PM for closer eco, pol ties with Myanmar

Yangon: Wrapping up his three-day visit to "critical partner" Myanmar, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today pitched for closer economic and political ties and said the two countries should upgrade their cooperation to a "comprehensive energy partnership" on an equal footing.

Underlining the historical links between the two countries, Singh said, "we again have an opportunity to work as equal partners to revive the ancient links between our two countries and rediscover the immense possibilities of cooperation that exist". He said India and Myanmar needs to work with each other and with other countries in the region to build prosperity, promote openness of thought and facilitate trade and movement of goods, people and ideas.

"Myanmar is a critical partner in India`s Look East policy and is perfectly situated to play the role of an economic bridge between India and China and between South and South-East Asia," he said in his address to the think-tanks, intellectuals and business community here. "We should work together to create a regional economy that can become a hub for trade, investment and communication in the region," he said.

Noting that Indian industry was keen to invest in Myanmar, where Chinese investment runs into billions of dollars, Singh said that in order to exploit the full potential of economic relationship, "we need to facilitate trade and investment". He added that bilateral banking arrangements need to be established to ease financial transactions and expressed his happiness that United Bank of India is in the process of opening its representative office in Myanmar.

Prime Minister said the energy sector is an area of great potential for cooperation. "There is a long historical association between the oil sectors of our two countries going back to the days of Burmah Shell. "India`s known oil reserves in its Northeast and the adjacent region of north and western Myanmar belong to the same geological terrain. We should upgrade our cooperation to a comprehensive energy partnership, which would include sharing of Indian expertise and capacity-building," he said.

Singh said better communication is the best way of promoting economic integration and "there is much we can do to revive and build arteries of communication." The Prime Minister expressed happiness with his discussion with Myanmar leadership. "I found him (President Thein Sein) to be a man of courage, vision and sincerity. The leadership of Myanmar has a great desire to expand and strengthen the traditionally friendly relations between our two countries. This is a sentiment we fully reciprocate from the Indian side," said Singh, the first Indian prime minister to visit Myanmar in 25 years.

"I wish to say that I am very satisfied with my visit to Myanmar. I see great potential and promise in relations between our two countries and I look forward to working with the leadership and people of Myanmar to build an enduring partnership of friendship, cooperation and common prosperity between our two countries," he said. Singh also talked about his morning meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, which he described as a "privilege".

"We in India admire her for her courage, perseverance and sacrifice. She is a patriot and I hope that she will make important contributions to the processes of change and broader reconciliation that are now underway in this beautiful country. She is also an old friend of India," said adding that India was looking forward to receiving her in her "old home" for Nehru Memorial Lecture. Prime Minister said India is implementing the Kaladan multi-modal transport project that involves upgrading the Sittwe port and constructing a highway to connect the town of Paletwa in Chin state to the Indian border in Mizoram state.

"This flagship project will revitalise the economy of the area and link it with important commercial and shipping arteries. We hope to complete it by 2015," he said. He noted that Myanmar invited India to assist in the development of two areas contiguous to the Indian border, namely the Naga Self Administered Zone of the Sagaing Region and the Chin State. He expressed confidence that both countries can surpass total bilateral trade target of USD 3 billion by the year 2015.

"But we need to diversify our trade basket. India can import more agricultural produce, coal and other minerals and export heavy industrial items, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and textiles," he said. Talking about political cooperation, Singh said Myanmar is entering a new phase in its nation building. "As a close friend and well wisher, we will be happy to see Myanmar join the ranks of the economically dynamic and politically vibrant countries of South-East Asia.

"India is ready to extend a hand of friendship to support Myanmar`s long term development priorities," he said. He also emphasised on expansion of people to people exchanges. "To this end, we are exploring the idea of a Mandalay-Imphal bus service to facilitate travel for tourism, pilgrimage and medical consultation. To this end, we seek to strengthen link with all sections of society," he said.

He said Indians wish the people of Myanmar well as they undertake the tasks of building a representative democracy, reconciliation with all ethnic groups and economic and political reform. The path to democracy must necessarily evolve in the unique historical and political circumstances of Myanmar and be based on the native genius and traditions of its people, he said. "Our experience in India has been that dialogue and peaceful negotiations are the best ways to bring about genuine reconciliation.

"I commend the efforts of the Government of Myanmar to achieve peaceful settlements with various ethnic groups. They should now embrace the democratic path fully and become active partners in the country`s progress," Singh said. He also said India was also working with local authorities to help organise an international conference on Buddhist heritage in Myanmar later this year. Singh also hoped that the very symbolic Trilateral Highway that will connect India, Myanmar and Thailand could be fully built by 2016.

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