Indian President to Sign Aid Deals With Myanmar on Visit

By Nan Lwin 6 December 2018

YANGON — India’s president will arrive in Naypyitaw on Monday to promote his country’s Indo-Pacific strategy and sign several agreements with Myanmar, including support for its plans to repatriate Rohingya refugees sheltering in Bangladesh, according to India’s External Affairs Ministry.

In a statement on Wednesday, the ministry said Ram Nath Kovind will meet with both President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi during the five-day visit.

Political, economic and defense ties between New Delhi and Naypyitaw have grown rapidly in recent years. India’s Act East and Neighborhood First policies both encompass Myanmar, the only ASEAN member state with both land and maritime borders with India.

Strategically situated between Southeast Asia and East Asia, Myanmar is important to India’s Act East policy. New Delhi adopted an earlier iteration of the policy in 1991 to enhance economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asia in an effort to strengthen its role as a regional power and offer a counterweight to China’s influence in the area. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi later rebranded the policy to focus on strengthening political, economic and security ties with the countries surrounding China by developing its trade relations with them.

India’s External Affairs Ministry said a joint statement will be adopted during next week’s visit and several agreements signed based on the discussions Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had with Modi during his trip to Myanmar last year.

Myanmar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Myanmar has agreed to accept India’s offer to provide legal training and to build prefabricated homes for the refugees who have fled Rakhine State for neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 and that the deals would be singed next week.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled a military crackdown in northern Rakhine State triggered by coordinated attacks on security posts in the area by the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Bangladesh and Myanmar were to start repatriating them last month but called it off after it emerged that they had failed to follow through on assurances that the refugees would only be brought home voluntarily. The first group of refugees selected for repatriation refused to go and said they would not return to Myanmar until they were granted certain rights, including citizenship and freedom of movement.

Last month, India extended its 2012 Border Region Development agreement with Myanmar, which commits it to spending $5 million each year on development projects along their shared 1,600 km border, which includes Rakhine.

In October, Myanmar signed a memorandum of understanding with India to appoint a private operator for the Sittwe Port in Rakhine. The move is part of the Kaladan Multi-Model Transit Transport Project under the Act East policy, for which it signed a framework agreement with Myanmar in 2008. The projects aims to open sea and land routes linking eastern India’s seaport in Kolkata with its landlocked state of Mizoram through Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.

In January, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited India for an India-ASEAN commemorative summit. During the event, she met with Modi and discussed the development of Rakhine State and India’s further development assistance to Myanmar.

Myanmar signed agreements in November with 10 countries, including India, promising to protect their investments in the country and to push for more.