Foreign Secretary’s visit to Myanmar: A productive outcome

Foreign Secretary’s visit to Myanmar: A productive outcome

The recent visit of Bangladesh Foreign Secretary to Myanmar for two days from 13 to 15 June is timely and reflects the desire of both neighbours to consolidate their bilateral relations.

Bangladesh has 271 km of border with Myanmar — both on land and on Naaf River. Bangladesh shares borders with two states of Myanmar — Rakhaine and Chin.

Although Myanmar is close geographically, it is too distant to travel by air because one has to fly first to a third country from Bangladesh and vice versa. There is no air link, no road link and no coastal shipping connection between the two neighbours.

However the initiatives taken by the two countries for the last two years will enable air link and coastal shipping to operate soon between the two countries.

Since 2009, there have been many high level visits between the two countries. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Myanmar on 5th December 2011 for two days and met President and discussed bilateral issues emphasising road and air connectivity between the two nations.

In early March 2013, Bangladesh Minister of Commerce GM Quader visited Myanmar.. Quader had discussions with his Myanmar counterpart Win Myint and reviewed the whole gamut of issues relating to bilateral trade prospects, in order to help their full potential.

To continue the momentum of bilateral relations, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque visited Myanmar to attend the 7th round of Foreign Office Consultations with Myanmar with his counterpart Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw . The meeting took place from June 13-15 at Nay Pwi Taw, the capital of Myanmar..

Foreign Secretary paid courtesy calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and other high dignitaries of Myanmar Government. Bangladesh delegation reportedly had meetings with Union of Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and other civil society representatives in Yangon.

During the meeting, Bangladesh delegation reportedly discussed wide-ranging of bilateral issues.. Besides trade and commerce, cooperation in the areas of agriculture, fisheries and livestock, culture and tourism, cooperation in the energy sector, import of gas & electricity, connectivity between the two countries through land, air and sea, curbing illicit drugs smuggling, cooperation among the border security agencies and armed forces were discussed during the meeting.

It may be noted that the Swiss-based World Economic Forum held its first meeting on 5th June for three days in Myanmar attended by government leaders and captains of multinational companies to explore the possibility of investing in that fast-opening economy.

Given the context, the discussion reportedly explored means and ways for further deepening bilateral cooperation in multiple areas including investment in the country. Furthermore, the repatriation of the Myanmar Rohingya refugees and return of the undocumented Myanmar Rohingyas from Bangladesh was also discussed.

The visit has been reportedly successful and both sides have agreed to take pragmatic steps to strengthen bilateral cooperation in all possible areas of mutual interest.

With the availability of all weatherproof road, people- to- people contact is bound to increase and consequently commercial and trade opportunities will receive further boost between the two countries. The road could also be used for establishing links with China and Thailand. Meanwhile China has agreed in principle with the Bangladesh’s proposal of road connectivity through Myanmar to China’s Yunnan province.

It is noted that in February this year, official and unofficial representatives from four countries-Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar–met in Dhaka to underscore the importance of road connectivity for economic growth among them and a team of enthusiasts from four countries made a journey by cycle from Kolkata to Kunming via Bangladesh and Myanmar.

It is reported that Myanmar and Bangladesh reached an agreement to resume the repatriation program of the refugees in Bangladesh. “We have encouraged the Myanmar government to restart the process. They have agreed and are looking for an appropriate time to restart the process,” Foreign Secretary Haque told The Myanmar Times on June 15. Though he added that a time frame for the implementation of the process has not yet been agreed upon and was contingent on “many factors.”

With regard to border areas, Haque said Bangladesh proposed the formation of a joint committee to look for solutions to border issues, with Bangladesh offering to host the first round of meetings. Myanmar is yet to respond to the offer, he said.

Haque also reportedly said that there was also a proposal from Bangladesh government to add two additional battalions of Border Guard Bangladesh to the area.

The geographical proximity makes both countries natural partners. Both countries have access to the Indian Ocean through the Bay of Bengal and both needs to cooperate in combating non-military maritime threats including piracy, illegal entry of weapons, drug trafficking, and oil-related and natural disasters. Both nations share many of the challenges that will shape our region in the years ahead.

Both countries should see cooperative efforts and interconnectivity as catalyst for economic growth and prosperity for the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar. It is expected that the visit of the Foreign Secretary will provide fillip to on-going cooperative and productive bilateral relations. It is clear that we can and should do more together.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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