in agricultural technology, research and the energy sector. 

The Indian prime minister reaffirmed India’s position as a reliable partner in Myanmar’s development and highlighted the importance of Myanmar for peace and stability in the region, and for India’s connectivity with Southeast Asia.

The Myanmar foreign affairs minister briefed Modi on the progress made in bilateral cooperation in infrastructure, health and development projects. The visiting Myanmar foreign minister also met his Indian counterpart Susma Swaraj at the first India-Myanmar Joint Consultative Commission meeting on July 16 where wide ranging bilateral issues were discussed. In a joint statement issued after the meeting both sides agreed that “greater bilateral cooperation between India and Myanmar will promote inclusive growth and development, and contribute to peace, prosperity and stability in their countries and the region.”

In a joint press statement the two foreign ministers expressed satisfaction on bilateral political relations. They noted that “India and Myanmar had entered a new phase in their bilateral relations where, as a result of Myanmar’s political and economic reforms and the rising growth and rapid economic and technological transformation, they had achieved commendable progress in their efforts to further strengthen the friendly ties,” said the joint statement.

Both sides noted with satisfaction holding of meetings of several institutionalised mechanisms such as National Level Meeting, Sectoral Level Meeting, Joint Trade Committee, etc. Holding of regular meetings of Joint Working Groups/Joint Committees to enhance cooperation in various areas such as science and technology, dairy cooperation, border haats and rail connectivity were also discussed at the meeting.

On defence and security cooperation, the two ministers “reaffirmed their shared commitment to fight the scourge of terrorism and insurgent activity in all its forms and manifestations.”

They alluded to the importance of sound border management as an intrinsic part of maintaining border security and agreed that negotiations should be conducted to enable early conclusion of the bilateral MoU on movement of people across land borders.

Both the ministers reiterated their determination to work together to resolve issues of unsettled boundary pillars in all sectors, said the joint statement. “It was agreed that “the first meeting of the India-Myanmar Joint Boundary Working Group, with a mandate to address all outstanding boundary issues, would be held in New Delhi at the earliest.”

The Indian side also committed to supporting Myanmar in modernising the latter’s armed forces and navy. Referring to the ongoing discussions between the two sides on maritime security the ministers agreed that maritime security cooperation in the Bay of Bengal is vital for both countries.

On trade and commerce, India and Myanmar agreed on working to identify and remove bilateral trade barriers.

India and Myanmar had agreed on doubling bilateral trade by 2015. To achieved this target the ministers highlighted areas of untapped potential for greater trade and urged the business community to capitalise on this potential. “Investments by Indian companies in areas like ports, power, agro-industries, forest products, mining, construction industry, consumer goods, highways, oil and gas, plantation, manufacturing, hospitality and ICT would be specifically encouraged,” the joint statement said.

Welcoming the 2012 decision to set up border haats, the foreign ministers directed the concerned authorities to finalise the modalities of operation so that bilateral trade through border haats can commence immediately.

Through the joint statement the two neighbouring countries also reaffirmed their commitment to facilitate direct shipping services that was launched in October 2014 with support and subsidy from the Indian government. “The Myanmar side would consider the possibility of reducing port dues and stevedoring charges so as to render this service viable.”

The two foreign ministers emphasised the importance of enhancing connectivity between the two countries as a means of promoting commercial, cultural, tourist and other exchanges; and expressed satisfaction with ongoing infrastructural projects in Myanmar. However, both sides stressed the need for early completion of projects such as Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project (connecting Mizoram to Sittwe port in Myanmar); upgrading Kalewa-Yargi section of the Trilateral Highway (connecting Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand through Myanmar); construction of 69 bridges and approach roads on the Tamu-Kalewa section of the Trilateral Highway; Rih-Tedim road in Myanmar (across Mizoram). The joint press statement noted that “the projects would enhance bilateral trade and people to people contacts and would also contribute to the development and prosperity of the people living in the land locked North Eastern Region of India.”

In mid-2012 India announced a $500 million line of credit to Myanmar to be utilised for infrastructural development projects in agriculture and irrigation, railways, road construction, telecom and rural electrification etc in Myanmar. This is besides the MoU on India-Myanmar Border Area Development fund for which the Indian side has informed Myanmar that the second-year projects of $5 million may now be utilised. Other important ongoing initiatives by India in Myanmar are hospital up-gradation projects in Yangon and Sittwe, as also setting up of Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education, Rice Bio Park and Myanmar Institute of Information Technology.

Taking a cue from the direct air connectivity on Delhi-Gaya-Yangon route launched in November 2014 and the Golden Myanma charter flights to India, the two sides agreed to take steps to further enhance the existing air connectivity by encouraging regular commercial flights between India, Myanmar and the rest of South East Asia.

On the much anticipated Imphal-Mandalay direct bus service, the two sides discussed conducting trial runs in the coming months in preparation for a formal launch.

On power and energy security the two ministers emphasised the need for closer cooperation and encouraged investment by Indian companies in Myanmar oil and gas sector, including in available blocks that are being offered for investment. They also agreed to encourage investment by Indian companies in the petroleum industry.

The possibility of joint ventures in Myanmar in the power sector, particularly in hydro-electric power, was also discussed. According to the joint press statement, the Indian external affairs minister has welcomed Myanmar’s proposal of establishing a coal based power plant in Kalewa. “[T]he proposal could be further discussed between the two sides,” the joint statement said.

The two countries have also agreed to cooperate in the field of academic, conservation and restoration of temples, BIMSTEC framework, UN reform etc.

Before returning home, Mr. Lwin took a trip to Jaipur, the capital of a northern Indian state of Rajasthan, where he visited ancient palaces. The visiting leader also conveyed Myanmar’s President U Thein Sein invitation to Modi. Accepting the invite, Modi said that “he looked forward to an early visit to Myanmar.”

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