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Sushma on Myanmar mission

Sushma Swaraj

New Delhi, Aug. 6: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will travel to Myanmar this Friday at a time India is sniffing rare economic and diplomatic clout with its strategically crucial neighbour amid a drastic pullback in China’s investments in that nation.

Sushma will meet foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations and of the larger East Asia Summit — which also includes India, China, the US, Canada and Australia among others — in Nay Pyi Taw during her three day visit. The meetings will be followed by a regional security dialogue known as the ASEAN regional forum.

The foreign minister is also scheduled to meet her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for the second time in two months on the margins of the multilateral meetings, officials said. Sushma is also likely to meet the foreign ministers of Canada, Vietnam, Australia, Philippines, Brunei and South Korea.

But it is her bilateral meetings with Myanmar President Thein Sein, foreign minister U. Wunna Maung Lwin and other senior officials in their government that India is counting most on to deliver a roadmap for economic and strategic bonhomie under the Narendra Modi government.

Sushma is unlikely to meet Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who lives in Yangon and will not be in the Myanmar capital during the foreign minister’s visit.

Sushma will visit Myanmar at a time India, traditionally a laggard in foreign investments in most nations — including some of its neighbours — compared to China, has for once emerged as a larger investor in Myanmar.

“We’ve got an opportunity and we plan to give it our best shot,” a senior official told The Telegraph. “It’s not every day you get to say you’re ahead of China in investments in a country both are interested in.”

India invested over $300 million in Myanmar in the 2013-14 financial year while China invested less than $100 million.

But Indian officials know they have nosed ahead of China only partially because of the increase in India’s own investments in Myanmar. Diplomatic tensions between Myanmar and China, at a time India and Myanmar have enjoyed steady ties, have contributed significantly too.

Myanmar, as the current president of the ASEAN, has tried to stay equidistant from the member nations that include countries like Vietnam and Philippines that are locked in territorial disputes with China, for long Myanmar’s best friend.

That attempt at maintaining the perception of equidistance has not gone down well with China. Its investments in Myanmar, over $4 billion in 2011-12, dropped by 90 per cent to $400 million the following year, before going below $100 million in the last financial year.

“Unlike some others, we aren’t fair-weather friends,” an official said. “All our allies know that and we hope that helps us here too.”