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Myanmar: Transitioning to modern economy and a vibrant democracy
January 18, 2015, 9:10 am
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His Excellency Aye Khaing

Just a year into his tenure in Kuwait, Ambassador of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the State of Kuwait, His Excellency Aye Khaing was effusive about the enormous potential to further strengthen and widen bilateral cooperation and relations on all fronts between the two countries. In an exclusive interview with The Times Kuwait, Ambassador Khaing spoke at length about the resilient diplomatic relations between Myanmar and Kuwait, the economic growth of his country and the vast potential for trade and investment between the two friendly nations.

A veteran of Myanmar’s armed forces, Ambassador Khaing was a Brigadier-General in the army before he joined his country’s Ministry of Foreign Service in August 2011. “My first foreign posting was in 2012 when I assigned as ambassador to the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal where I remained until December 2013. I then took up my second posting and current assignment as Ambassador to Kuwait in January 2014. Since then I have been working in every possible way to promote and strengthen bilateral relations, cooperation and friendship between Myanmar and Kuwait,” said the diplomat.

“Although Myanmar and Kuwait are far apart geographically, we share common values and understanding. I am very pleased that our bilateral relationship has been gradually growing since 1998 when diplomatic relations were first established between our two countries. These cordial bonds of friendship received a major boost with the historic visit to Myanmar by the former Prime Minister of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah in August, 2008.

During this milestone visit, several agreements, including on Economic and Technical Cooperation, on Encouragement and Reciprocal Protection of Investments and a Memorandum of Understanding between Chambers of Commerce were signed between the two countries. I would also like to mention that during the visit, Kuwait also graciously donated US$2 million to help alleviate the suffering of those affected by devastating Cyclone Nagis that struck Myanmar in 2008.

Following the Kuwaiti prime minister’s landmark visit, Myanmar opened its embassy here in May 2009 and Kuwait inaugurated its embassy in Yangon, Myanmar in January 2012. Since opening diplomatic missions several high-ranking visits by dignitaries of both countries have taken place, including the visit in 2010 by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to attend the First Bilateral Consultations between both countries’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a founder member of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) we were also actively involved in the ACD Summit, which Kuwait hosted in October 2012. Our Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs was here to participate in the ACD Ministerial Meetings and Senior Officials Meetings which were held in 2011 and 2012.”

Elaborating on Myanmar’s significant social, economic and political gains made in recent years, Ambassador Khaing said, “Since April 2011, our country has embarked on an irreversible and steady transition towards a multiparty democracy aimed at fulfilling aspirations of the 50 million people of Myanmar. Peaceful socio-economic development of the country is a priority for us and to achieve this, our government has been planning and implementing several social and economic reforms.  The structural reforms initiated by the government have resulted in significant economic developments in fiscal year 2014 - 15. Increased investments, improved business confidence, higher commodity and natural resource exports and a buoyant tourism sector, have allowed the country to achieve in 2014 a 7.8 percent annual growth rate in GDP and foreign direct investment in excess of US$6.3 billion.”

An important component in the country’s transition to a modern economy is the ongoing financial reforms, which in 2015 will see the sale of government bonds, development of banking sector, encouragement of small and medium enterprises and setting up of Myanmar’s first Stock Exchange, the Yangon Stock Exchange. Other reforms implemented in the financial sector comprise of revised public sector salaries and a more efficient tax regimen that allows people to pay their taxes systematically.

The effective collection of taxes has allowed the government to plan and implement tax revenue utilization in a transparent manner so as to be of most benefit to the people. In addition, the government’s keenness for social development of the country has also led to the implementation of many civic schemes, including low-cost housing for the poor, improved public healthcare and the distribution of education grants, scholarships and vocational training to further develop the capacity and capability of the country’s human resources.

More opportunities are being created for employment and improvement of workforce skills and capacity. It is noteworthy that an important driver of the economy in 2014 was the telecommunication sector which saw major investments by international telecommunication companies. The mobile penetration rate, which was a low three percent a few years ago, is now around 23 percent and steadily increasing. The ease with which news and information can be disseminated through these mobile networks is not only important for the economy, education, health and research fields, but is also an important foundation for building a democratic society.

“It is my endeavor during my tenure to further promote bilateral trade between Myanmar and Kuwait. However, in order to do so, businesses in both countries need to be aware about business situations, potentials and opportunities in each other’s markets. In this regard, I believe that the Chambers of Commerce could play a significant role by encouraging and organizing visits by business delegations from the two nations.

For our part, the embassy here, as well as the Directorate of Trade and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce, stand ready to assist Kuwait businesses, entrepreneurs and investors wishing to participate in the growth of Myanmar’s economy.”

Elaborating on potential investment sector in Myanmar’s economy, Ambassador Khaing said, “Kuwait has the technical knowledge and financial assets, while Myanmar is blessed with natural resources such as natural gas and gem stones, agricultural products such as rice, pulses and beans, as well as forestry products including teak and rubber. It is only appropriate that the two friendly countries leverage their individual strengths for mutual benefit. Myanmar is a market with plenty of lucrative investment opportunities in the real estate, petroleum refining, fertilizer production, mining and energy sectors. Infrastructure development, cement production and ship building are also other areas that Kuwaiti entrepreneurs could explore while looking at investing in Myanmar.”

Tourism is another high-growth sector in Myanmar’s economy with plenty of scope for investment noted the envoy. “According to the recent ranking by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) of 184 counties, Myanmar was among the top ten fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world. In 2014, more than three million tourists visited our country bringing in earnings of over US$3 billion; this was a 50 percent rise on the two million who visited in 2013 and a three-fold increase from the one million who entered the country in 2012.” He continued, “With convenient direct flights from Qatar, it is easy for people in Kuwait to visit Myanmar; moreover, all visa formalities can be completed in one or two working days. We are also looking at arranging visits to Kuwait by Myanmar travel and hospitality companies so as to promote our country here.”

Saying that cultural exchanges between Myanmar and Kuwait are important to building and strengthening contact on the people to people level, the diplomat added, “We are in the process of implementing a plan to promote friendship and understanding between our two peoples through exchange programs and cooperation in various domains, including in cultural, educational, youth, sports and scientific fields. In this regard, we would welcome an invitation from the Kuwait Football Association for friendly matches to be held between Myanmar and Kuwait youth football teams.”

Myanmar has a proud football lineage; they were in the past, winners of seven Asian football titles. In 2014, Myanmar emerged as the surprise team in the Asian qualifiers, claiming one of Asia’s four berths to the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015. This will be Myanmar’s maiden appearance at the U-20 tournament, which is to be held from 30 May to 20 June across several cities in New Zealand. Their triumph over the UAE to win a place in the tournament could herald a return to Myanmar’s glorious football days.

Pointing out the importance of learning Arabic language for Myanmar diplomats, as the country looks increasingly to develop relations with the Arab world, the ambassador said, “I have done my first level in the Arabic language and look forward to attending the second stage courses in late January. In fact, we would we most grateful if Kuwaiti government were to grant a scholarship program for students as well as young diplomats to pursue Arabic language courses at Kuwait University. On a reciprocal basis, Yangon University of Foreign Languages would be pleased to accept the enrollment of students from Kuwait University to study Myanmar language.”

“After just a year in the country, I can say that I am very impressed by the development, stability and prosperity of Kuwait. I am deeply convinced that under the wise leadership of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, and the government of the State of Kuwait, the country will continue to remain and progress as a free, independent and dignified nation and a supporter of just causes around the world,” said the ambassador in closing.

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