Significance of Myanmar for India:
- Myanmar is geopolitically significant to India as it stands at the center of the India-Southeast Asia geography.
- Myanmar is the only Southeast Asian country that shares a land border with northeastern India.
- Myanmar is the only country that sits at the intersection of India’s “Neighborhood First” policy and its “Act East” policy. As part of India’s SAGAR Vision, India developed the Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
- The port is meant to be India’s answer to the Chinese-fronted Kyaukpyu port, which is intended to cement China’s geostrategic footprint in Rakhine.
India’s Response towards Myanmar:
India had been categorical from the very beginning that the gains made by Myanmar over the last decades on the path toward democracy should not be undermined.
- On Suu Kyi’s imprisonment for 2 years (sentenced recently), India also expressed its deep concerns as such developments accentuate differences.
- It suggested all the sides make efforts to advance dialogues for the sake of their nation’s future.
Global Response to the Coup:
The Western countries continue to condemn and sanction.
- The US has continued to use the overused threat of ever more sanctions, though to little avail.
- Myanmar’s army seems to have ceased bothering about the rhetoric from the West.
- China is investing and pulling Myanmar into its orbit. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and most ASEAN members have all moved forward with engaging the military junta in Myanmar.
- The Cambodian Prime Minister has also scheduled to visit Myanmar in January 2022 and is likely to set new terms of engagement.
What are the areas of cooperation between India and Myanmar?
Trade and economy
- Bilateral trade has grown from $12.4 million in 1980-81 to $2.18 billion in 2016-17.
- Myanmar is also the beneficiary of a duty-free tariff preference scheme for least-developed countries (LDCs).
- Some Indian companies such as Essar, GAIL, and ONGC Videsh Ltd. have invested in Myanmar’s energy sector
- In 2001, India and Myanmar inaugurated the 250-kilometer Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo highway, popularly called the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road.
- India is building the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport to link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and then from Myanmar’s Kaladan river to India’s northeast.
- India, Myanmar, and Thailand are building the Asian Trilateral Highway, which will connect India to ASEAN.
- India has already extended $2 billion in soft loans. It has offered to help Myanmar with developmental assistance in the areas it wants rather than be prescriptive.
- India is also providing assistance in setting up institutions for higher learning and research, namely—the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology, etc.
- India-Myanmar Bilateral Army Exercise(IMBAX) is aimed at building and promoting closer relations with armies.
- Myanmar is a key partner in the fight to end insurgency in India’s northeast.
- Myanmar is also a key component of India’s strategy to bridge South and Southeast Asia through BIMSTEC.
- Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN, BIMSTEC, and Mekong Ganga Cooperation has introduced a regional/sub-regional dimension to bilateral relations and imparted added significance in the context of our “Act East” policy.
- Following the cataclysmic cyclone ‘Nargis’, which hit Myanmar in May 2008, India responded immediately with relief materials and offers of assistance.
- India provided assistance of US $1 million after a severe earthquake in the Shan State of Myanmar in March 2011.
Challenges for India
- China’s Influence on Northeast Insurgency: Ever since the coup, China’s economic grip over Myanmar has become tighter with a special focus on projects critical for the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
- Moreover, the recent deadly attack on an Assam Rifles convoy near the Myanmar border was a reminder of the proclivity of China to create trouble in the Northeast.
- Rohingya Issue: Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar has only led to the plight of the hapless Rohingya taking a backseat. This is not in India’s national security interest in the north-east.
- Porous Indo-Myanmar Border: The 1643-km-long Indo-Myanmar border, which facilitates the cross-border movement of militants, illegal arms and drugs, is extremely porous.
- The border runs along hilly and inhospitable terrain and provides cover to the activities of various Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs).
- Acknowledging the Military’s Primacy: The role of Myanmar’s army would be key to the unfolding of any democratic transition there, so India’s active engagement would be needed with the military.
- Even as India continues to call for a restoration of the democratic process, it shall engage with the army in Myanmar to address Indian concerns as well. Marginalizing the army will only push it into China’s arms.
- Cultural Diplomacy: India’s cultural diplomacy through the lens of Buddhism can be leveraged to strengthen its ties with Myanmar.
- India’s “Buddhist Circuit” initiative, which seeks to double foreign tourist arrivals by connecting ancient Buddhist heritage sites across different states in India, should resonate with Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
- This could also build up India’s diplomatic reservoir of goodwill and trust with Buddhist-majority countries such as Myanmar.
- Resolving Rohingya’s Issue: The quicker the Rohingya issue is resolved, the easier it will be for India to manage its relations with Myanmar and Bangladesh, focusing instead more on bilateral and subregional economic cooperation.