India offers Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi help in energy, agriculture

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also offered help in restoring pagodas damaged by a recent earthquake in Myanmar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Myanmar state counsellor and foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Myanmar state counsellor and foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi at Hyderabad House, in New Delhi on Wednesday. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: Myanmarese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday said her country looked to India for its economic and political development as Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered Indian assistance in areas ranging from agriculture and education to power development.

In New Delhi on a state visit, Suu Kyi, who holds the posts of state counsellor of Myanmar (equivalent to a prime minister) as well as foreign minister, said her four-day visit “has confirmed the long standing friendship and trust that exists between our two countries”.

“We believe that India with its experiences so similar to us in many ways will be able to help us in our endeavours,” Suu Kyi said, adding that cooperation would encompass construction, energy, agriculture, archaeology and education.

“India has an understanding of our needs and we believe this understanding will increase with time because it is our intention to engage more closely together, to depend on each other for our needs,” she told reporters at a joint press briefing with Modi.

A staunch backer of Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy party through the 1980s and early 1990s, India changed tack and began engaging the military government in Myanmar—which put Suu Kyi under detention—when it realized insurgent groups operating in India’s northeast were able to establish bases in Myanmar. Also wary of the rising profile of its strategic rival China in Myanmar, India actively engaged the then junta-run government, investing in infrastructure projects, exploring oil and gas blocks and offering credit.

With the military regime releasing Suu Kyi from detention in 2010, India moved swiftly to mend ties with her. And with the NLD government taking office in March, New Delhi despatched national security adviser Ajit Doval to Myanmar in June with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj also visiting in August.

From Myanmar, the new president U Htin Kyaw visited New Delhi in August—a trip that almost coincided with Suu Kyi’s to China and, hence, seen as a balancing act between the two Asian giants.

However, news reports from Myanmar said Suu Kyi’s visit to China was aimed at securing Beijing’s support for a peace process involving armed ethnic groups from several of its northern provinces bordering China. “Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made clear she will pursue an independent foreign policy based on Myanmar’s tradition of neutrality but with a positive orientation predicated on Myanmar’s interests and regional and international cooperation. We should welcome that,” said Gautam Mukhopadhyay, a former Indian ambassador to Myanmar.

Suu Kyi “is personally well disposed and pro-democratic sentiment in the NLD and public also works in India’s favour as also a perception of India as a friendly neighbour and home of Lord Buddha. We should build on these,” he said in emailed remarks.

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi said Myanmar was a “young democracy” and “India is helping us, especially with capacity building.” She sought training for Myanmarese legislators and police personnel from India. On his part, Modi assured Suu Kyi of India’s friendship, support and solidarity. He noted $1.75 billion in development assistance had been extended to Myanmar previously and during Suu Kyi’s current visit. “We have agreed to enhance our engagement in several areas including agriculture, power, renewable energy and power sector,” he said.

The prime minister also offered to scale up power supply for Myanmar.

According to Mukhopadhyay, the best course of action to engage the new leadership in Myanmar would be to “step up trade and investment and focus our development efforts on areas that impact directly on people’s welfare” besides infrastructure like ports, power and roads that are capital intensive.

Earlier, addressing the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Suu Kyi said Myanmar was in the process of notifying a new Investment Law which would accord the same treatment to foreign companies as was being given to domestic companies.

With the enactment of the law, Suu Kyi said there would be transparency in contracts, the rule of law would be enforced and corruption would be curbed. Issues such as repatriation of profit and also of capital have also been addressed in the new law, she was cited as saying by a CII press statement.