Context: The recent visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Manoj Naravane to Myanmar reflected India’s multidimensional interests in the country and the deepening of ties between Delhi and Naypyidaw.

Relevance:

GS Paper 2: India and its Neighbourhood (relations)

Mains Questions:

  1. Myanmar is key in linking South Asia to Southeast Asia and the eastern periphery becomes the focal point for New Delhi’s regional outreach. Elaborate. 15 marks

Dimensions:

  • Historical perspective of India Myanmar relations.
  • Importance of Myanmar to India.
  • Convergence between India and Myanmar.
  • Divergence between India and Myanmar
  • Way forward

Historical perspective of India Myanmar relations:

India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. As the land of Lord Buddha, India is a country of pilgrimage for the people of Myanmar. India and Myanmar relations have stood the test of time. The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to-people contact. India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.

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Importance of Myanmar to India:

  • Myanmar is at the heart of Indian government’s Act East policy with the India-Myanmar-Thailand Asian Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan multimodal project, a road-river-port cargo transport project, and BIMSTEC.
  • India is also working closely with the security forces of Myanmar to target the insurgents operating in the country’s northeast.
  • Myanmar is expected to act as the bridge between India and ASEAN, has risen in much significance in the context of India’s Act East Policy, and good neighbourhood policy.
  • Better relations with Myanmar have become crucial for India with China gradually gaining confidence of countries in the region. Further India’s completion of the projects with Myanmar would also prove India to be a responsible regional player, thus improving its reliability.
  • In terms of security and strategic partnership, several deep sea ports of Myanmar, including Yangon and Dawei, can be crucial for India like Chabahar port in the west.
  • Myanmar is on India’s energy security radar on account of its “abundant oil and natural gas” reserves. Oil and gas companies ONGC Videsh and GAIL are aggressively scouting for more exploratory blocks in Myanmar.
  • Myanmar like the other CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) — represents a rapidly growing economy with rising consumption, strategic location and access, rich natural resources (oil, gas, teak, copper and gemstones), biodiversity and an industrious workforce with low wages. And it offers significant opportunities for trade in goods and services, investment and project exports.

Convergence between India and Myanmar:

1: Developmental cooperation: India has committed highest grant-in-aid to Myanmar and is developing four major connectivity projects in Myanmar namely:

  • Kaladan multi-modal corridor,
  • Repair of 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa road.
  • The construction of the 120-km KalewaYargyi corridor (both of which are part of the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway).
  • The Rhi-Tiddim road in the Chin state bordering Mizoram.
  • The Archaeological Survey of India has also recently restored the Ananda temple, a jewel among all Bagan pagodas.

2: Capacity building in Myanmar:

  • India has been actively involved in capacity building in Myanmar. Six centres imparting training in diverse subjects, from English language to industrial skills, are running successfully in Myanmar.
  • The Myanmar Institute of Information Technology set up in Mandalay with the collaboration of IIIT Bangalore has been a success with all its graduates finding ready employment.
  • The Advanced Centre for Agriculture Research and Education set up in collaboration with India’s ICAR is a fine example of pooling research efforts on pulses and oilseeds.
  • With Myanmar’s government emphasizing higher education and vocational training, more Indian assisted institutions can come up in the country.

3: Greater cooperation between Northeast India and Western Myanmar: Four states in the Northeast (viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram) share common borders with Myanmar’s Sagaing and Chin provinces. The Kaladan corridor also passes through the Rakhine state till it arrives at the Sittwe port developed by India.

4: Regional/ Sub-regional cooperation: Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN, BIMSTEC and Mekong Ganga Cooperation has introduced a regional/sub-regional dimension to bilateral relations and imparted an additional significance in the context of our “Act East” policy.

5: Commercial Cooperation- India is the fifth largest trading partner of Myanmar and is presently the tenth largest investor with major investments in oil & gas sector.

6: Defence & Security Cooperation– Various MoUs on Border Cooperation, training, Army, Air Force and Naval Staff Talks have been signed between the two countries.

7: Disaster Relief: India has responded promptly and effectively to assist Myanmar in humanitarian relief operations following natural calamities along with financial assistance for relief and reconstruction work.

8: Land Crossing Agreement: Recently agreement between India and Myanmar on Land Border Crossing has also been agreed which will

  • Facilitate regulation and harmonization of already existing free movement rights for people ordinarily residing in the border areas of both countries increasing connectivity and social and economic interaction among the people.
  • It would allow India to leverage its geographical connections with Myanmar to boost trade and economy of the North-East.
  • The Agreement will safeguard the traditional rights of the largely tribal communities residing along the border which are accustomed to free movement across the land border.

Divergence between India and Myanmar:

  • The Rohingya crisis: India does not directly engage with the issue of Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. But India condemned the recent terrorist attacks in northern Rakhine State in a measure of support to Myanmar. Further both sides agreed that there will be no glorification of terrorists as martyrs.
  • China factor: As China’s profile continues to rise in India’s vicinity, New Delhi would like to enhance India’s presence by developing infrastructure and connectivity projects in the country. India has found it difficult to counter Chinese influence in Myanmar.
  • Project Delays: India is losing friends because of widespread discontent over continuing delay in completion of flagship projects — Kaladan and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway. Conceived over a decade back, they are scheduled to be completed by 2019.
  • Inadequate public awareness about the recent projects on IT and agriculture that our government completed on time. Officials need to develop an effective communication strategy, and a new management mechanism that fast-tracks the flagship projects.
  • Despite mutual consensus on the value of people-to-people exchanges, actual progress is negligible due to the absence of an enabling instrument.

Way forward:

  • The various projects undertaken by India have not been completed in time. As a result, India has not got due credit. It is crucial for India to focus on timely delivery of projects to improve its legitimacy.
  • It is essential that the two countries immediately start negotiating transit and other agreements for the smooth movement of goods and vehicles for optimal use of the infrastructure — even though such traffic may not flow before 2020.
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