BANGKOK — Myanmar's reformist president on Sunday began a twice-postponed visit to neighboring Thailand expected to focus on economic ties.
President Thein Sein arrived for his first trip to Thailand since he became president in March last year and initiated political and economic reforms after almost five decades of repressive military rule.
He will meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Crown Princess Sirindhorn before departing Tuesday.
Thailand and Myanmar have extensive social and economic ties. But there are also tensions because Thailand houses many refugees from Myanmar fleeing warfare between the government and ethnic rebels, who are active along the 2,300-kilometer (1,300-mile) border.
Thailand has concerns about large amounts of heroin and methamphetamine produced in Myanmar and smuggled across its borders
Thein Sein is to witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding on development projects in Myanmar, including a major planned port and industrial complex at Dawei being undertaken by Thai companies.
Thein Sein had been scheduled to come to Thailand in late May to attend the World Economic Forum in Bangkok but cancelled those plans amid specualtion that he feared being upstaged by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was also attending on her first trip abroad in more than two decades.
A rescheduled trip in June was also put off because of sectarian violence in western Myanmar that left at least 80 people dead and tens of thousands homeless. Thein Sein previously visited Thailand in 2008 when he was prime minister under the previous ruling junta.
Thailand is Myanmar's second largest trade partner after northern neighbor China, with the total trade volume of $4.5 billion for the fiscal year 2011-2012.
Myanmar's total imports from Thailand were worth $691.15 million, while exports were valued at $3.82 billion, mostly from the export of naural gas to Thailand to feed its energy needs.
Thailand's proximity to Myanmar gives it an advantage in its efforts to benefit from its neighbor's vast natural resources – including minerals as well as oil and gas – an under-exploited agricultural sector and opportunities in real estate and tourism.
Since Thein Sein assumed the presidency 16 months ago, he has overseen a wave of political and economic reforms including the release of political prisoners, the signing of cease-fires with armed rebel groups, the easing of restrictions on the press and opening a dialogue with prisoner-turned-parliamentarian Suu Kyi.
His government has also reformed the previous two-tier exchange rate system and is seeking to pass a new foreign investment law.