During the last day of Burmese President Thein Sein’s ten-day tour through Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, the Dutch government announced support for water management projects in Burma with a commitment of three million euros (US$3.9 million).
The Burmese delegation met with Prime Minister Mark Rutte, several Ministers, CEO’s and the Dutch royal couple on 9 September. The first formal visit to the Netherlands by a Burmese President didn’t generate much public attention, however. While journalists were offered a quick photo op, questions were not permitted and no press conference was held.
Trade relations between the two states aren’t as extensive as those with Europe’s main economies (the United Kingdom, France and Germany), but they have potential. Several Dutch corporate giants like Shell, Heineken and Unilever are planning more investments in Burma. The two countries also have a major common enemy: water.
The Netherlands, much like many parts of Burma, is low-lying and flood prone. A third of the Dutch lowlands are situated several metres below sea level, and the Dutch have specialised in protecting their land with a maze of dikes and pumps. Dutch leadership has pledged to share this expertise by training Burmese water managers to prevent future flooding in the Irrawaddy Delta.
The aid is not unconditional, however. Dutch Minister of Trade and Development Lilianne Ploumen emphasised in a press statement that, “Myanmar [Burma] has shown a quick and impressive development from dictatorship to democracy. But it’s an early start. It is important that the government involves all groups in the process and protects the rights of minorities”.