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India-Myanmar Bilateral Ties and Cooperation (6 October 2020)

India-Myanmar Bilateral Ties and Cooperation (6 October 2020)

Why in News:

India and Myanmar on Thursday carried out a comprehensive review of their multi-faceted relationship.

Context:

India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. A number of agreements enhancing bilateral Cooperation have been signed between the two countries. High level visits have been a regular feature of India-Myanmar relations for several years. And talking about visits, Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane where in Mynamar this week on a two-day visit. They met MyanmarWhich state shares the longest border with Myanmar? - Quora’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for talks on taking forward bilateral relations in a wide range of areas. Shringla and Naravane discussed “important bilateral issues” during their meeting with Suu Kyi, the Indian embassy said in a tweet without giving further details.

Background:

Myanmar is one of India’s strategic neighbours and shares a 1,643-km-long border with a number of northeastern states including militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur.

India and Myanmar relationship officially got underway after the Treaty of Friendship was signed in 1951.

Myanmar is seen as a crucial partner in the fight to end insurgency in India’s north-east, as a gateway to South-East Asia and a key component of Modi’s vision for South and South-East Asian regional cooperation.

A large population of Indian origin (around 2.5 million) lives in Myanmar.

Summary of the Debate

Key Highlights of the Meeting:

Both sides reviewed the entire gamut of their relations, including:

  • Status of India’s ongoing development projects in Myanmar.
  • Border cooperation and upgradation of border infrastructure.
  • Trade and investment ties.
  • Power and energy cooperation.
  • Consular matters and cultural cooperation.
  • Ways to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • India’s partnership with Myanmar in accordance with its ‘Neighborhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies.
  • Entire expanse of ties including cooperation in regional and multilateral fora.
  • Cooperation in cultural spheres included the ongoing restoration work on pagodas in Bagan which were damaged by earthquake.

India and Myanmar Relations:

Trade and Economy:

  • India is the fifth-largest trading partner of Myanmar.
  • The bilateral trade has risen from US$ 328 million in 1997-98 to US $1.7 billion in 2018-19.
  • Myanmar is the real bridge for India between India and ASEAN.

Connectivity:

  • One of the big aspects of the future development relationship is the Kaladan multi-modal transit-cum-transport project and India see this as a way of reaching northeast India through Sittwe Port and India is developing Sittwe Port, it has been delayed because of the pandemic, but certainly by early 2021, the port will be ready.
  • Both the countries have Coastal Shipping Agreement in place, so India will be able to send its coastal ships from Kolkata to Sittwe and up through river to Aizawl through the link that has been built.
  • There are the large number of infrastructure projects transborder between India and Myanmar, there is the Trilateral highway between India, Myanmar and Thailand where some 6 to 9 bridges are to be built.

Did You Know?: Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project

Security point of view:

  • India–Myanmar border poses a challenge to India’s security.
  • India and Myanmar share a long 1,643 km geographical land border and maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Myanmar shares borders with 4 Indian states – Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India.
  • The security aspect is really vital because northeast insurgent groups have been taking shelter across the border, in this context the development of the relationship between India and Myanmar has speed up. In May 2020, the Myanmar government handed back 22 insurgents who had been caught on the Myanmar side of border.

Defence Cooperation:

  • India handed over to Myanmar its first ever submarine, with a Kilo class INS Sindhuvir, the one which India have taken from Russia in 1980. India also gave them a Torpedo.
  • India is training Myanmar Army. In the western border of Myanmar, they are not capable of defending themselves, their Army are not very well trained. So, India is training their Army and giving them weapon system.
  • India-Myanmar Bilateral Army Exercise (IMBAX), Naval Exercise and other Exercisesaimed at building and promoting closer relations in defence.

Energy Security:

  • There is the power connectivity and the talk is going on for inter-grid connectivity between India and Myanmar.
  • The cooperation is also among oil and gas companies of India and Myanmar for development of petroleum products, including enhancing trade and investments in this area.

Development Assistance:

  • Myanmar has always appreciated India’s assistance in the area of capacity building and training.
  • India is opening women training school in Myanmar.
  • India is also providing assistance in setting up institutions for higher learning and research in Myanmar.

Cultural Significance:

  • There are lot of ethnic and people to people connection between northeast of India and Myanmar. There is historically civilizational link existed between India and Myanmar for millennia.
  • Both countries share cultural ties in terms of Buddhist heritage and shared history of colonialism.

Challenges:

  • Despite having a very long border and a very long maritime border between India and Myanmar, the infrastructure connectivity has not yet been fully implemented
  • There is a major issue of emerging of drugs smuggling across India- Myanmar border.
  • India is worried that the Rohingyas may try to come to India because India’s border is slight porous because the Bangladesh has made sure that these Rohingyas cannot manage to go any other part of Bangladesh but few of them are trying to come to India.
  • There already about 1 lakh Rohingya inside India and there have been instances where it has been found out that ISI is going in a big way to radicalize these Rohingyas and this is a cause of concern for India. Therefore, if Rohingyas are staying in Bangladesh for two long, there is a big security risk for India itself.
  • Earlier, Myanmar was totally in hand of China. Recently, China is making China- Myanmar Economic Corridor, coming from Kunming and via Yunnan going to Kyaukpyu port in Rakhine.
  • Arakan Army rebels in Myanmar were not letting complete Kaladan project from Sittwe to Aizawl, because they were extorting money from contractor, they are the biggest problem there.
  • Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) was another problem in the area of Myanmar.
  • In addition to, another insurgent group, National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K) from India side which are functioning. In 2015, India done a surgical strike and killed 70 insurgents of NSCN-K.

Way Forward:

  • It is important for India to take a ground situation assessment not just taking of its whole range of projects that India is doing but also of the politics on the ground, of the decision making on the ground and how to take advantage of that.
  • ASEAN today has trade with India equal to the trade with China. With ASEAN, India can find that resilience and demand generation by increasing in export and import.
  • India need to expand its economic relationship both in terms of investment which is roughly around $ 800 million at this stage and also India need enormous focus on expanding its trade with Myanmar which is roughly between $ 1.5 to 1.7 billion over years.
  • Military to Military cooperation has to increase tremendously if India want to resolve the issue which are existing in northeast as well as in the western portion of Myanmar.
  • In time to come, India should be able to export more weapon system to Myanmar with more training facilities to their officers.

Important points made by the Guests

Veena Sikri, Former Ambassador

  • Myanmar is very significant and very important neighbour for India. It is a core neighbur in two aspects:
    • India’s neighbourhood first foreign policy: where Myanmar certainly holds important place with all the neighbour countries that India have.
    • Act East Policy: Myanmar is the real bridge for India between India and ASEAN.
  • Myanmar is a member of BIMSTEC. Myanmar is a very valuable neighbouring countries. So, in all these context Myanmar hold very significant place for India. Even in the context of India’s northeast, in the development of India’s northeast, in the security situation of India’s northeast, in the economic prosperity of India’s northeast, Myanmar plays a key role.
  • There is a great interest and high priority being attached by both sides on infrastructure connectivity.
  • Myanmar is significantly worried that China has an active relationship with Myanmar, but at the same time, they are helping the active group of Myanmar in the various state provinces.
  • It needs special attention and high priority in terms of implementation, because the major Indian projects in Myanmar has been affected by poor implementation. This has brought down the image of India in Myanmar that we make a lot of promises but we don’t implement it. The reason for this high-level visit is to tell the Myanmar government that India is serious about implementation now.
  • As far as Rohingya issue is concerned, we know that Bangladesh is also at the higher importance to India and Bangladesh want India to look at this issue seriously. India is interested in the safe and sustainable return of the Rohingya to Rakhine state and for that purpose, India has already invested a lot.

 Prof. Swaran Singh, Chairperson, Centre for International Politics, JNU

  • China has been for almost 2 decades very very influential factor in India’s foreign policy particularly India’s engagement with its neighbours.
  • But given the tension that are going on along the border for over 5 months, that factor has become far more important and there is influence of China particularly in case of Nepal, is making India far more conscious of engaging its immediate neighbours.
  • But when it comes to Myanmar, it’s not only the neighbourhood first policy, it also the Act East Policy. In the last 6 years, there is a certain hyper active footwork right from the level of summit meeting almost every year to whole range of official meeting on both sides including the recent February meeting between the Indian PM and President of Myanmar when he came to New Delhi, more than 10 MoUs were signed in whole range of areas.
  • Building strategic and military relationship would be far more kind of sustainable over a period of time.

Maj. Gen. Ashwani Siwach (Retd.), Defence& Strategic Expert 

  • When there is tension going on between India and China in Ladakh, yet Chief of Army Staff has taken out the time to visit the Myanmar, it indicates the importance of Myanmar for India. 
  • Until late 1980s, India was not having best of the relationship with Myanmar because it was governed by the Military ruler and India always thought that Aung San Suu Kyi has not been given the chance to rule it.
  • India was not able to maintain that relationship and that is the time when the terrorist groups and insurgents were thriving in Myanmar, noy only in Bangladesh Chittagong but also in Yunnan province of China as well as bordering state of Myanmar.
  • In 1990, India changes its stance and realizes the importance of Myanmar that to fight insurgent groups in northeast India have to cooperate with Myanmar.
  • There is the more cooperation which is taking place and Myanmar understand that if it has to develop in future, it has to balance its relation between China and India.
  • If India have to become a 5 trillion economy, it can become possible after having better economic relation with its neighbour. The $2 billion trade between India and Myanmar is too less and the biggest opportunity for India is to exporting them Military hardware because Myanmar need it.
  • As far as Rohingya issue is concerned, it is a very complex problem. The 7 lakh Rohingyas have come from the Rakhine province and now they are in Bangladesh.
  • As far as India and Myanmar is concerned, Military cooperation, Naval Exercise and other Exercises are taking place.

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