Visits Visits

Transcript of the Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary in Nay Pyi Taw on Prime Minister’s ongoing Myanmar Visit

May 28, 2012

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for coming.
Foreign Secretary will make his opening remarks and then the floor will be open to any of you who may like to ask questions. Over to Foreign Secretary.

Foreign Secretary (Shri Ranjan Mathai): Thank you.
I have not got a formal prepared statement. Akbar will be distributing the Joint Statement which the two Governments are issuing on the conclusion of this part of the programme of PM's visit.

This morning, you might say, the official part of the programme starting in Nay Pyi Taw began with a ceremonial welcome. After that there was a Restricted Meeting between PM and President of Myanmar along with some of the Ministers and officials. This was followed by a meeting in larger format with a larger number of Ministers and officials on both sides. The discussions were an occasion for a comprehensive review of bilateral relations. What you will find in the Joint Statement is a plan of action for cooperation in all areas of our bilateral relations. I would mention the language we have used.

The two leaders agreed on a vision for the future in the pursuit of the common good - bilaterally, regionally and globally. They agreed to cooperate in the areas such as border area development, transportation, connectivity, agriculture, trade and investment, promotion of friendly exchanges and human resource development. They recognized that peace and stability in the region is necessary for the development and well-being of the people of their respective countries. In this context, they emphasized the importance of close cooperation between India and Myanmar.

The Prime Minister of India congratulated the President of Myanmar on the path-breaking reform measures taken by the Government of Myanmar towards greater democratisation and national reconciliation. He commended the ongoing efforts at political, economic and social reform, which included negotiation of preliminary peace agreements with several ethnic groups as well as dialogue with various democratic political parties including the National League for Democracy.

The Prime Minister then reiterated India's readiness to extend all necessary assistance in this process. He recalled the successful visit of a Parliamentary Delegation led by the Speaker of India in December 2011, and India's readiness to undertake training programmes for Myanmar Parliamentarians and staff. I referred to that in my briefing before we came.

We had a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding which were concluded to enhance bilateral cooperation. I will list them. There was a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the operationalisation of the US $ 500 million Line of Credit. There was a Memorandum of Understanding on the Air Services Agreement between India and Myanmar. There was a Memorandum of Understanding on India-Myanmar Border Area Development. There was a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Joint Trade and Investment Forum. There was an MoU on the establishment of the Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education (ACARE). There was an MoU for establishment of a Rice Bio Park at the Model Integrated Farm here in Nay Pyi Taw, I do not know if any of you had time to go and visit it. There was an MoU on the setting up of Myanmar Institute of Information Technology. There was an MoU on cooperation between Kolkata University and Dagon University, which is also in Yangon. There was an MoU on cooperation between the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies and our ICWA. There was an agreement on cooperation between the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies and our IDSA. There was a cultural exchange programme for the period 2012 to 1215. And there was an MoU on establishment of Border Haats.

Among the subjects discussed, of particular importance was the security and counterterrorism. Both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to fight the scourge of terrorism and insurgent activity in all its forms and manifestations. They also agreed on linking the subject of security with border areas development and, as the Joint Statement says, identifying the need for special focus on the development and prosperity of people in the bordering areas. The two leaders agreed to cooperate by bringing about overall socioeconomic development in the border areas by undertaking both their infrastructure development as well as micro-economic projects, including upgradation of roads, construction of schools, health centres, bridges, agriculture, etc.

The second broad theme of the discussions was connectivity. Here I will refer to four or five different aspects of this broad issue of connectivity. The first was, we had referred to it before coming here, the Kaladan project which is an ongoing project. Both sides emphasized the importance of enhancing connectivity. And we welcome the finalization of the site of the Land Customs Station which will be on the Mizoram-Myanmar border. This project, once it is completed, would enhance bilateral trade, people-to-people contact, and contribute to the development and prosperity of the people living in that part of the Northeastern region which is somewhat land-locked.

There was also a reference to the upgradation of the Tamu-Kaleva-Yargyi road which will be part of the trilateral highway. In this context India is to undertake the repair and upgradation of 71 bridges on the Tamu-Kaleva Friendship Road which we had built some years earlier. The road segment itself would be brought up to highway standard on this stretch up to Yargyi. Beyond Yargyi the Myanmar side would undertake the upgradation of the road to a highway capacity. This will then establish connectivity from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand. Tentatively it is agreed that the trilateral connectivity should be completed by 2016, the target date.

There was also an agreement that we should launch a trans-border bus service from Imphal to Mandalay. The two leaders directed the concerned officials from both sides to finalize the modalities for its early operationalisation.

We are setting up a Joint Working Group to determine the technical and commercial feasibility of cross-border rail links as well as the feasibility of direct shipping links. This is a matter on which our Shipping Ministry and the shipping companies would get together with their Myanmar counterparts to consider whether there is feasibility for starting such a service.

Immediately there is a welcome of the new Air Services Agreement which is expected to enhance direct air connectivity and thus facilitate easy business interaction, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges.

The third broad theme, if I could mention, would be development cooperation. Here we will start with the Line of Credit. Both leaders, as I said, welcomed the signing of the 500 dollar Line of Credit. We had actually announced this last October. And then we had a further discussion and the Myanmar side wanted a specific template of how this would be actually operationalised. This has been completed. The Line of Credit will be utilized for infrastructure development projects including in the field of agriculture and irrigation. That is the first priority. The second will be rail transportation and electric power, but there would be other priorities which the Myanmar Government will decide.

In addition to this, I could mention the cooperation in the field of science and technology. The Indo-Myanmar Joint Working Group on Science and Technology was held in April, and they have identified priority areas such as agricultural biotech, post-harvest technology, biotechnology, medical research and renewable energy. The two leaders agreed that these decisions now must be taken forward.

One of the MoUs we signed was for setting up the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology. This will come up with financial and technical assistance from India. PM announced continued technical and financial support for the enhancement of IT skills over the next five years. The PM also announced fellowships for Myanmar researchers who work in Indian universities and research institutions, with ten slots being allocated every year. These fellowships would be in areas such as atmospheric and earth sciences, chemical sciences, engineering, life sciences, mathematics and physical sciences.

Under the rubric of our development cooperation programme, you are all aware we have what is called the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme. PM announced that the number of slots for training for Myanmar candidates would be increased from 250 to 500 per year, and the President of Myanmar welcomed this rather significant gesture.

Another broad area, of course in addition to the research side, would be agriculture. I have already referred to the Rice Bio Park, the Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education, and the training of the scientists. The Myanmar side has also requested that the assistance in this regard be extended to animal husbandry and dairy, dairy in particular. They mentioned their plans for a dairy project in the Shan State which is on the other border, and the Indian side has agreed to consider this proposal favourably.

Coming to the fifth theme, you could say it would be trade and investment. A target has been set to double bilateral trade within the next three years, which we feel is feasible given the potential and the new links which are opening up. In addition, both leaders emphasized that there is considerable untapped potential. There are possibilities for investment by Indian companies in areas such as oil and gas, ports, plantations, manufacturing, hospitality, ICT, and these would be encouraged.

The two leaders underscored the importance of the newly created Trade and Investment Forum which will be led by the Commerce Ministers of the two sides to enable timely and accurate exchange of information and ideas. In this context they also welcomed the establishment of a representative office of the United Bank of India in Yangon which is the first step in establishing business friendly banking arrangements for the two countries.

The Myanmar side also welcomed the proposals for training of Myanmar officials in the banking sector and it was agreed that the RBI would sign an MoU with the Central Bank of Myanmar on currency arrangements between India and Myanmar.

As part of the trade and investment promotion, the activities which have already been undertaken include the Enterprise India show which we held in Yangon in 2011 between CII and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and it has been decided to make this an annual event.

We have a number of business leaders who are in Nay Pyi Taw right now. They had a joint meeting arranged by, as I said, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry and some Government Departments. Three agreements were signed during this business meeting. That was for an oil block to be explored by the Jubilant oil company, for setting up of a paper mill by the JK Group, and for setting up of a pump plant by the Kirloskar. Right now, even as we speak, the Indian business leaders are meeting President Thein Sein in the Presidential Palace and they are expected to meet PM a little later.

We mentioned before coming that part of the trade facilitation but more seen as a development of the border region, is the subject of Border Haats. It has been agreed to set up Border Haats along the border. There is an MoU which has been signed to facilitate this. Both leaders also felt that we will later have to upgrade the banking infrastructure along the border to improve trading.

The next big theme, if I could mention, was cooperation in the field of culture. There is a cultural exchange programme for the next three years which has been signed. This CEP would also promote cultural exchanges between the Northern States of India and the bordering areas of Myanmar. The two sides welcomed the preparations that have been made towards organizing the International Conference on Buddhist Heritage in Myanmar in December 2012, with the cooperation of Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Myanmar.

The Myanmar side expressed appreciation of India's decision to gift a 16 foot sandstone replica of the Sarnath Buddha later in the year which will be installed in the precincts of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The Prime Minister will be unveiling a smaller replica, just as a gesture, of the gift.

The Myanmar side also conveyed its appreciation to India for the facilities and courtesies being extended to Myanmar pilgrims when they visit India. We mentioned the ongoing conservation and restoration of the Ananda Temple in Bagan by the Archaeological Survey of India, and this is expected to be completed in the next two years.

There is a plan to set up an Indian school for the first time in Myanmar, first time meaning after a very long time. I do not know whether prior to 1962 there were any exclusive Indian schools, but our Indian community here has been expressing this need from time to time. It has been agreed that we would examine how this school would function. Within the rules of the Ministry of Education they have some other countries which have established schools already. We will work together with Myanmar authorities.

The last theme was the regional and multilateral cooperation. Both sides felt that there is already very close cooperation both regionally and in international fora. PM extended his good wishes to Myanmar for its successful term as the Chair of BIMSTEC, and looked forward to further intensification of the ASEAN-India cooperation. Myanmar takes the Chair of ASEAN from 2014.

PM invited President Thein Sein personally to attend the ASEAN-India Summit which will be held in December in India, and the President has accepted this invitation.

That is where I will stop.

Official Spokesperson: The floor is now open for questions.

Question: Sir, the Joint Statement will probably mention the issue of Imphal-Mandalay bus service, but the fact is that there is no agreement this time. Why do you think this is happening? Is it because of some ordinary delay on the part of Myanmar Cabinet or there is more to it? Also, Sir, could you give some insight into what exactly the talks were like on cooperation between the two countries in oil and natural gas sector? Was there any assurance from the Myanmar side about encouraging investments from Indian companies?
Foreign Secretary: On the bus service, quite frankly there isn't a road which would permit that bus service to operate right now. When I talked about the road development, many of those segments which I was referring to were where there is no all-weather road yet, particularly in the stretch between Kaleva and Monywa. So, this requires first road construction to be completed before it is kept in mind. Further, the Myanmar side felt there were certain modalities which still need to be worked out. On our side we had only broad arrangements in mind, but the finer details of what kind of check-posts, what kind of arrangements on the border. So, they said the officials of the two sides should complete these formalities before the actual launch. The actual launch of the bus service, as I said, would require an all weather road to enable that bus to operate.

As regards oil and gas, yes, certainly the Myanmar President did welcome investment in the oil and gas sector. He said there are a large number of other companies from other countries also seeking to participate in the regular bids put out by the Myanmar authorities, and they would welcome Indian participation.

Question: Sir, is this the first time that an Indian company has gone in for exploration contract in Myanmar?
Foreign Secretary: No, actually the OVL, ONGC's arm, is a partner in one of the fields already. ESSAR Oil and Gas is holding in the A1 and A2 Blocks in the Coastal area. But this Jubilant block is onshore.

Question: Sir, was Aung San Suu Kyi discussed in the meeting with the President? And, would you give more details about this onshore oil programme? What does it mean?
Foreign Secretary: Aung San Suu Kyi was not discussed as such, but the President mentioned that as part of the search for peace and stability in the country the Government had reached an agreement with the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi, and this was part of the all-inclusive political process which the President believed was necessary for the country, and as a result of this inclusive process and this agreement she has been elected to Parliament and the Government looks forward to her participation in the Parliament. That was about it.

On the oil and gas, I will have to come back with little more specifics, but what I will say is that it is not a very major field, from what we understand from Jubilant, but it has a significant potential. It is onshore. They already have one Block in that area, and this addition will add to their capacity to develop the area if they strike oil.

Question: Where is it located?
Foreign Secretary: Can I come back to you later on that?

Question: It is close to Yangon, Sir.
Foreign Secretary: It is between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw. That is broadly what I have, but we will get you some exact details.

Question: The Government might not say it in as many words, but there are of course a lot of strategists who are talking about the significance of the timing of when India is actively moving into Myanmar and investing, especially given the fact that China is becoming a little bit of a problem for the Government here. How would you respond to those who say that this is India now moving in trying to fill in a little bit of a gap that perhaps China would be forced to vacate because the Government feels that there is a bit of a chokehold there?
Foreign Secretary: I do not think our plans to visit Myanmar or the activities of the Indian business sector are driven by anything but our own considerations. The calendar is set by us based on our own requirements and our discussions with the Myanmar authorities. I do not think any other third party comes into that.

Question: Was the problem of insurgency along the border in the Northeastern States discussed? If so, what other joint plans have been agreed to?
Foreign Secretary: It was discussed in some detail. Prime Minister raised this issue in the context of our own security needs. President of Myanmar spoke of Myanmar's efforts to bring the border regions under complete control. As I said, he gave an exposition on the attempts of the Government to reach what are called peace accords with the various ethnic groups. And he reiterated once again that no Indian insurgent group or any anti-India forces would be allowed on Myanmar territory. He emphasized that Myanmar is engaged, as I said, in these efforts to reach peace agreements and is also undertaking security action as and when necessary. They have full understanding of our position and our requirements. The border development and security, both sides felt, must go together. But it was also felt that it is necessary to have effective intelligence sharing between the security forces of the two sides, and our armed forces must intensify their cooperation. That was the context in which it came.

Question: Sir, are you satisfied with the final outcome of the Prime Minister's visit, and do you expect something more from Myanmar Government?
Foreign Secretary: We are more than satisfied with the outcome of the visit. In fact, we are thinking that along with this Joint Statement we will prepare a set of what you can call deliverables which you will then be able to see a very successful outcome.

If I can just come back to the question on oil, the block is called PSC-1. It is on the Irrawaddy delta, and it is not far from Yangon. Our Ambassador who has just joined us will tell us the larger significance of this Block.

Indian Ambassador to Myanmar (Dr. Villur Sundararajan Seshadri): These are onshore blocks which were on offer last year. Some of our companies participated in the bidding. Jubilant was successful and they have been awarded this block. We expect that there will be more such blocks coming up in the future. This is what we hear. So, there are opportunities for Indian companies to participate in the oil and gas sector in Myanmar.
Foreign Secretary: I will just answer that question a little more in detail. It is generally believed that Myanmar's potential is under-explored, based on the fact that historically Myanmar was one of the first oil-producing countries in the entire region, from a historical perspective. So, we believe that the potential is very very large. And if you see the number of other countries who are beginning to show interest, and interestingly right through the most difficult days of sanctions, western oil companies did not leave this country. So, that is something to keep in mind. The potential, if it does come through and does emerge, would enable us to revive the ideas of closer energy links. We may recall there was even talk once of having a pipeline if there was enough gas say to be brought on to India. Right now there is a pipeline going to China. But if there are more gas fields which emerge, if there are more oilfields which emerge, some of these ideas could come back into the operational domain.

Question: Foreign Secretary, what is the message Prime Minister will be taking to Aung San Suu Kyi when he meets her tomorrow? Sometime ago Aung San Suu Kyi expressed disappointment in India's approach especially towards pushing for more political freedoms in this country. Is there anything he is going to say to her to make her think that perhaps that was not a …(Inaudible)…
Foreign Secretary: I think the Prime Minister will say what he has in his mind. After he has finished, of course, I will be able to tell you indeed. But this much I could say that I think he would welcome the fact that she is playing now a larger role in the political life of this country, and we look forward to keeping in touch with her.

Question: Could you elaborate on the Border Haats and border area development programmes?
Foreign Secretary: On the border area development programmes, some months ago our Ambassador was actually taken by the Vice-President of this country to the Naga hills area and he accompanied the Vice-President. It was mentioned that there are large number of areas where there are small villages which are cut off, there are no roads, the road access is missing. When there is a road there is no bridge, when there is a road and a bridge and you reach the village there is no schools. Sometimes there is no clinic. So, some of these areas are where there has been trouble in the past which has now subsided. But the way forward is to develop small development projects in these areas. We felt this is an area in which we could cooperate. We have done it with other countries quite successfully, so, we would like to do this with Myanmar also.

Our armed forces also have a degree of cooperation which is not 100 per cent security-related. For example, they have been providing road-building equipment to the Myanmar Army to complete roads. They have been providing what are called bailey bridges for small spans. These programmes will also carry on together.

As regards the Border Haats, can you give us some details?

Joint Secretary (BSM) (Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla): Actually, the idea of having Border Haats was discussed at the Joint Trade Committee which took place in New Delhi in September last year and both sides agreed on the utility of establishing Border Haats at various locations along the Myanmar border. The sense is that Border Haats at various locations would benefit people living in the area and would function on the lines of Border Haats that we have already established with Bangladesh. As you know, the two Border Haats on the Meghalaya-Bangladesh border are already operational. And the MoU that has been signed just a short while ago by the Foreign Secretary and the Deputy Minister of Commerce on the Myanmar side provides for the setting up of a Border Haat on a pilot basis in Pangsau in Arunachal Pradesh. And it also sets out the modalities for additional Border Haats that the two sides could mutually agree on. And as I said, it is very important for people living in those areas. There has been a long-standing requirement of the Northeastern States, and I think this will fulfill that requirement in terms of benefiting people along the borders.

Foreign Secretary: Just a month ago both of us had gone to Mizoram as part of the exercise to see the point at which the Land Customs station where the road from the Kaladan Project will come in. While I was there I called on the Chief Minister and he mentioned this again to me. He says, why cannot we have Border Haats, there are a lot of tribal areas, areas in the border regions where the people can very conveniently sell and buy local produce. That is generally the idea.

Question: Sir, you talked about cross-border rail links and feasibility of direct shipping links. By when can we expect this become a reality?
Foreign Secretary: This will depend on how the operators actually see the viability of the systems. On the cross-border rail for example, I will just mention some of the issues which come up. We have been using the broad gauge rail whereas they use metre gauge in Myanmar. So, are you going to have gauge conversion? Will you have double tracks? These are the kinds of issues which the two Railways have to sit down and talk to each other about. But the Myanmar Railways has been expressing interest in buying rolling-stock from us, in obtaining technical expertise from us. So, those are the kinds of areas we will be able to start very quickly. But actually building rail lines that link in, might take a longer time.

As far as shipping is concerned, I believe this is a question of someone taking the plunge first. Traditionally, in times gone by, there used to be regular shipping services from both Kolkata and Chennai to Yangon. It was quite a familiar thing. Today the shipping companies say they would like to see the volume of trade increase, whereas the traders say they want the shipping service to increase the trade volumes. So, it has to be broken somewhere, and I think we will. We will get our shipping companies to come and take further studies of this. But I cannot set a timeframe on it.

Question: Sir, while there is positive movement towards increasing and growing relations between India and Myanmar, is there a concern and skepticism with regard to the Junta on whether they are going to stay the course or turn their back again and close down on India? Also, does India keenly monitor the security scenario with regard to Aung San Suu Kyi? Is there any intelligence to that effect?
Foreign Secretary: All I can say is that through the history of our relations with independent Myanmar we have always found that every Government irrespective of its particular formation and its constitution etc., had an interest in keeping a good relationship with India. That has not changed, and I do not think it will change either. The position of Suu Kyi in this country, that is an internal matter of this country.

Question: Sir, could you elaborate on the MoU signed between Kolkata University and the Dagon University? …(Inaudible)…
Foreign Secretary: I should have got the Vice-Chancellor, who is here, to answer that question.

It is broadly an enabling agreement which enables the two sides. What it says is, it promotes cooperation in the areas of exchange of faculty members, students, administrative managers and coordinators, academic materials and other information, joint research activities, participation in seminars and academic meetings, special short-term academic programmes, joint cultural programmes, and study tours for administrative managers and coordinators.

Question: Mr. Mathai, please correct me if I am wrong. I believe some time ago the Myanmar Army had asked for some hardware from the Indian Army. So far I think we are providing only non lethal equipment. Has there been any talk about that this time?
Foreign Secretary: This was not discussed on this occasion. There was no talk of it. But we have been cooperating with them, more with the Navy we have had regular cooperation.

Question: But this time there is no agreement on defence?
Foreign Secretary: On supplies of defence, no.

Question: I just wanted to find out about the air connectivity. What are the details on that?

Question: Will it be Air India?
Foreign Secretary: The air services agreement generally only lays out the possibilities, and it uses the word designated airline. Once there are permissions for designated airlines to fly, the authority in your country designates which airline has that right. What it does is, it gives the permission to designate more carriers. So, a larger number of airlines including the private sector should be able to come in. It increases the number of destinations. The most critical part is that for the first time it provides for what are called Fifth Freedom Rights, which means that you can land from India in Yangon and go on from there to Bangkok and pick up passengers in Yangon for the Bangkok sector also. The same would apply for the Myanmar airlines. If it were flying through India onwards somewhere, it would be allowed to pick up passengers. According to our airlines and our Civil Aviation Ministry, this for the first time really makes a difference. It makes the sector much more attractive for the private operators also. So, we think that with this the number of services should increase substantially.

Official Spokesperson: That brings us to the end of this interaction. We will have the Joint Statement available for you in the Media Centre as you go there, and also it will be e-mailed to you. Thank you very much.

(Concluded)

Nay Pyi Taw
May 28, 2012



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