Cablegate: Than Shwe Visit: Close but Not "Traditional" Friends

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: 02 Hanoi 1279

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The visit by Than Shwe, Senior General
and Chairman of Burma's State Peace and Development Council
(SPDC), focused on trying to enhance the modest economic
relationship of these two fellow ASEAN states. Narcotics
were apparently not on the agenda; however, the two sides
pledged cooperation in tourism, health, and education as
well as reaffirmed cooperation in other areas such as
military-to-military ties; counterterrorism; and crime. END

2. (U) Than Shwe visited Vietnam from March 14-16 at the
invitation of Vietnam's President Tran Duc Luong. This was
his third visit to Vietnam, having previously come in 1995
and 1998 (the latter for the Sixth ASEAN Summit). President
Luong visited Burma in May 2002 (reftel). Other prior GVN
visits included: then-Communist Party of Vietnam General
Secretary Do Muoi (1997); then-Deputy Prime Minister and

Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam (1998); and, Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai (2000).

3. (U) According to media accounts, Than Shwe's entourage
consisted of a variety of officials, including:
--SPDC Secretary and Lieutenant General Soe Win;
--Chairman of the Peace and Development Council (PDC)
Mandalay Division and Commander of the Central Military
Command Major General Ye Myint;
--Chairman of the Sagaing Division of the PDC and Commander
of the Northwest Military Zone Major General Soe Naing;
--Agriculture and Irrigation Minister Major General Nyunt
--Industry Minister U Aung Thaung;
--Commerce Minister Brigadier General Pyi Sone;
--Foreign Minister U Win Aung;
--Livestock Breeding and Fisheries Minister Brigadier
General Maung Maung Thein;
--Energy Minister Brigadier General Lun Thi;
--Health Minister Professor Dr. Kyaw Myint;
--Military Assistant to the SPDC Chairman, Major General Ne
--Director General of the SPDC Office, Lieutenant Colonel Pe
Nyein; and,
--an unspecified number of "entrepreneurs."

4. (U) Than Shwe's activities followed a typical pattern
for ceremonial visits: mutual compliments about each
country's accomplishments ("President Luong renewed
Vietnam's support to the Myanmar Government's efforts to
maintain territorial integrity and national reconciliation
and unity. . ."); meetings with Prime Minister Khai,
President Luong, and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van
An; a courtesy call with Communist Party of Vietnam General
Secretary Nong Duc Manh; a banquet; a wreath laying ceremony

at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; and a joint communiqu summing
up the visit.

5. (SBU) The Burma Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs Asia II Department declined our requests for
briefings on the visit. However, Luan Thuy Duong, Deputy
Director of the Department for Southeast Asian Studies at
the MFA's Institute of International Relations (IIR),
described the Vietnam - Burma relationship to poloff on
March 18 as "excellent." Duong noted that Burma had been
one of the first countries to establish relations with
Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam - US War. Burma
opened its embassy in Hanoi in May 1975, less than a month
after reunification. Vietnam's leaders also "highly valued"
Burma's "spiritual support" during the war, she claimed.
Duong said that the relationship as "not quite traditional,
but very close." (Note: Vietnam reserves the term
"traditional" for its oldest friends, such as Cuba and
Russia. End note.) Duong noted that, while Than Shwe was
able to fulfill his itinerary in Hanoi, he appeared "rather
old and frail."


6. (SBU) Reports in Vietnam's state controlled media
emphasized the economic focus of the visit, trumpeting that
two-way trade had increased 300 percent between 1998 and
2002. However, the respective figures were only USD four
million and USD 12 million. The GVN's stated goal is to
reach a two-way trade level of USD 30 million by 2005. The
IIR's Duong admitted that even this modest figure is
"probably not feasible." Duong noted that Burma's economy
is "quite weak, with difficult structural problems." In
addition, "payment mechanisms" need to be developed; Duong
predicted that the two sides "must look more at barter
trading." Aside from some gems and timber, Burma "does not
have much" to offer Vietnam, she added. Without citing
specifics, Duong predicted that the bilateral focus would
remain on economics during 2003, including exchanges between
the two Ministries of Trade.


7. (SBU) Duong noted that the leaders had discussed
military-to-military cooperation, which she characterized as
"quite smooth." Duong admitted that while she was not
knowledgeable about the details of the military-to-military
activity, but noted that there are "regular meetings"
between senior military officers as well as some officer
exchanges. Duong predicted additional senior level military
visits from both sides during 2003.


8. (SBU) Similar to exchanges during President Luong's
visit last May (reftel), both sides pledged further
cooperation in a number of areas, such as tourism,
education, culture, forestry, and agriculture. The IIR's
Duong said that, while the relevant ministers had discussed
ways to promote progress in these areas, "there are not yet
very many concrete programs." Specifically relating to
tourism, Duong opined that Vietnamese and Burmese companies
could "join forces" to promote tour packages for foreigners
to visit both countries.


9. (SBU) According to the media, President Luong told his
guests that Vietnam and Burma should view the visit as an
opportunity to improve not only the bilateral relationship,
but also cooperation within the ASEAN framework. Duong said
that this was very much in line with the GVN's desire to
increase cooperation among the "new ASEAN" members -
Cambodia, Laos, Burma, and Vietnam -- both on a bilateral
and multilateral basis, which she labeled a "parallel
approach." Duong claimed that the "lower tier" members
feared being "disadvantaged" economically by the wealthier
members as they move into free trade arrangements. Duong
commented that Than Shwe's visit could be viewed as an
attempt by Vietnam to solidify bilateral relations while at
the same time strengthening the ASEAN subcontext.


10. (SBU) Although Vietnam is a transit point for Golden
Triangle heroin, narcotics were also not raised during the
visit, according to Duong. This was probably because the
two sides had agreed that the visit's focus should be mostly
on trade and economics issues, she opined. Duong also noted
that Vietnam and Burma have an existing MOU for drug
cooperation and that they have agreed in the past to
cooperate both through this agreement as well as within the
ASEAN framework. Duong added that both sides discuss drugs
"on an ongoing basis" during other "appropriate" official


11. (SBU) Duong highlighted that the leaders had agreed on
the need to continue to cooperate against terrorism.
According to the joint communiqu, Vietnam and Burma will
"strengthen information exchanges" relating to terrorism.
While the joint communiqu also stated that both sides
intend to sign an anti-crime agreement, Duong declined to
predict when this might occur.


12. (U) While Vietnam and Burma are clearly interested in
moving forward on the bilateral relationship, these ties are
likely to remain subsumed in the more important ASEAN
context. Despite considerable public cheerleading, a
significant increase in trade is not realistic. In both the
Luong visit last May and this visit, it is encouraging to
see a strong stand against terrorism, in line with recent
trends in ASEAN. It is notable, also, that the leaders made
no public reference to Iraq.

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