Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson in Nay Pyi Taw on Prime Minister’s ongoing visit to Myanmar

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin): Good evening friends and thank you very much for being here.

As you are aware, Prime Minister reached Nay Pyi Taw this afternoon and immediately afterwards he had his first meeting. This was with the host and that is President Thein Sein of Myanmar.

This was Prime Minister’s first meeting with President Thein Sein. Prime Ministercomplimentedhim about the way in which Myanmar has gone about arranging for this summit meeting, and also recalled the warm communication that he had received from President Thein Sein at the time of his election as Prime Minister of India.

On his part President Thein Sein congratulated Prime Minister and said that they had been following events in India very closely. He said that they had also been following Prime Minister when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, and his developmental model there. Amongst the first things that President Thein Sein did was he extended an invitation to Prime Minister to visit Myanmar for a bilateral visit because today he is here for a multilateral or a plurilateral event.

He said that there is a lot of commonality between India and Myanmar. President Thein Sein said that he sees India and Myanmar as brothers. He mentioned that whenPrime Ministercomes next he should perhaps also go to Bagan and to Mandalay because there are extensive links between India and those two regions.

He said that there was also theBuddhist connection too as there werealarge number of people in Myanmar who were very devout Buddhists and therefore the connect with India was that much stronger.

I will try and encapsulate for you the main issues that they discussed and I will try to summarise them. After that if you have anything else, we will try and respond to you.

The three main issues that they focused on were connectivity between India and Myanmar, cultural contacts, and commercial ties. They went into fairly great detail on each of these. I will only give you a broad-brush understanding so that you understand what were the areas that were covered.

In terms of connectivity they reviewed the major projects between India and Myanmar in terms of connectivity. These included the trilateral highway, the Kaladan project. And also Prime Minister raised the need to have the bus service between Imphal and Mandalay started at an early date.

In terms of culture they discussed about the Buddhism connect. President Thein Sein thanked Prime Minister for the students from Myanmar who are being admitted into Nalanda. As I said, he mentioned about these fraternal or brotherlycontacts as he referred.

Then there was a discussion about commercial aspects. Among the commercial aspects President Thein Sein indicated that Myanmar as a neighbour felt that as India grows and develops it would have a salutary impact on Myanmar too because India’s growth story could be of benefit to its neighbours.

They discussed various specific elements of possible commercial interactions including the possibility of India investing in some of the special economic zones in Myanmar. President Thein Sein did indicate the possibilities in some of these zones where India could invest given that the distances between some of these areas and India were very short.

Also he talked about the possibility of small and medium enterprises from India investing in areas where Myanmar needs. And there was a discussion relating to the potential of Indian companies investing in the oil and natural gas sector in Myanmar.

In addition they discussed about development cooperation projectsbetween India and Myanmar. These included development assistance that Myanmar had received from India in agriculture and in skill development.

I think broadly these were the areas that they covered. The meeting was for about 45 minutes. It was very warm and very cordial. And Prime Minister immediately accepted President Thein Sein’s invitation to visit Myanmar for a bilateral sometime possibly next year. These of course will be worked out through diplomatic channels. In turn he also invited President Thein Sein to visit India at an appropriate time.

So, this was a short meeting of 45 minutes. It was the first meeting that Prime Minister had. It was cordial and very friendly. And it was also focused in terms of issues on culture, connectivity and commerce.

I will also ask my colleague Ms. Sripriya Ranganathan if she would like to add something. Then we will be ready to answer any questions that you would like to ask us. Sripriya essentially is our Joint Secretary who handles Myanmar and Bangladesh. She is the pointsperson relating to all issues focused on Myanmar.

Joint Secretary (BM) (Ms. Sripriya Ranganathan):Thank you very much, Sir.

I do not have very much to add to what JS (XP) has just told you about the meeting that has taken place today. I would just like to give you a little bit of flavour of where we are in terms of our relations with Myanmar on a more general plane.

As you know, we share a very long border with Myanmar. I think it is a unique relationship in that it has never been a troubled relationship. It has always been a relationship of cordiality and warmth. Over the past decade plus, the extent of cooperation between the two countries I think has really reached a completely different plane not just in terms of the kind of exchanges that have taken place at the political level but also the kind of support that we have extended to Myanmar in its capacity-building efforts, in terms of building its infrastructure, and the response that we have got from Myanmar by way of their extending support whenever we have needed it in a number of forums.

I would say that the best example of this cooperation and this cooperative spirit is really in the decision taken by the two Governments to implement the Kaladan project because we see it as being a totally win-win kind of a project in which we get the access that we seek to ensure to our North-East while Myanmar gets an asset which it will be able to use and that will benefit the people of a fairly backward and under-developed state.

Looking forward, we are trying to do a great deal on the political front. We are expecting a whole lot of visits over the next few months which we think will further energise the relationship. This is something that we are really looking forward to because the extent of interaction at the Ministerial level has been less than what we would have liked over the past two years. That is something that we would like to correct now.

You all know about the history of Myanmar, the fact that they are a very new democracy. The interest level of Indian industry, India Inc in Myanmar has really increased I would say since 2011 and 2012 after the process of review of sanctions took place. That is when really our companies started feeling that this is a country which we should be looking at with greater interest.

All said and done, this is a relationship which is on the up and we hope to be able to make a lot of progress over the next few months.

Official Spokesperson: Thank you. The floor is open for any questions that you may want to ask.

Question:Would you like to elaborate on bilateral trade in terms of the numbers?

Official Spokesperson: Bilateral trade is well below potential. In fact this was also raised by President Thein Sein and Prime Minister. Both felt given that we are neighbours, bilateral trade which is approximately two billion is too low. There is potential for growing of this. Therefore, that is how the discussion went into SEZs, potential for Indian investors to invest here. And we are also thinking of ways to promote each other in each other’s country. I understand that during the course of the last year there have been several Indian delegations who are coming to explore potential partners here.

We also are in the process of inviting Myanmar to India to explain to potential Indian investors what are the benefits that they can draw from investing in a country which has huge natural resources. And this was repeatedly stressed by even Prime Minister who said that Myanmar as a country is blessed with natural resources. There is great potential for us to improve the bilateral trade. Although it is well below its potential, the effort is to enhance it.

Question:There is quite a lot of emphasis on the connectivity right for the past few days, of course in the briefing in Delhi, the PM’s observation, and this current briefing. Does this conflict …(Inaudible)…trilateral highway?…(Inaudible)…Were there any talks…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: Sudhakar, themeeting was togenerallyreview the bilateral relations rather than go into the specific details. You are right that the trilateral highway is for us a flagship project. You are also correct that it would perhaps slip beyond what was originally planned. However, this issue did come up in the meeting not in terms of this but the potential if we can also use the highway as an opportunity for our industrial cooperation.

One of the suggestions that was made was that if there could be potential for parks or industries to be set up along the way, that could be of benefit. So, it was not only a highway in terms of connectivity of people but also an industrial corridor. That was the context in which it came up.

Question:Imphal-Mandalay bus seva ke baare mein, connectivity badhaane ko lekar joh baat hui uski kya roop rekha hai? Kab tak shuru karna hai?

Official Spokesperson:Dekhiye, main yeh aap se keh sakta hun ki PradhanMantriji ne yeh mudda uthaya tha. Lekin jahan tak mera khyal hai, jab tak yeh road taiyar na ho jaye tab tak bus service on a regular basis will obviously have difficulties kyon ki roadtheek hona chahiye. Toh is baare mein bus itni hi baat hui thee ki hum jaldi se jaldi bus service koh start karna chahiye. Lekin hamein pata hai ki ismein kuchh kathinaayiyan hai aur un kathinayiyon ko hum door karne ka prayatna kar rahe hain.

Question:I have a question not related to this meeting. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could be meeting Prime Minister tomorrow evening. But today she cautioned leaders for visiting Myanmar that they should not be over optimistic about the reform process which is going on in Myanmar. Would you like to offer your comments about her appreciation?

Official Spokesperson: When Prime Minister meets her tomorrow that will be the best opportunity for both of them to discuss all issues that they may feel are of interest to India and to Myanmar. I think it is not appropriate to make comments on our part before any impending meeting between our leader and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. So, wait till tomorrow. At the end of that we will share with you what she raised and what were our responses to that.

Question:Myanmar ke Rashtrapati se mulaqaat ke dauran joh agli saal Myanmar mein chunav scheduled hai, usko lekar kuchh baat hui? Kya democratic process aage badhega?

Official Spokesperson: What was discussed was, from the Myanmar side the President explained his approach to the ceasefire that is a focus of his attention in terms of the ethnic communities in Myanmar. And he explained to the Prime Minister the process that he had set in motion and how they were going about it.

Question:Could you just give us an update on where we stand on the Indian fishermen issuein Sri Lanka?…(Inaudible)…

Official Spokesperson: You are aware that the Government of India gives high priority to the issue of the five Indian fishermen who have been found guilty in a lower court of drug smuggling and have been sentenced to death. You are also aware that we have said that we will pursue all avenues. I can confirm to you today that on behalf of those five fishermen an appeal in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court has been filed. This has been done by a lawyer who has been selected by the High Commission of India. He is amongst the top lawyers in Sri Lanka and he has filed that appeal. The Government of India will bear all costs of this appeal. We will pursue this, as I had repeatedly said, to the best of our ability. We are confident that justice will prevail in this case.

Question:Pehla toh yeh ki kya Barak Obama ke saath koi encounter hone ke chances hain Pradhan Mantri ke? Aur dusra supplementary yeh hai ki Barak Obama bahut saare ethnic groups hain unse bhi mulaqaat kar rahe hain. Joh ethnic conflicts chal rahe hain is samay Myanmar mein, aur joh political reforms ka joh slow pace hai, usko Bharat kis nazariye se dekhta hai?

Official Spokesperson:Pehle toh main ek Reporter ka ek hi savaal ka javaab deta hun. Yeh aap jaante hain. Toh main aapka ek hi savaal ka javaab dunga. Toh aap chun lein kaun sa saval aap puchhna chah rahe hain.

Question:Aap dusrevaale ka javaab de dein. Pehlevaala main pata kar lunga.

Official Spokesperson:Aapki joh marzi hai. Aapka joh hukm hai main uska palan karunga.

As regards India’s approach to these matters, I told you that there was a discussion today. Our approach as South Asians, as neighbours, is an approach which is different from other countries’ approaches. Ours is an approach where we will discuss all issues candidly, quietly and with understanding of issues that developing countries face. Other countries may have a different approach. So, we do not want to go down that road. Our approach has helped us. It has been a longstanding approach that India approaches concerns of developing countries with the perspective of a developing country.

Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction. We will see you tomorrow.

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