In January 2013, Australia became the first Western nation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Development Cooperation with the Myanmar government. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently went on a three-day tour to Myanmar to have a formal meeting with President Thein Sein and Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin, where they discussed trade, investment and defence cooperation.
In her meeting with Sein, she also raised Australia’s concerns about the human rights situation, specifically focusing on the government’s commitment to implement an action plan in Rakhine state, which has been greatly affected by inter- communal violence. Ms Bishop announced that Australia will contribute more money to support Myanmar’s peace process. From the existing Aid budget, $24.5 million will reportedly go to boosting economic growth in the nation.It also includes $5 million for the World Bank to help modernise financial management systems, $9 million for support in the peace process and $10 million for urgent humanitarian aid, to provide food, water and sanitation.
U Wunna Maung Lwin confirmed that he will sign up to the Colombo Plan so Australian university students will be able to study in Myanmar from next year. During the visit, Ms Bishop also held a 45-minute meeting with opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is fighting for changes to Myanmar’s constitution.
With Myanmar set to host the East Asia Summit in November and parliamentary elections expected to take place in 2015, it will be crucial to maintain strong pressure if Australia’s aid package is going to play a constructive role in Myanmar’s development.