Sushma’s visit to Myanmar this weekend will have SAARC focus

Ties between India and ASEAN countries have reached "critical mass"

The government is extending its ‘SAARC focus’ to Myanmar, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj heading to Nay Pyi Taw on Saturday. However, unlike the bilateral visits to Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, Ms. Swaraj is visiting Myanmar for multilateral forums: attending the India-ASEAN Foreign Minister’s meeting, the East Asian Summit meeting for Foreign Ministers, and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), that focusses on security policy.

Announcing the visit, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said relations between India and the ASEAN countries have reached “critical mass” and they were in the process of pushing them to the next level.

At the ARF, India is likely to talk about the security situation for the region after the pullout of international troops from Afghanistan this year. Talks will also focus on trade between India and the ASEAN countries, which accounted for 12 per cent of FDI inflows at approximately Rs 1.39 lakh crore in the past year.

Trade and tourism

During her bilateral talks with Myanmar’s Foreign Minister, Ms. Swaraj will speak about enhancing connectivity, trade and tourism. Myanmar at present is relatively unconnected to India, with no direct flight between their capital cities. Only seasonal flights for pilgrim traffic operate from Kolkata. A chartered service between Imphal and Mandalay was inaugurated last month. “We see Myanmar as a bridge to ASEAN,” said Mr. Akbaruddin, adding that the Ministers would discuss the completion of the multi-nodal transit transport link between Kolkata, Sittwe and Mizoram, as well as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway under development.

Ms. Swaraj will not meet Myanmar Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said Mr. Akbaruddin. Official sources told The Hindu the difficulties were purely because of scheduling, and denied there were any political undertones to the decision. Ms. Swaraj will meet Myanmar’s President Thein Sein before she returns. She will also have meetings with the Foreign Ministers of Australia and several other ASEAN countries.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 3:23:29 PM |

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