Myanmar minister as a keynote speaker at investment summit leaves everyone surprised

Published On: March 30, 2019 08:07 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, March 30: The much-awaited Nepal Investment Summit 2019 began in Kathmandu on Friday with participation from over 40 countries around the world. But one question which boggled the minds of many participants throughout the first day of the two-day even was: What could be the reason behind choosing a minister from Myanmar as a keynote speaker for the inaugural session?

Union Minister for Investment and Foreign Relations of Myanmar, U Thaung Tun, was among the eight dignitaries addressing the inaugural session of the second edition of Nepal Investment Summit held at Soaltee Hotel. Thaung Tun, who previously served as the National Security Adviser of Myanmar's military government, is the first minister of the newly-formed ministry that seeks to boost local and international investment in Myanmar. 

The question had some valid points. As Myanmar is also a Least Developed Country (LDC) struggling to catch up the pace of development amid continuing political turmoil, it is not in a position to immediately pump in investment in other countries. The case of gross human rights violation of Rohingya refugees has put the Myanmar government under serious scrutiny of the international community, mainly Western democracies.

Although some tend to link Myanmar's invitation to BIMSTEC — both Nepal and Myanmar are members of this sub-regional body - many foreign policy experts in Kathmandu see the invitation as legitimizing the human rights violations carried out by Myanmar authorities. “The government should know who and when to invite. This has not given a positive message,” argued a retired diplomat, preferring to be unnamed. 

Not surprisingly, during his speech in the inaugural session, Myanmar Minister Thaung Tun did not mention anything about bringing in investment in Nepal. He rather utilized the opportunity to invite investment in countries 'like Nepal and Myanmar' before over 700 distinguished guests. 

In the previous Nepal Investment Summit held in 2017, Nepal had invited Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley as the keynote speaker. Many participants of the investment summit on Friday questioned the government's choice to invite Myanmar Minister as one of the keynote speakers at the inaugural session. 
None of the government officials concerned were available to comment on this when Republica tried to inquire with them the reason behind inviting the Myanmar minister.

This is not the first time Nepal has given priority to Myanmar, though. Nepal had rolled red carpet to the then Myanmar Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing in 2017, stirring a huge controversy in the country.

Right activists had termed the visit 'ill-timed', as that indirectly provided Nepal's support to the alleged atrocities carried out by Myanmar authorities against the Rohingya population in the country.

It may be recalled that Nepal was among 26 countries choosing to abstain from voting in the resolution sponsored by Bangladesh to mount pressure on Myanmar on Rohingya issue in November, 2017 in UN's Third Committee.

The Committee, which focuses on human rights, voted 135 in favor and 10 against the draft text that asked Myanmar to end military operations that have “led to the systematic violation and abuse of human rights” of Rohingya Muslims in the country's Rakhine state.

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