Oct 5: Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General MM Naravane, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC, and Foreign Secretary (FS) Harsh Vardhan Shringla, visited Myanmar on October 4-5, 2020. The visit provided an opportunity to review the sustained progress in bilateral relations which have been marked in recent years by regular high-level visits and interactions.
COAS and FS called on State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander in Chief of Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. COAS met Vice Senior General Soe Win, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Myanmar Armed Services. FS met U Soe Han, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar. Earlier, both sides had held extensive discussions in the areas of bilateral cooperation through virtual Foreign Office Consultations on October 1, 2020.
Both sides agreed to further strengthen their partnership in connectivity projects, capacity building, power and energy, deepen economic and trade ties, further facilitate people to people and cultural exchanges, and broad-base their defense exchanges across all the three services. It was also agreed to deepen cooperation to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. COAS and FS presented 3000 vials of Remdesivir to the State Counsellor, symbolic of India’s commitment to assist Myanmar in its fight against the pandemic. FS indicated India’s willingness to prioritize Myanmar in sharing vaccines as and when these become available. Myanmar appreciated India’s decision to provide debt service relief under the G-20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative, for the period up to December 31, 2020.
Both sides also discussed progress in the ongoing Indian-assisted infrastructure projects such as the Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. They exchanged views on an early initiation of work on fresh initiatives such as the up-gradation of Yamethin Women’s Police Academy, Basic Technical Training School, and measures to provide long term sustainability to projects such as the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology. They agreed to work towards operationalization of Sittwe Port in the Rakhine State in the first quarter of 2021.
Both sides noted the considerable progress made under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP) and proposed finalizing projects under Phase – III of the Programme, including setting up a skills training center. During the visit, the Project Agreement on the upgrading of agricultural mechanization under the RSDP was also signed. FS conveyed India’s support for ensuring the safe, sustainable, and speedy return of displaced persons to the Rakhine State.
The two sides discussed the maintenance of security and stability in their border areas and reiterated their mutual commitment not to allow their respective territories to be used for activities inimical to each other. The Indian side expressed their appreciation to Myanmar for handing over of 22 cadres of Indian Insurgent Groups to India.
India announced a grant of USD 2 million for the construction of the border haat bridge at Byanyu/Sarsichauk in Chin State that will provide increased economic connectivity between Mizoram and Myanmar. A quota of 1.5 lakh tonnes of Urad (Vigna mungo) for import from Myanmar till 31 March 2021 was also announced. The Centre of Excellence in Software Development and Training in Myitkyina, was virtually inaugurated. FS also inaugurated the Embassy Liaison Office in Nay Pyi Taw along with U Soe Han, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar.
The Myanmar side expressed appreciation for Indian assistance in the preservation of cultural heritage, including the repair and conservation of Bagan pagodas that had been damaged in the 2016 earthquake. The two sides discussed plans to install a bust of Lokmanya Tilak in Mandalay to commemorate his 100th death anniversary as it was during his incarceration in Mandalay jail that Lokmanya Tilak wrote Gita Rahasya, an exposition of the Bhagavadgita. Other areas of cooperation in culture discussed included translation of Indian epics into the Burmese language.
FS congratulated Myanmar for successfully holding the Fourth meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference and assured India’s continued support in sharing experiences in constitutionalism and federalism to assist Myanmar in its democratic transition.
In the last few years, both countries have made commendable strides in bilateral ties and explored new avenues of cooperation including fresh investments in oil and gas and power, infrastructure, and pharmaceuticals. Both sides have been in discussion to establish a High Capacity High Voltage Grid Interconnection between the Indian power grid and the Myanmar grid. Discussions on the low voltage radial interconnections between North-Eastern states and Myanmar have also progressed. The cooperation in the maritime domain and disaster management has been enhanced. Both countries have also continued to cooperate in various regional and multilateral fora. Initiatives like the successful implementation of the Land Border Crossing Agreement and ongoing discussions at the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Motor Vehicles Agreement, have been moving forward.
The visit of COAS and FS to Myanmar reflects the high priority both countries attach to sustaining the momentum in their expanding bilateral ties.