Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be in Myanmar this week for a historic three-day visit as he seeks to strengthen trade and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries. The visit will be the first by an Indian prime minister since 1987. For many years, India refused to acknowledge Burma’s military rule, and soured relations by openly supporting pro-democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held as a political prisoner during the period.
In a statement, Dr Singh said that India is “committed to a close, cooperative and mutually beneficial partnership with the government and people of Myanmar”. He also hopes to see “stronger trade and investment links, development of border areas, improving connectivity between [India and Myanmar] and building capacity and human resources”. His visit will be part of India’s Look East policy, which aims to secure stronger relationships with Southeast and East Asia by deepening bilateral relations with countries such as Japan, South Korea and Indonesia.
According to the Foreign Ministry of India, Dr Singh’s official agenda includes road, rail, waterways and air links. Analysts believe that one of Dr Singh’s major concerns would be the growing influence of regional rival China over Myanmar and the rest of the region. China has dominated Myanmar’s oil and gas exploration projects in recent years, and has invested billions of dollars into building infrastructure in the developing country.
India, as with countries in the West who have recently lifted sanctions on Myanmar, is keen on investing in the country. Myanmar’s government expects trade with India to double in two years to $2 billion, with hopes that it will increase to $3 billion by 2015. Dr Singh has expressed his desire to explore new initiatives with Myanmar for further development of the two countries' cooperation in the years ahead.
Dr Singh will travel with a delegation of Indian business officials, and will meet with President Thein Sein and Ms Suu Kyi. During his visit, India will also announce the creation of an IT training institute, an agricultural research center and a rice research park in Myanmar.
On another note, Ms Suu Kyi will be flying off on Tuesday evening to Bangkok for the World Economic Forum (on East Asia). The trip will mark her first in 24 years.
Report: India PM Manmohan Singh in historic Burma visit [BBC, 27 May 2012]
Report: India PM seeks to heal bad blood on Myanmar visit [Reuters, 27 May 2012]
Report: Indian prime minister visits Myanmar [Wall Street Journal, 27 May 2012]