By C. S. Kuppuswamy
President Thein Sein was on a state visit to India from 12 to 15 October 2011. His entourage of 69 people included a large number of his cabinet colleagues such as the Minister for Border Affairs, the Minister of foreign Affairs, the Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation, the Minister for Religious Affairs, the Minister of Industry and the Chief of General Staff and a host of other senior officials.
This is his third visit to India. He had earlier visited in 2004 (along with Sr. Gen Than Shwe) as Secretary-1 of SDPC and in November 2008 as the Prime Minister to participate in the BIMSTEC Summit. This is his first visit as the “Civilian” president after assuming office in March 2011.
After a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, Sarnath and Kushinagar, Thein Sein arrived in New Delhi on 13 October 2011.
At New Delhi he was given a ceremonial reception on 14 October 2011. He had delegation level talks with Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India and met the President of India as well as other Indian dignitaries.
During the visit, the following documents were signed:
1. Memorandum of Understanding for the Upgradation of the Yangon Children’s Hospital and Sittwe General Hospital; and
2. Programme of Cooperation in Science & Technology for the period of 2012-2015.
The Myanmar side conveyed its gratitude for Lines of Credit amounting to nearly US$ 300 million that had been extended by India, including for the development of railways, transport, power transmission lines, oil refinery, OFC link, etc.
The Prime Minister of India announced the extension of a new concessional facility of US$500 million Line of Credit to Myanmar for specific projects, including irrigation projects, each of which will be duly processed and approved in accordance with the modalities applicable for LDCs for such lines of credit.
India would also extend technical and financial support of following new projects:
(i) Setting up an Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education (ACARE) in Yezin;
(ii) Setting up a Rice Bio Park demonstrating the various techniques in rice biomass utilisation in the Integrated Demonstration Farm at Nay Pyi Taw.
As a follow up on the 4th meeting of the Joint Trade Committee that was held in New Delhi recently, it was decided to implement expeditiously the decisions taken, including the proposal to establish a Trade and Investment Forum at the business level, expand the basket of goods under border trade, visit of an Indian banking delegation to Myanmar to facilitate better trade and payment arrangements, etc.
Detailed discussions were held on border trade and it was agreed that:
a) Meetings between Indian and Myanmar customs, immigration, border chambers of commerce, officials of bank branches at the border, border trade officials (Tamu and Rhi –OSS Team) and Government officials would take place at Tamu-Moreh and Rhi-Zowkhathar at regular intervals.
b) The business representatives of the Manipur/Sagaing Region and of Mizoram/Chin State will also participate in these meetings.
c) Opening up new Border Trading points along the border for the economic upliftment of the people of the area.
d) To consider better functioning of the existing points and to facilitate movement of people and goods between the two countries.
The following also figured in the talks:
a) Progress on the Kaladan-Multi modal Transit Transport Project
b) Implementation of the Tamanthi and Shwezaye projects on the Chindwin river
c) Meeting of the Heads of Survey Department of India and Myanmar in November 2011.
d) Repatriation of Myanmar fishermen who drifted into Indian maritime territory
e) Development of the Rhi-Tiddim road and progress in establishing trilateral connectivity from Moreh in India to Mae-sot in Thailand via Myanmar
f) Co-operation the areas of Agriculture and Science and Technology
g) Scope of further investments by India in Myanmar in the energy sector
h) Expansion of air connectivity between the two countries
i) Cooperation in the multilateral forum such as BIMSTEC
The back to back visits of the Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang and the Myanmar President U Thein Sein to India in early October, 2011 and the interaction with both these leaders at the top level indicate India’s commitment to vigorously pursue the “Look-East” policy.
The Indian Leadership reiterated that there is no competition with China and that relations amongst nations are not a zero sum game. India has an important relationship with Myanmar as well as China.
India while welcoming the developments in Myanmar in its path towards democracy was rather subdued and cautious and considered such developments as internal matters. The spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs in his briefing to the press was also guarded to say that the Indian Ambassador is in contact with Aung San Suu Kyi, keeping in mind the diplomatic norms and that the interaction with Myanmar has neither been boosted up nor affected by the change to civil government in Myanmar.
It will be in India’s interest to improve the relations with Myanmar and speedily execute the projects under taken as India has been found wanting in this regard.
In the matter of security cooperation, India needs to nudge the Myanmar government to fulfil the commitments undertaken especially with regard to Indian insurgents in its soil.
Non-official opinion in India is still divided whether Thein Sein’s move to liberalize the regime is genuine or whether it is for tactical reasons for international acceptance. Indian efforts should therefore encourage Myanmar to take irreversible steps towards a liberal democratic regime. It is also equally essential for India not to abandon the democratic opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.