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India-Myanmar relationship reaching a new level

Friday October 14, 2011 11:48:13 AM, Syed Ali Mujtaba

India-Myanmar relationship is entering a new era with the visit of Myanmar’s President Thein Sein to New Delhi. The three day visit from Oct 12-15, 2011 of the Myanmar president takes place in a context of some crucial development in the neighboring country that may have an impact on the bilateral relationship.

Myanmar is no longer a pure military regime. With the elections in November 2010, a 'civilian' government in place. An elected parliament and regional assemblies are functioning under the new constitution.

Even though the modicum of such democracy may be unconvincing but the fact remains the direction of change is apparent. The new president has launched a bold programme of political and economic reforms this March end, and this has set the ball rolling for the country’s tryst with democracy.

The movement for change has gathered momentum in the past three months. The reconciliation effort with the icon of democracy Aung San Suu Kyi, is a positive development.

According to her, President Thein Sein "wants to achieve positive change and Myanmar is in a situation where changes are likely to take place. This is sharp contrast to her previous statement when she called 2010 elections "a mishap."

The other significant development that is taking place under the new government is that dialogue has replaced armed conflict between the ethnic minorities and the Myanmar Army.

This again is positive sign because long years of armed conflict has not bore any result and the only way of reconciliation is through dialogue and that what is happening now.

Myanmar’s relations with the West, particularly the US and the EU, are
improving. Some of the key demands of the western countries are being
negotiated and its likely that some of them may be accepted by the
government. The release of political prisoners is one such move in
this direction.

The other major development is Myanmar's decision to suspend the
construction of the Myistone dam in the northern Kachin state, a project meant to supply electricity to China which was being executed by a Chinese corporation with massive Chinese investment, has caused substantial tensions.

So, one ne has to see in this backdrop the visit of Myanmar President U Thein Sein's goodwill visit to India to promote bilateral relations and cooperation with the neighbor countries. This is the first visit of the incumbent President to India, after assuming presidency on March 30, 2011.

Relations between India and Myanmar have been growing in the past few years. Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam visited Myanmar in 2006 and then two years later; Vice-President M.Hamid Ansari visited that country in 2009.

Myanmar's Vice Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Vice Senior-General Maung Aye visited India in 2008 and this was followed by the visit of the senior leader and Chairman of the SPDC General Than Shwe visit to India in 2010.

There is little doubt that the visit of President Thein Sein is significantly different from the visit of his predecessor, Senior General Than Shwe, visited India last year.

India -Myanmar bilateral trade reached $1.071 billion in 2010-11 and India stood as Myanmar's fourth largest trading partner after Thailand, Singapore and China.

India’s export to Myanmar is valued to be $194.92 million, while import is amounted to $876.91 million.

Agricultural produce and forestry products are leading in imports to India. India stands as a major buyer of Myanmar's beans, taking up 70 percent of the latter's exporting agricultural produce. Medicines and pharmaceutical products are topping India’s export to Myanmar.

India's contracted investment in Myanmar amounted to 189 million dollars as of March 2011 of which 137 million were drawn into the oil and gas sector in 2007. India stands 13th in Myanmar's foreign investors' line-up.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna signed a memorandum of understanding on building an industrial training school in Myanmar's Myingyan during his visit to Mayanmar’s capital Nay Pyi Taw in June 2011.

India and Myanmar have committed to the upgrading of border roads and maritime transport along the Kaladan River to boost trade. In December 2010, India has laid the foundation for the construction of port and waterway terminal of Multimodal Transit Transport Project, in Sittway Township in western Myanmar's Rakhine state.

The Kaladan River project, involving the Indian Inland Waterways Authority and ESSAR Projects (India) Co Ltd, is expected to be completed by 2013.

India has also committed to help Myanmar boost the ecotourism sector as part of its assistance rendered to countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by assisting in maintenance of ancient buildings in archeological and historical sites.

In April 2011, India and Myanmar has signed a memorandum of understanding on cultural cooperation to speed up all-round renovation of the Arnanda Pagoda in Myanmar's ancient city of Bagan.

Thein Sein’s visit is more likely to focus on bilateral business ties. The presidential entourage includes a large ministerial delegation and the presence of major economic ministries in the delegation underlines a greater desire to engage and invite India to participate in that country’s development agenda.

The powerful military is represented by the third senior-most general in the armed forces. This is a significant departure from the past when the military formed a major part of the entourage of senior general Than Shwe during visits to India last year.

A slew of important agreements on economic and trade matters are expected to be signed during the visit. As India and Myanmar share a border of over 1,600 kilometers, security issues at India’s northeastern border is like to be discussed with emphasis on improving the security environment on respective land borders.

President Thein Sein’s first six months in office have been remarkable. The Indian visit is going to be litmus test for him. Living up to the expectations, it is a foregone conclusion that India-Myanmar ties is reaching to a new level.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted








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