New Delhi: India will aim to deepen economic and strategic ties with key neighbour Myanmar during the visit of President Thein Sein—the reclusive state’s first nominally elected civilian leader in decades—to New Delhi.
Lines of credit to boost trade and support for Myanmar’s tentative political reforms are on the cards when Thein Sein meets Indian leaders, officials said Thursday. Thein Sein, a former general who shed his uniform for the 7 November polls, the first in two decades, arrived in Bihar’s Buddhist pilgrimage centre of Gaya on Wednesday, accompanied by as many as 13 cabinet ministers. He will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders in New Delhi on Friday.
President of Myanmar Thein Sein (L). Photo: AFP
Describing ties with Myanmar as “important”, foreign ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said “in terms of content, substance and the sweep, relations are on an upward trajectory.” Security, energy and trade are key issues from India’s point of view.
India, once a staunch supporter of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, reversed its policy and began engaging the ruling junta in the 1990s as New Delhi realized insurgents from its northeast were using Myanmar to launch attacks.
New Delhi is also keen to tap oil and gas fields in Myanmar to fuel growth in Asia’s third largest economy. Indian companies like the state-run ONGC Videsh Ltd, Gas Authority of India Ltd and private Essar group have a presence there. “Cooperation (in the energy sector) is quite extensive,” said Harshvardhan Shringla, joint secretary in charge of Myanmar in the ministry of external affairs. The Myanmar government has put out tenders for additional onshore blocks and is “quite receptive” to India’s concerns, he said.
India, which has extended some $250 million (around Rs 1,225 crore) in lines of credit to increase trade and economic ties with Myanmar, is expected to announce some more on Friday. Both sides are looking to increase trade—which was $1.28 billion in 2008—to $3 billion by 2015. Companies are looking at investing in bus assembly plants, agriculture and manufacturing, he said. The Indian government will also express support for the steps taken by Thein Sein towards political reform. They include talks with Suu Kyi, who was released from detention soon after the polls. Under the previous regime, she spent 15 of the last 21 years in jail or under house arrest. Reports say Suu Kyi has now been allowed to travel across the country, meet envoys from the US and the United Nations, and address audiences through video-conferencing.
“We are supportive of the transition to democracy and we believe the transitition should be broad-based and inclusive,” Shringla said.