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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary on upcoming visit of President to Myanmar (December 06, 2018)

December 07, 2018

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namaskar, good afternoon friends and welcome to this special briefing on Rashtrapati Ji’s state visit to Myanmar. As announced I have with me the Foreign Secretary of India, Shri Vijay Gokhale, Jt. Secretary Bangladesh and Myanmar, Vikram Doraiswami and Press Secretary to President Shri Ashok Malik for a briefing on the visit. We will start with the opening remarks by the Foreign Secretary and after that others will join and then we will take some questions from the floor. Over to Foreign Secretary now.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I want to brief you on the State visit of the Hon’ble President of India and Smt. Kovind to Myanmar. This will be a three day state visit from 11 – 13 December and this will be the first visit by a President of India in 12 years. The last visit was in the year 2006.

It is also the first visit for the new President of Myanmar. The visitor from India will be his first state visitor since he took office in March this year. Our President’s visit comes at the backdrop of several important political exchanges that have taken place in the last 18 months, Prime Minister’s visit to Myanmar in September 2017, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s state visit to India for the 26th of January 2018 when she was one of the 10 leaders at the ASEAN Commemorative Summit and then External Affairs Minister’s visit to Myanmar in May 2018.

I will run through the highlights of the program for our President during his visit to Myanmar. The President and the First Lady will arrive in Nay Pyi Taw very late in the evening on 10 December therefor there will be no engagements on that day.

On the main day which is the 11th of December there will be a ceremonial welcome accorded to the President at Nay Pyi Taw and this will be followed by delegation level talks with President Win Myint of Myanmar and then a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor and that would be followed by the signing of agreements which are still under finalization and we will be able to inform you about them shortly.

The same evening an official dinner or banquet will be hosted by the President of Myanmar and First Lady for our President and First Lady and this will also include a small cultural performance.

On the following day which is December 12, the Hon’ble President will visit the Advanced Center for Agricultural Research & Education and the Rice Bio-park. These are both Government of India projects funded by grants and at the Advanced Center for Agricultural Research & Education. The President of India will also launch a mobile application for agricultural technology. He will visit some labs at this institution and, at the Rice Bio-Park he will visit the Knowledge Centre.

Immediately after these two visits President and First Lady will emplane for Yangon. Later in the day on December 12 in Yangon they will lay a wreath at the Martyr’s Mausoleum that is also the resting place of General Aung San, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s late father and they will visit of course the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar.

Later that evening there will be a short meeting and a photo opportunity with veterans of the Indian National Army, the surviving members of the INA and this will be followed immediately by a community reception in honor of the President and the First Lady hosted by our Ambassador and in which about 500 people, mostly persons of Indian origin, will be invited.

On day three of the visit the President and the First Lady will begin with cultural programs, they will visit the Shri Kali Temple and the Mazaar of last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar and then the President will inaugurate Enterprise India exhibition. This is an exhibition being set up by CII of about 45-50 Indian companies ranging from very large Indian companies to small enterprises to showcase Indian manufacturing capabilities and industrial technology and later that afternoon the President and the First Lady will visit the Dhamma Joti-Vipasana Meditation Centre. They will leave very early in the morning on Friday, December 14 to return to New Delhi and therefore there will be no official engagements on that day. That is essentially the program that President and First Lady will have when they visit Myanmar.

Before I conclude I wanted to also put in perspective what this visit means for India. Myanmar is, of course, a close neighbor. It is also by virtue of being an ASEAN country the only one to which we are linked by land and sea. Therefore it serves us as a link to South East Asia and for these reasons it is a country to which India attaches importance from the strategic perspective, from economic perspective and from the cultural perspective given our cultural linkages and diaspora present in Myanmar.

We have over the years and to the best of our ability and within our capacity given financial support and project assistance to Myanmar in terms of grants close to a billion USD over the years, in terms of lines of credit close to about $750 million. A number of infrastructure projects are underway. This includes the Trilateral Highway which will eventually connect India to Thailand through Myanmar and of course the Kaladan Multimodal Project.

A number of smaller projects which are meant for community development are underway or have been completed. Two of them will of course be visited by the Hon’ble President. A couple of more hospitals, vocational centers are either completed or close to completion. We have restored the Ananda Temple in Bagan which is one of the most prestigious cultural sites. That restoration has been greatly appreciated by the Government of Myanmar. And late last year we signed the Rakhine State Development Program which was a program designed to assist the Government of Myanmar in Rakhine State to build housing infrastructure for return of displaced persons. 250 units were planned for the first phase and by virtual means, the President of India will in fact be dedicating or handing over the first 50 units to the Myanmar side. Again this is something which has been appreciated not just by the government of Myanmar but also by the United Nations and other agencies.

We have modest trade with Myanmar, about $1.6 billion and that is something we would like to see an increase in. We give very substantial training support to Myanmar, about a 1000 scholarships both on the civilian side and on the non-civilian side. So in a sense our relationship with Myanmar is diverse, it is growing more and more intense by the day. We enjoy very good political relations which is evinced by the fact that we have had, now, several top level visits in the last 18 months and we have good cooperation in the region both because Myanmar is a member of ASEAN and Myanmar is a member of BIMSTEC.

So I will stop there and if there are any questions I will take them but before that I would request my colleague, the Press Secretary to the President Shri Ashok Malik to say few words in supplement to what I have said.

Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ashok Malik: Thank you sir. After a very comprehensive briefing by the Foreign Secretary about Rashtrapati Kovind’s Myanmar visit I will give you few interesting pointers to the Rashtrapati Kovind’s visit.

This is President Kovind’s eighth state visit and seventh and final visit of the year 2018. This is also his first visit to a country with which India shares a land border. It is the second visit after the Vietnam visit recently to an ASEAN country. As the Foreign Secretary mentioned President Kovind will be engaging with the Government and Leadership of Myanmar on a wide variety of issues ranging from connectivity to investment, people to people ties and agriculture. He is also very happy that he will be visiting some cherished locations of the cultural commonality; Shwedagon Pagoda, the historic Kali Temple that goes back almost a 150 years and mausoleum of Bahadur Shah Zafar, a symbol of uprising of 1857. He will become second President after President Kalam to visit these locations and especially the mausoleum.

A three member political delegation is accompanying the President to Myanmar. It comprises Mr. Rajan Gohil, Minister of State for Railways, Mr. Ramprasad Sharma, Lok Sabha member from Tezpur, Assam and Mr. K Bhavnanda Singh who is a Rajya Sabha member from Manipur.

You may like to know that all three members of this delegation, the entirety of this delegation comprises parliamentarians from the states of the North East. This is a recognition of the fact that the development of North East is interlinked with the development of Myanmar and our relationship with Myanmar and it is a tribute to the Government’s Act East policy and the centrality of North East. I would like to stop there and be happy to answer questions.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir, thank you Ashok for the briefing. Now I open the floor for questions. We will take two at a time.

Question: Are you also resuming military assistance program to Myanmar. There are reports that six Kiran jet trainer aircrafts are to be handed over to Myanmar very shortly.

Question: As you have mentioned that Hon’ble President will first handover these 50 dwelling units to Myanmar, so whether India is convinced that the situation in the Rakhine State is now peaceful so that the displaced persons can go back to their home, because international community is still raising some kind of concerns.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: We have been giving military assistance to the government of Myanmar in terms of training slots for their military but with regard to provision of equipment and you are referring specifically to six trainer jets, I am not aware of any such proposal.

With regard to the question on situation in Rakhine State, I would like to distinguish between our Rakhine State Development Program and the situation there. The dwelling units that we are constructing is our manner of supporting the government of Myanmar to ensure that the necessary infrastructure exists as and when the displaced persons are to return and in a similar manner we are giving different kind of assistance, humanitarian assistance to the government of Bangladesh as well.

So far as the situation in the Rakhine State is concerned the Government of India has noted that governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar have recently reached a bilateral understanding and obviously as the only country that neighbors both Bangladesh and Myanmar we believe it is in our interest and in the interest of the region that this bilateral understanding is implemented as soon as possible and that the displaced persons return to their homeland as soon as possible.

As to the timing, as to the conditions, at to the law & order situation and so on that is a matter for Bangladesh and Myanmar to determine.

Question: I was in Manipur last year for covering elections and I am in touch with the people there. What I saw through complaint that on the border of India and Myanmar there are many times when Myanmar army comes inside Indian border and they also even destroy their houses and other logistical things. So is MEA aware of it and is any step being taken to stop such type of interventions inside Indian territory by Myanmar army?

Question: Bharat meinjo Rohingya sharanaarthihain, kya President ke is visit kedauraan ye bhi agenda rahega ki kaise ise time bound unko wapis bheja ja sake? Aur doosraa sawaal hai mera ki Bharatiya Railway Trans-Asia link par kaam kar raha hai Myanmar ke saath rail line badhaane ko lekar, to kya wo bhi agenda hoga ki kaise Myanmar ke saath Bharatiya Rail ko connect kiya ja sake?

(Will the return of Rohingya refugees in India in a time bound manner be an agenda during this visit of the President? Second question is related to Trans-Asia link of Indian Railways, so will that be an agenda during the visit, how to connect Myanmar with India via rail link?)

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: As you know the India-Myanmar border has been demarcated although there are few areas where demarcation still needs to be done and one of those areas is part of Manipur. So obviously there are overlapping situations there could be inadvertent incursions. However I think there is a very good understanding between the armed forces of both countries and we are at the local level, resolving all these issues.

So we do not see any problem with the government of Myanmar in this regard and we don’t think that government of Myanmar has any issue with us. We will continue to handle the situation and in consultation with the state government and in consultation with the government of Myanmar.

Doosra prashn jo Trans-Asia link ke baare mein, dekhiye ye jo Trans-Asia link ek long term Yojana hai Bharat Sarkar ki aur doosari sarkaron kii. Lekin abhi to humne jo lines of credit unko diya hai aur doosare jo projects hain, usmein ye abhi shaamil nahi hai halaanki hum chaahte hain ki land link ke alawa rail link bhi ho jaaye, between India and Thailand.

Jahan tak Rohingya issue ki baathai, jaise maine pahle kaha hai ki Bharat Sarkar chaahtehai, kyonki wo dono hi hamare padosi desh hain, ki dono deshon ne jo baat cheet kihai, jo samjhauta un donoke beech meinhuahai wo samjhauta jitni jaldi lagoo ho utna hi kshetra ke liye achha hai lekin samjhauta kab lagoo hoga, kis tarah lagoo hoga, kab waapis jaayenga, ye dono deshki Sarkar hi baat karke nirnay lengi.

(As far as the second question related to Trans-Asia is concerned, please note that this is a long term project of Indian and other governments. The lines of credit that we have given them, it does not include this project although we do want that beside land link we would very much like to have a rail link also between India and Thailand.)

Question Contd.: Sir, main jo Bharat mein Rohingya sharanaarthi hain unki waapasi ki baat karraha hoon. Kai baar Bharatiya agenciyon ne is tarah kii jaankaari dii hai ki jo Bharat mein Rohingya Sharanaarthi hain wo kai aatankwaadi gatividhiyon mein lipthain aur unko waapis bheja jaana chaahiye, to unke waapsi ko lekar koi agenda hai is yatra mein?

(Sir, it is related to the Rohingya refugees in India. Many Indian agencies have provided this information that the Rohingya refugees in India are involved in terrorist activities and they must be sent back. So is there any agenda relating to sending them back home in this visit?)

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Dekhiye ye sawaal jo hai wo aapko Grih Mantralay ko poochhana padega. Is baare mein Videsh Mantralay koi tippani nahi kar sakta hai.

(See, you must ask this question to the Home Ministry. Ministry of External Affairs cannot comment on this issue.)

Question: Need to ask about the Trans-Asian Highway, we have been hearing about it for the last, I don’t know, twenty years. Is there a time line when it will be operational? I hear that certain areas are working but when can one have a real proper drive through? And another small thing, how much Indian investment is there in Myanmar?

Question: From last month there have been several reports, even in the Mac about insurgents in Burma, in Myanmar coming into Manipur with IEDs. This is a security problem, is this issue likely to be raised during the meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi or the President?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: The Trans-National Highway or the Trilateral Highway, in large part has been completed by three separate governments. There is one issue which we are resolving at that is perhaps the last issue. There are some key bridges which span rivers and stream which are under construction and that work has already begun, these are against lines of credit.

Question Contd.: That was three years ago.

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: Yes, now the work is underway. It is likely to take time because we are operating in difficult conditions both geographically and in terms of security in some cases because of the disturbances in parts of Myanmar but this is a project which is important from government’s perspective and we are giving full focus to it.

On the investment, I will get back to you on this because I don’t have these figures. My colleague will meet you after this and give the figures to you.

In so far as the matter relating to IEDs, I cannot comment on the specifics of what has happened in the last two months or one month but this is a matter that we have raised at all levels, both at the local level where the commanders meet and at higher levels.

This is of course a presidential visit and in a presidential visit there is only a broad overview of relations that normally takes place. The President is not the executive head of the country but we will, in some manner or the other, express our concerns. Having said that I want to stress again that the two governments and the armed forces of the two countries have a very good understanding and we are able to resolve and we are able to discuss issues frankly and we are able to resolve them and therefore we expect that this time around as well any incidents that you mentioned, any incident that you referred to, will be discussed and will be resolved.

My colleague informs me that the investment in Myanmar is in the range of $740 million.

Question: You mentioned about the Kaladan Multimodal project, integral to it is the Sittwe port and was supposed to be operation by 2019 according to the timeline. Is there any clarity as to how it is progressing?

Question: There is also a Chinese port being built at Kyaukphyu. Are there any plans to link our infrastructure there with the Chinese port as well?

Foreign Secretary, Shri Vijay Gokhale: The Sittwe port is already operational. At this stage what we are now is in the process of doing is floating tenders to appoint a permanent port operator from Myanmar. So the Sittwe port is operational and the efforts are now underway to connect Sittwe port by road to the Myanmar-Mizoram border so that is the part of the Kaladan Multi-Modal project which is not yet finished.

There is no plan to connect Kyaukphyu port to any of our projects as of now.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you sir. This concludes our special briefing on President’s State visit to Myanmar. Thank you all for joining.

(Concludes)

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