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Transcript of Media Briefing by Foreign Secretary during President’s State Visit to Myanmar (December 14, 2018)

December 14, 2018

Director (XPD), Dr. Venkatachalam Murugan : Before we start let me request you to please put your mobile phones in silent mode. To brief you we have with us Mr. Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs, His Excellency Vikram Misri, Ambassador of India to Myanmar, Mr. Ashok Malik, Press Secretary to the President and Mr. Vikram Doraiswami, Jt. Secretary from Ministry of External Affairs.

First, let me ask Foreign Secretary to brief you first and then Mr. Ashok Malik will make his remarks.

Foreign Secretary, Mr. Vijay Gokhale: From our perspective the focus of the President’s visit was to maintain a very positive and forward looking trajectory and to build up on the strong historical ties and on the strong relationship that we have at the present. And both the President of Myanmar and the State Counselor were equally emphatic about the importance of maintaining that relationship. The State Counselor, in fact referred to India as a friend which takes a fair and balanced position on all issues relating to Myanmar and the President of Myanmar said that our relationship was already at a very high point and that it could only go higher.

From our President’s perspective, of course, we reiterated our strong support for Myanmar’s unity and territorial integrity. The support to the government of Myanmar in maintaining that unity and bringing the whole country together and our commitment to assist Myanmar in whatever way we could to encourage and support developmental assistance.

One of the important outcomes of this visit was the visa on arrival will be given to Indian arriving by air and the hope is that this will increase tourism between two countries and therefore people to people exchanges. We are also hoping that in fairly short time the bus service from Imphal to Moreh and Mandalay to Tamu will also begin. This again will be both from the connectivity perspective and from the people to people perspective an important development.

Of course we are hoping to expedite the completion of important projects in Myanmar. The Kaladan Multi-modal project is reaching its final stages of completion. The port at Sittwe is already operational, we will be appointing a port operator soon and a number of other projects including small development projects are also underway.

So far as defence and security relations are concerned, these have always been, we have had a good set of exchanges between two countries and we flagged some of the issues that we had and the State Counselor did mention to the President that Myanmar take our concerns in this regard as seriously as it takes its own concerns.

So all in all it was a good set of meetings that the President had with the leadership of Myanmar yesterday. As you know last night there was a banquet given by the Myanmar. This morning the President made a visit to two flagship development projects that we have supported, the Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education and the Rice Bio-park. And in both places the President was able to see at firsthand how India is helping in capacity building and in research in areas were Myanmar requires our assistance.

So that was the program in Nay Pyi Taw. President arrived in Yangon earlier this afternoon and this evening he has had two important programs. He has met nine veterans of the Indian National Army. The eldest of them is close to 100 years old and they all travelled to Yangon to meet the President and the President expressed very warm sentiments for them and the President said that he is honored and the country i.e. India is honored because these are people who have fought for India’s independence and India’s freedom. And he recalled the contribution of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose along with the other great leaders of India’s freedom struggle and he honored them with a scarf and he spent some time with them and they really appreciated this gesture by the President.

Following that Hon’ble Rashtrapati Ji met the Indian community and he addressed the Indian community and he had very warm words both for India-Myanmar relations and for the contributions that the NRI – PIO community has made to that relationship and to the Myanmar and he expressed the support of the government of India and on his own personal behalf, support for Indians abroad and for the concern that the government has for them.

So I think this has been a very successful visit so far. There are some more important programs tomorrow particularly historical and cultural aspects of the relationship including the visit to the mazar of last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Perhaps I will leave at this point and maybe I will ask the Press Secretary to President if he has anything to add. Thank you.

Press Secretary to the President, Shri Ashok Malik:Thank you sir. Friends after a very comprehensive briefing from the Foreign Secretary there is very little to add. I’d just like to make two points. When the President travels abroad for his state visits, there are five broad pillars which are usually covered. Political relations, security and defence relations, trade and connectivity, development and knowledge sharing and of course people to people and cultural ties.

In some countries we cover two or three aspects and in some countries we cover the other two or three aspects. It is very rare that all five gets covered in one visit and the Myanmar visit, though a very short visit, we are only into our second day, has been a very packed visit and it has covered all the aspects, from connectivity to political relations as Foreign Secretary said, to of course the cultural aspect.

In that sense it has been a very rewarding visit. It has also been, as I said earlier, the first visit by the President to a country that shares a land border with India. One aspect that is very close to the President’s heart is the development of India is the development of states of North East of our country and this is something which he has mentioned several times at home and he reiterated repeatedly on this visit as well.

Every one of his conversations and public engagements he has spoken about the complementarity between the North East of India and the Northern and Western region of Myanmar and how connectivity and co-development projects in a sense will help both the regions and people from both regions. He had been very happy to take his commitment to the North East forward with this visit. I’d like to stop here.

Question from DD News: Aapne ek sadak connectivity ki baat ki thii Manipur se Mae Sot, ek to ye hai aur doosara aap ek port ki baat kar rahe they, to ye kab tak ho jaayega?

(You have talked about road connectivity from Manipur to Mae Sot and the other thing that you spoke about was port, so by when these things will be completed?)

Jt. Secretary (BM), Vikram Doraiswami : Jahan tak port ki baat hai wo port ban chuka hai, Sittwe mein port humne bana rakha hai, port taiyaar hai. Jo Foreign Secretary kah rahe they ki uska jo operator hoga, uske liye tendering ka jo process hota hai, bidding ka jo process hoga, wo taiyyar hai aur wo abhi chaloo hoga. Myanmar ki taraf se bidding ke document humne dekhe hain aur unki tippaniyaan humne maan li hain aur aagey jaakar hum kaaryawaahi shuru karenge.

To port taiyaar hai operations ke liye aur uske aagey jo inland waterway ka jo connectivity hai wo bhi taiyyar hai. Jo Foreign Secretary jikar kar rahe they ki uske aagey ka jo rasta banega, Palewa town se jo yahan ke Chinh state mein hai, Mizoram ki seema tak, wo abhi banana hai.

Doosara bus service ki jo aap baat kar rahe they, bus service ki Manipur mein kaafi demand hai aur kaafi utsukta se iska intezaar kar rahe hain. Ismein ye hai ki Manipur se lekar Mandalay tak bus service ki kaafi arse se demand chal rahi hai. Isko hum turant hi shuru karna chaah rahe hain. Ismein kahte hain ki ek coordinated bus service hoga kyonki abhi tak motor vehicle agreement nahi hai to bus seema paar nahi karega, Imphal se lekar Moreh border tak hamari taraf se bus chalegi. Jo yatri hai wo wahan par utar kar ke seema par karke Tamu border par Myanmar ki taraf se bus pakad kar Mandalay tak aa jayenge.

(As far as port is concerned that has been completed, the port that we were building in Sittwe has been completed. What Foreign Secretary was saying that the bidding and tendering process for port operator that is ready and which will start soon. We have seen the document from Myanmar side regarding this and we have accepted their remarks and very soon it will start.

So the port is ready for operations and the forward inland waterway connectivity is also ready. What Foreign Minister said was that the road from port to Mizoram border that has to be completed.

Secondly, you were saying about the bus service, yes the bus service from Manipur has very high demand and being eagerly awaited as the demand of bus service from Manipur to Mandalay has been a long standing demand. We really want to start at the earliest. It will be a coordinated bus services because till now we have not signed the Motor Vehicle Agreement and hence the bus cannot cross the border. Our bus will run from Imphal to Moreh border on our side. The passengers then will alight there and cross the border and there they will take another bus at the Tamu border which will take them to Mandalay.)

Question: Visa on arrival, when it is expected to be operational?

Answer : It is actually already operational. In the internal government communications they had intended it to be operational from December 1, but they told us during the visit that this is the decision that they have taken so effectively from tomorrow an Indian tourist arriving at any of the three International airports will be able to secure a visa on arrival.

Question: India and Myanmar share traditional and cultural relations but in past few decades for various reasons India kept itself a little aloof or isolated or whatever word we can use. Now that the present government has come into power we have started again our relations to rebuild. Is it a little late vis-à-vis our neighbors for, how do you see it?

Foreign Secretary, Mr. Vijay Gokhale: India’s relations with Myanmar have always been close and strong from before the time we were independent nations. Of course the relationship may have gone through ups and downs but as of now we enjoy a very strong, confident political relationship with the current government and also strong people to people relationship which is also linked by the persons of Indian origins and non-resident Indians here.

Our relationship with Myanmar stands on its own. We have a common border with Myanmar, we have cross border links with the Indian states of North East and Myanmar, we consider Myanmar as a land and sea link between India and ASEAN which again as you know is a priority for India for its Act East policy.

Our objective is to fulfill certain key goals that we are striving to in terms of connecting India to South East Asia, in terms of building stronger defence and security and economic relationship with Myanmar and in terms of ensuring our security in the Bay of Bengal region. So I would certainly say that our relationship is not predicated on any other country. It is predicated on very fundamental objectives that governments of India have pursued since our own independence.

Question: Apart from the cultural and ethnic relations, religious sense of Buddhism and all, what are other comparative advantage factors which India is having with Myanmar vis-à-vis China and other countries?

Foreign Secretary, Mr. Vijay Gokhale: My submission is that I don’t think we should be comparing our relationship with any other country’s relationship. We have a history which is different from that of other countries. We have a certain land and sea-based geography which is different from other countries. We have economic interests which are different. We have shared tribes and people which live on both sides of border which have been connected for centuries. We have to build on these foundations.

Our relationship with no country in the world is necessarily built on what each of us think about third country. That is not the way in which policy works. The foreign policy of India is based on where our fundamental interest lie and how we can build on those interests so I would once again reiterate that the people to people ties we have, the ties we have between the bordering regions of the two countries, the ties we have in terms of both of us being members of BIMSTEC, members of a number of other international organizations and the fact that ASEAN is an area of key interest for us and Myanmar is the only country that connects us by land, is I believe are very strong objectives which we need to pursue. And that is the basis on which we have a relationship with them.

Question: To take forward the Act East policy of India, are there any steps in the pipeline like ASEAN, BIMSTEC and other bilateral relations?

Foreign Secretary, Mr. Vijay Gokhale: This is a state visit by the President to Myanmar, I would not like to comment on our policy on ASEAN here. This is a state visit by the President of India to Myanmar, it is a purely bilateral visit. As I explained to you because Myanmar is a member of ASEAN, we see this as a link between India and South East Asia, but beyond that there is no multilateral aspect to this, it is a purely bilateral state visit. Thank you.

Director (XPD), Dr. Venkatachalam Murugan : With this we conclude this briefing. Thank you all

(Concludes)

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