Thein Sein met in Hanoi yesterday with senior Communist party officials, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, on a trip that will also feature stops in Cambodia and Laos. The two countries aim to boost two-way trade to $500 million by 2015 and strengthen ties on security, agriculture and tourism, according to a statement on the Vietnamese government website.

Thein Sein’s two-day visit “significantly helps reinforce and boosts bilateral relations between the two countries,” according to a statement on Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s website citing President Truong Tan Sang. The two nations agreed on the importance of maintaining peace in the South China Sea, according to the statement, highlighting an area where Vietnam has territorial disputes with China.

Myanmar has leveraged support from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a grouping with about 600 million people, to press the U.S. and Europe to lift sanctions. The former military dictatorship, which will chair Asean for the first time in 2014, yesterday invited teams from the bloc to observe by-elections on April 1 in which former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi will participate.

The U.S. sees the special elections for 48 seats as a “critical moment” as it considers lifting trade and financial restrictions imposed on Myanmar for the past two decades, special envoy Derek Mitchell told reporters in Yangon on March 15. Asean foreign ministers in January reiterated a call for Western countries to lift sanctions against Myanmar. Oil and Gas

Vietnam is not listed among Myanmar’s top trading partners in data compiled by its Central Statistical Organization. In 2008, Vietnam accounted for $20 million of the nearly $1 billion Myanmar received in foreign investment, the statistics show.

That year, Myanmar signed a contract with Vietnam Oil & Gas Group, known as PetroVietnam, to explore offshore block M-2. Under the contract, PetroVietnam Exploration and Production Corp. holds 45 percent, Vietnam’s Vietsovpetro holds 40 percent and Myanmar’s Eden group holds 15 percent, according to the Myanmar Times.

By Daniel Ten Kate - Bloomberg - March 21, 2012