Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off his 11-day foreign tour on Tuesday with his first stop at Nay Pyi Taw, the capital of Myanmar, where he held bilateral talks with President U Thein Sein.
The focus was on beefing up engagement between the two nations in the areas of trade and commerce. Modi is learnt to have made a strong push for improving regional connectivity as a booster to trade and increased people-to-people cultural contact.
Modi landed here in the afternoon in a special aircraft and was given a ceremonial welcome. Tweeting after his 45-minute meeting at the Presidential Palace, Modi said that he and President Thein Sein reviewed the bilateral relationship. “Had a very good meeting with President Thein Sein. We had extensive discussions covering various aspects of our bilateral relations. We talked about strengthening ties in the fields of culture, commerce & enhancing connectivity,” he tweeted.
During the meeting, both leaders are learnt to have reviewed the progress of major connectivity projects between the two countries, including the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and the Kaladan transport project. “Both sides see the trilateral highway as an opportunity for industrial cooperation, and sought to explore the possibility of setting up industrial parks along the highway,” an official statement issued after the meeting said. The Imphal-Mandalay bus service also came up for discussion.
Both sides also reviewed cultural contacts and it was noted that students from Myanmar shall also study at Nalanda University. The possibility of India investing in Special Economic Zones in Myanmar was discussed. Investment in the oil and gas sector in Myanmar, and India’s assistance in development projects in the agriculture and skill development sectors also came up for discussion.
On Wednesday, Modi will attend the 12th ASEAN-India summit and the following day, he will take part in the 9th East Asian summit on the first leg of his three-nation foreign tour that will also take him to Australia and Fiji.
This is the second visit by an Indian PM to Myanmar in one calendar year after Manmohan Singh’s visit last March for the BIMSTEC Summit. India has undertaken a slew of connectivity, capacity building and development projects in Myanmar. Among the leaders that Modi is slated to meet here is Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
For the official talks, the agenda includes India’s keeness on the next ASEAN-India five-year plan of action starting 2016, focusing on improving people-to-people contact, ramping up trade relations and reinforcing the strategic engagement. The plan will also focus on security architecture in the region.
Issues on the anvil at the ASEAN summit meeting are the review of the ambitious connectivity project to develop the 3,200-km highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand that was originally envisaged to be completed by the end of 2017, and is now expected to be completed in 2018. India and the 10-nation ASEAN bloc hope to dovetail the connectivity plans with this highway project.
Modi in a tweet earlier this week had said that India’s ties with ASEAN are “deep rooted” and that strengthening relations with the nations in the grouping are an important part of its ‘Act East’ policy. He said he looked forward to meeting leaders attending the two summits in Myanmar. “ASEAN is central to our dream of an Asian century, where India will play a crucial role. Am sure the meetings there would be fruitful,” Modi had said.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
With the bloc’s plan to float an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015, the free trade pact in services and investment signed in September between India and ASEAN is expected to help the bilateral trade climb to $100 billion by 2015, from $71.6 billion in 2012.
The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a major forum for leaders in the region and it currently has 18 members. Besides the 10 countries in the ASEAN region and India, the other EAS members are Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the US and Russia. The EAS bloc represents 55 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for around 56 per cent of global GDP.