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Myanmar’s active neighbour diplomacy sans ASEAN

Updated On: Feb 21, 2006

After visiting China, the Myanmese leadership looks set to welcome visits from India and Indonesia and even receive some aid from South Korea.

However, the visit from ASEAN’s official representative, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar is still not confirmed.

Myanmar Prime Minister General Soe Win was invited by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Soe Win was accompanied by six other ministers from Foreign Affairs, National Planning and Development, Commerce, Energy, Rail Transportation and Hotels and Tourism.

The New Light of Myanmar (Myanmar’s official media) reported that China has pledged 70 million yuan for Myanmar(though the paper did not say what this was for). China would also provide Myanmar with a low interest loan of US $ 200 million. This would be used for purchasing oil drilling platform and implementing work projects in MyanmarChina has also granted tax relief on 133 kinds of goods and provided exemption from 87 kinds of goods from Myanmar, and Chinese companies were urged to invest in Myanmar energy sector.

On top of what was seen as a successful visit, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs announced on Thursday 16 February that the President of India will be visitingMyanmar from March 8-10 at the invitation of the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar, Senior General Than Shwe." The press release added that, “This will be the first visit by an Indian President to Myanmar. Coming close on the heels of Chairman Than Shwe’s State visit to India in October 2004, the visit is the culmination of the upswing in bilateral relations in recent years.”  

The visit by Indian President will come after the visit by Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono who is likely to visit 1-2 March, according to Indonesian Presidential Spokesman Dino Patti Djalal

Myanmar received a further boost in its external relations as the South Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) announced that it will fund Myanmar’s development programmes with US$2 millions in 2006. This amount will cover projects in various sectors of health, agriculture, information and communications technology (ICT), electric power and rail transportation. South Korea’s investment in Myanmar had exceeded US$190 million in 2005 since Myanmar started accepting foreign direct investment in 1988.

Both India and South Korea are involved in the gas field project Block A in the Bay of Bengal. However, last month, Myanmar’s Minister of Energy, Brigadier General Lun Thi told the Indian ambassador to Yangon, RK Bhatia that Myanmar was unhappy with the lack of progress by India in laying a pipeline betweenMyanmar through Bangladesh to India. This pipeline is linked to the development of Block A (which is jointly developed by two Indian companies and two otherSouth Korea companies, Korea Gas and Daewoo). 

Brigadier General Lun Thi had hinted that competition from China was strong. Myanmar had also signed an agreement with China (in July 2005) on laying a pipeline from Myanmar to China. In a letter to the Indian ambassador, Lun Thi had said, “While no response has come from IndiaChina came in with an offer of a pipeline and investment and the minister is under pressure… What could I do? The responsibility to earn foreign exchange also falls on my ministry. I wanted to sell gas toIndia but China has been very aggressive.”

With meetings scheduled (or recently concluded) with ChinaIndia and Indonesia, and financial assistance announced by South Korea, it is no wonder that Myanmardoes not have time to meet with ASEAN’s official representative, Malaysian Prime Minister Syed Hamid Albar. Syed Hamid had expressed hope that he would be able to visit Myanmar earlier in order to have sufficient time to prepare for a report for the ASEAN Ministerial Retreat Meeting in Bali in April. Syed Hamid might just have to wait a little longer.

Sources:

Myanmar PM Returns from China Visit, Xinhua, 18 February 2006

Yudhoyono’s Myanmar Visit Seen in Early March, Reuters, 18 February 2006

Take it, or leave it for China, says Minister, Times News Network, 18 February 2006

Chinese Heat on Rangoon, The Australian, 16 February 2006

Syed Hamid Hopes for Early Date to Visit Myanmar, Bernama 15 February 2006

State Visit of President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to MyanmarMarch 8-10, 2006, India Ministry of External Affairs Press Release on 15 February 2006.

South Koreato Fund Myanmar Development Programs, Xinhua Net, 14 February 2006