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India, Myanmar moving closer in all key areas; By Jai Kumar Verma

C3S Paper No. 0134/2016

Courtesy: The India Saga

The de-facto ruler, Foreign Minister and State Counsellor of Myanmar Daw Aung San Suu Kyi paid a four-day visit to India from October 16. Suu Kyi, who did her graduation from New Delhi and called India as her second home, paid first overseas visit to China in August may be because of domestic compulsions. She visited New Delhi after BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Summit in Goa.

India is 4th largest trading partner and second largest export market of Myanmar. However, India’s trade with Myanmar in comparison to China is very less. Myanmar’s bilateral trade with India in 2014-15 was USD 2 billion while its trade with China in first ten months of 2015-16 was USD 9.5 billion besides this China also invested more than USD 15 billion in about 115 projects in Myanmar.

She met President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and other dignitaries. She stated that she would like to “engage more closely” with India. India and Myanmar signed three agreements pertaining to oil and gas, power and energy, banking and insurance sectors and health care. Indian leaders also promised to assist in improvement of infrastructure, communication, information technology, human resources, agriculture, education, archeology etc. The legislators, security personnel and civil servants are already getting training in India.

Suu Kyi visited China first while President Hitin Kyaw paid first visit to India in August, 2016. Sushma Swaraj also visited Myanmar in August prior to the visit of President of Myanmar. The National Security Advisor Ajit Doval also visited Myanmar in June 2016. Hence several visits were exchanged after the National League for Democracy (NLD) came to power in November 2015 securing a huge victory in the elections.

These visits were significant as wide range of subjects were discussed including the modernization of Myanmar security forces. Myanmar also assured that it will not allow terrorist outfits to use its territory for carrying out terrorist activities in India. In turn India also promised that it will honour the sanctity of the borders and Indian forces would not violate it.

Both countries share about 1643 KMs long porous border and several terrorist groups few of them assisted by China carryout terrorist activities in India and then take refuge in Myanmar. Besides these terrorist outfits few bunch of criminals are also involved in smuggling of arms, Indian counterfeit currency, drug trafficking and cross border crimes. Myanmar shares border with four Indian states: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur.

The Indian security forces carried out hot pursuit in June 2015 against The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-Khaplang faction), as their cadres attacked an Army convoy in Manipur and killed 18 army personnel and after attack took refuge in Myanmar. The Indian army entered deep inside Myanmar and smashed few NSCN-K camps and killed their 38 cadres. Myanmar government and the terrorist outfit contradicted the claim.

Indian press and political leaders repeatedly claimed that Indian army crossed the border and destroyed NSCN-K camps and took revenge. However, it did not go well with Myanmar government, the opposition parties alleged that India has violated the sovereignty of the country and Myanmar government must take stringent action.

The sensitivity of the visiting dignitary about Indian forces crossing the border can be assessed by the fact that the joint communiqué mentioned twice about the mutual respect of the demarcated border. It mentioned that “Both sides shared the view that maintaining security along the border is essential for the socio-economic development of the border area. In this regard, both sides underlined their mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and reaffirmed their shared commitment to fight insurgent activity and the scourge of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.”

The joint statement further stated that “Both sides expressed their mutual respect for the already-demarcated boundary between the two countries, and stressed the need to resolve outstanding boundary demarcation issues as soon as possible through existing mechanisms”. India must convince the top leadership of Myanmar that the terrorist groups supported by China or nefarious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) should not use its territory for carrying out terrorist activities in India and in turn India must ensure that in case Indian armed forces resort to surgical strike inside Myanmar it must remain a closely guarded secret.

The present leadership of Myanmar wants to develop the country speedily and China which has deep pockets would be happy to invest in mineral rich strategic neighbour.  Besides economic development China has sway over few terrorist outfits and Suu Kyi will like to utilize China’s good offices to win their support and restore peace in the country. Myanmar in turn would not speak against China on South China Sea issue. Nonetheless a feeling is generated in the masses that China is exploiting their natural resources and not giving adequate compensation to Myanmar. They also feel that Chinese projects do not generate employment as in most cases Chinese bring their workforce. There is resentment in Myanmar about Chinese projects and it was the reason that the military leadership terminated Myitsone dam project which China wants to restart.

The people of Myanmar are also worried about the growing influence of China, they are more comfortable with democratic India. Myanmar is also worried about demographic change, at present about 50 percent population of Mandalay is Chinese and Mandarin language is essential for job seekers. India should try to enlarge its relations with Myanmar without considering latter’s relations with China or Suu Kyi visits to Laos, Cambodia and China prior to India. Indian policy makers should formulate a long term policy towards Myanmar under which Indian positive points like spirituality, Buddhism, old cultural ties, porous boundary etc. should get the precedence.

Myanmar has approximately 3 million people of Indian origin who can also help inculcating cordial relations with the country of their origin. India should augment training programme especially of security personnel as Myanmar has weapons of Russian origin and India can impart training to them. Most of Indian projects in Myanmar are behind schedule, India must clear the hurdles so that the projects are completed within time. Indian private sector should also invest in opening of hospitals and should increase pharmaceutical exports. Tata Group is expanding in Myanmar and working in information technology and agriculture sectors. It gave a positive message that Indian companies are different from Chinese companies which are exploiting the natural resources of Myanmar.

Myanmar is important for India’s ‘Act East policy’ as it will provide the much needed link with East Asia. The economic development of North Eastern States also linked with India’s relations with Myanmar. Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy is pragmatic where a lot of emphasis is laid on neighbours and at present India has best of relations with all neighbours except Pakistan. Indian position is strengthening in world and government as well as private sector must work together and inculcate strong relations with Myanmar.

(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based analyst. Views expressed here are personal.)

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