Friday, January 16, 2009

Indian Vice President to visit Burma to strengthen bilateral relations

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - India's Vice President Hamid Ansari is set to visit neighbouring military-ruled Burma, in a bid to further strengthen bilateral cooperation between both countries, according to reports.

Ansari's trip will focus on consolidating India's energy interests in Burma and cooperation in infrastructure development, an official source was quoted as saying by the Indo-Asian News Service.

"Ansari will go on a goodwill visit to Myanmar [Burma] early next month. Preparations are under way," the report said.

Ansari's visit to Burma, which is a first for Indian leaders in 2009, is seen as a part of India's growing efforts to strengthen bilateral relationship with the gas-rich Southeast Asian nation.

Dr. Tint Swe, a minister of the Burmese government in exile – the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma – said Ansari's visit is part of India's efforts to appease the Burmese military government in order to gain wider foothold in the country.

However, he said, "It has been about 15 years now, but India's Look East Policy has still not been a success," adding that it was time for India to reconsider its policy on Burma.

India, which is Burma's 4th largest trading partner after Thailand, China and Singapore, is competing with China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan to tap natural gas from offshore gas reserves on Burma's western coast.

However, in December 2008, Daewoo International Corporation along with it's four other partners - Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), ONGC, GAIL and Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) signed a deal with the China National Petroleum Corporation, to supply Burma's offshore gas to China for 30 years from 2012.

India's ONGC and GAIL both held 20 % and 10 % respectively in Burma's offshore A1 and A3 gas fields, and has been appeasing the junta so that it awards the right to import gas.

The Shwe gas fields on Burma's western coast are estimated to hold a reserve of 4.53 tcf (trillion cubic feet) of gas.

India, which lost out to China in its race to buy gas from Burma, however, is also looking for other energy cooperation options, with Burma including the building of hydro-electric projects.

The two countries recently signed a pact on the development of Tamanthi and Shwezay hydropower projects on the Chindwin River, in Burma's northwestern Sagaing division.

But Dr. Tint Swe, who is based in New Delhi and monitors Indo-Burmese relationship said, "The two countries' bilateral relations does not help the Burmese peoples' aspiration for democratic change."

"But it helps the junta in strengthening their rule," he added.

Indo-Burmese bilateral trade reached a record of 995 million US dollars in the fiscal year 2007-08, while Burma's exports to India accounted for 810 million US dollars and its imports from India touched 185 million US dollars, according to Burma's official statistics.

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