SINGAPORE: President Tony Tan Keng Yam will make a five-day state visit to Myanmar from April 1-5. At the invitation of Myanmar President Thein Sein, President Tan will visit Naypidaw, Mandalay and Yangon. In the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, President Tan will receive a ceremonial welcome and call on his counterpart. President Tan will also be hosted to a State Banquet by President Thein Sein. During his visit to the capital, President Tan is expected to meet with the Lower House of Parliament Speaker, Thura U Shwe Mann and Chairperson of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. President Tan will also meet and be hosted to dinner by the Mandalay and Yangon Chief Ministers, Ye Myint and Myint Swe. In Mandalay, President Tan will view a paediatric emergency care training programme, funded by Temasek Foundation and conducted by the KK Women's and Children's Hospital. In Yangon, the President will officiate the opening of the International Enterprise or IE Singapore office. He is also expected to meet with Singaporean businessmen and officials from the Myanmar economic agencies. Overseas Singaporeans based in Myanmar will get a chance to meet with the President during a dinner reception. President Tan will be accompanied by Mrs Tan, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Teo Ser Luck and Members of Parliament Irene Ng and Tin Pei Ling. Observers said President Tan's trip to Myanmar is symbolic. Singapore and Myanmar established diplomatic ties in 1966. Both countries have regular high-level exchanges, prompting some to say that bilateral relations today is, in fact, on an upswing. "Singapore stood by Myanmar during the hard times, during the last 25 years of sanctions. It was Singapore that still invested in key sectors of the infrastructure that really helped the Myanmar people. I think the visit by the President is a very important reminder to the Myanmar government that Singapore has stood by Myanmar and will also be there as a partner in ASEAN and in the ASEAN future," said Dr Maitrii Aung-Thwin from the department of History at the National University of Singapore. He added: "It also signals to some extent where the government's interests are and where the recognition is about the leadership of Thein Sein and his government and also the encouragement that these types of initiatives that we've seen in the last two years are very positive, both for the region and for Singapore." When President Thein Sein visited Singapore last year, the two nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Singapore-Myanmar Technical Cooperation Programme. Under that programme, Singapore has been helping Myanmar in areas like human resource training and economic development. Many don't expect any new agreements to be inked during the Singapore president's visit. Moe Thuzar, coordinator of the Myanmar Studies Group at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, said: "I don't think it is necessary to come with a big package as it were because as fellow ASEAN member states, there are certain cooperation programmes that have been conceptualised, that are being implemented and that are ongoing. At every level, there is good communication and coordination going on that it's not like in the past where countries were emerging from the colonial era that big aid packages had to be brought to the table to signify that something special is going on." President Tan's visit is seen as timely on two fronts. One, it is about one year since Myanmar President Thein Sein visited Singapore. Secondly, as new economic and political players become more involved in Myanmar's development, it is significant that President Tony Tan reiterate Singapore's commitment to bilateral relations with Myanmar. In addition, President Tony Tan will also be able to help open up and continue with the channels of communication for business as well as social sectors between the two countries.
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