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India-Myanmar Relations: Importance & Background

India-Myanmar Relations: Importance & Background

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  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || Myanmar

Introduction

  • Myanmar is a vital neighbor of India, sharing a 1640-kilometer border with Nagaland and Manipur in the north-east. Myanmar and India have “historical links and traditional bonds of friendship and collaboration.”
  • Buddhism, business, Bollywood, Bharatnatyam, and Burma teak are the foundations of India-Myanmar relations. In line with its ‘Neighborhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies, India values its relationship with Myanmar.

Significance of Myanmar for India

Bilateral relations between India and Myanmar

  • 5B’s
    • Myanmar has loomed large on India’s diplomatic horizon as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. There is a close relationship between the two countries when it comes to business, culture, and diplomacy.
    • The five Bs that frame India-Myanmar relations in popular perception are Buddhism, Business, Bollywood, Bharatnatyam, and Burma teak. Beyond this complex structure, the relationships are increasingly gaining economic clout and strategic significance.
  • Economic relations
    • For a long time, bilateral trade between the two countries has stayed around $2 billion.
    • Businesses from China, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam have all actively pursued business prospects in Myanmar.
    • Pulses are the single most important commodity in Myanmar’s small export portfolio
    • Indian companies could invest in Myanmar’s electricity, steel, car, and textile industries.
  • Defence Ties
    • Over the last few years, India and Myanmar have been attempting to expand their defence ties.
    • In India, about 200 Myanmar military officers were taught in medical, airforce, and naval disciplines.
    • Myanmar has purchased rocket launchers, night vision systems, radar, and technical equipment from India, including torpedoes for $37.9 million.
  • Cultural relations
    • Last year’s earthquake in Myanmar destroyed the 11th-century Ananda Temple, which is now being restored with India’s help. The strength of India-Myanmar relations is their people-to-people contact.
    • India is the only country that has made a grant-in-aid commitment to Myanmar. These are some of them
      • Kaladan is a multi-modal corridor that runs through the city of Kaladan.
      • The Tamu-Kalewa road has 69 bridges that need to be repaired.
      • The 120-kilometer Kalewa-Yargyi corridor
      • Rhi-Tiddim route is being built in Chin state, which borders Mizoram.
      • The projects, unfortunately, were not completed on time. As a result, India has received insufficient credit.

Measures taken to improve ties

  • It was one of only two Southeast Asian countries invited to attend the swearing-in of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he won re-election in May 2019.
  • Facilitating connectivity is central to improving India-Myanmar economic relations. India regards Myanmar as a gateway to link up to the rest of Southeast Asia and invested in ASEAN-wide infrastructural projects that are able to boost trade in the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area.
  • Infrastructure projects
    • The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT), to connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with the Sittwe deep-water port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state by sea.
    • A number of Indian firms, notably oil and gas companies such as ONGC Videsh and GAIL, have established operations in Myanmar.
  • Capacity building
    • Capacity building has been prioritized, with several new institutions established for agricultural education, information technology, and industrial training, all of which have greatly helped Myanmar’s
    • The Myanmar Institute of Information Technology, which was established in Mandalay with the help of IIIT Bangalore, has been a success, with all of its graduates finding work.
    • The Advanced Centre for Agriculture Research and Education, which was established in conjunction with India’s ICAR, is an excellent example of combining pulse and oilseed research activities.
    • India’s timely assistance in the form of medications and equipment in the fight against the corona pandemic.

Challenges between the two countries

  • China Factor: Beijing’s bidding into Myanmar regional affairs. Myanmar is inevitability a “kingmaker” in Sino-Indian relations.
  • Trade deficit:With a total bilateral trade of $2 billion, India’s economic engagement with Myanmar lags behind China. Myanmar is vital to fulfilling India’s ambition to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024. India’s withdrawal from Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership can further increase this trade gap.
  • Migrant issues- The Indian government is concerned about Rohingya immigrants in the country. Around 40,000 Rohingyas are said to be staying illegally in India. Negotiations on the deportation of Rohingya to Myanmar are a point of contention.
  • Economic cooperation
    • Economic cooperation has developed, but it still stays at a sub-optimal level.
    • A significant part of India’s Kaladan multimodal project (KMMTTP) passes through the Rakhine state. There is a delay in the completion of the project.
  • Porous border-The 1643-kilometer-long Indo-Myanmar border is exceptionally porous, making cross-border trafficking of militants, illegal weaponry, and drugs possible.
    • The border spans over steep and rugged terrain, providing cover for numerous Indian insurgent groups’ actions (IIGs).
    • Lack of basic infrastructure and low trading volume at the Indian border.

Way forward

  • Cultural Diplomacy- Through the prism of Buddhism, India’s cultural diplomacy can be used to develop its ties with Myanmar.
    • Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority government should support India’s “Buddhist Circuit” plan, which aims to double international visitor arrivals by connecting historic Buddhist heritage sites across India’s states.
    • India’s Buddhist diplomacy would bolster its tourist industry and could build up India’s diplomatic reservoir of goodwill and trust with Buddhist-majority countries such as Myanmar
  • Resolving the Rohingya Crisis –The faster the Rohingya problem is settled, the easier it will be for India to manage its relations with Myanmar and Bangladesh, allowing it to concentrate on bilateral and sub-regional economic cooperation.
  • Security Cooperation – In order for India and Myanmar’s economic relations to flourish, they must strengthen their border security cooperation. The more secure the border, the more economic activity will be generated.
    • KMMTT has been delayed in part because its path passes through a warzone in Rakhine state, where a conflict rages between the Myanmar Army and Arakan Army rebels on one hand and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on the other.
    • The KMMTT project has also been hampered by insurgents from Nagaland, India.

Conclusion

  • Potential in India-Myanmar relations has to be prioritized by both countries, and bilateral commitments translated should bear some practical outcomes. India-Myanmar ties are on the cusp of a remarkable transformation. The moment is opportune and the atmosphere is conducive for the governments of India and Myanmar to intensify efforts toward making India-Myanmar relations profoundly significant in each other’s foreign policy.

References