Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina arrived in Naypyidaw yesterday afternoon for talks in which she will look to iron out business deals with President Thein Sein and strengthen bilateral relations.
Hasina and her delegation, including Foreign Minister Dipu Moni were met by Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin at the airport in the capital before having a formal meeting in a Naypyidaw hotel. They become the most senior-level Bangladeshi delegation to visit Burma in eight years.
With the stated goal of doubling bilateral trade to $US400 million in two years, Bangladeshi Commerce Minister Faruk Khan told Reuters of the trip that “[Hasina] will explore possibilities including buying energy, leasing farming land and joint hydro-electric projects.”
Both leaders have sought stronger foreign relations since coming to power, with Hasina seemingly looking to put a 2008 spat over maritime boundaries between Dhaka and Naypyidaw behind them. Her government has been pushing for access to the Burmese energy market, namely gas imports, a subject likely to dominate the agenda over the coming days.
The visit will likely also attempt to tie up access for Bangladeshi companies to enter the Burmese market and compete with other neighbours in exporting manufactured goods to the opening Burmese economy. Reuters indicated that pharmaceuticals and garments were among the possible Bangladeshi exports.
Talk on the delicate issue of the shared border is also likely to feature, with the Burmese government still seemingly in denial regarding the hundreds of thousands of Burmese Muslims, or Rohingya, who have fled the country’s western Arakan state, seeking shelter in neighbouring Chittagong province of Bangladesh.
The Burmese government reaffirmed its discriminatory racial profiling in parliament at the end of August. Immigration minister Khin Yi justified the continuation of Rohingya having to gain government permission to move between towns when he said: “Those who are labeled “Myanmar Muslims” were assumed to be Bengalis in Maungtaw of Rakhine [Arakan] State [and] Bengalis in Maungtaw have shared common religion, culture, appearance and language with their counterparts [in Bangladesh].”
It is notable that the Bangladeshi Ambassador to Burma, Anup Kumar Chakma, who is involved in the summit, is a Buddhist from the Chakma tribal group which lives along the shared border, and is closer in ethnicity and appearance to most Burmese.
The Burmese are building an electric fence the length of the border, and had strengthened military infrastructure in the region since the maritime dispute. The Bangladesh military meanwhile has increased its capabilities by acquiring the Serbian Nora B52 155 mm self-propelled howitzer and had asked the US for intelligence regarding Burmese troop positions.
Hasina also inducted a new Chinese-made air defence system shortly before leaving for Burma. Her Awami league government has courted China, with the potential for a trans-Burma road and rail link between China’s southwestern Yunnan province and Bangladesh’s second city of Chittagong a likelihood.
Bangladesh however is woefully short of energy, and as well as seeking Burmese gas imports, it was said to be looking into building a power plant near the border to run on imported Burmese gas from the Arakanese blocks. This was mooted after Commerce Minister Faruk Kahn’s recent visit toBurma, likely in preparation for Hasina’s arrival.