The visit to Myanmar –– considered India’s gateway to South East Asia –– is aimed at expanding security and defence partnership amid Myanmar Army’s fight against Rohingya rebels. Delhi stood by its neighbour after the recent terror attack in the Rakhine state and the PM’s visit would focus on expanding defence and security partnerships.
A substantive package was put forward during Myanmar Army Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing’s 8-day visit to India recently coinciding with the Doklam standoff.
Both sides have agreed to step up intelligence cooperation to fight insurgency along the border with Bangladesh (infested with Rohingya terrorists), northeastern states and China –– where insurgents are active. While India and Myanmar plan to do more to secure their 1,640-km border from northeastern insurgents, Myanmar generals have long fought the rebels backed by China along the border and have often displayed their distrust toward China.
India also has major plans for highways and port infrastructure (Indo-Myanmar-Thai highway & Kaladan multi-modal project including Sittwe Port) in Myanmar that will be an alternative to China’s OBOR in the region.
Myanmar might be heading towards a debt crisis following China’s move forcing Myanmar to hand over majority stake in a deep sea strategic port in the Bay of Bengal, to Beijing. China is expected to take controlling stakes, as high as 85%, in many Chinese-funded projects in Myanmar, although the initial agreement for some of them was on a 50:50 basis. China has also demanded a 70%-85% stake in a strategic deep sea port, Kyauk Pyu. The $7.3-b project is funded by China and Myanmar, whose economy is yet to gather steam, might find it difficult to repay the loan. The $3.6-b Myitsone dam project, financed by China, is also facing hurdles. After being in making for years, the project was suspended in September 2011.
Modi’s second trip to Myanmar (he had attended India-ASEAN, East Asia Summits there in 2015) would also witness cultural ties being invoked. The two sides will sign MoU for the conservation of earthquake-damaged pagodas at Bagan.
ET View: Strengthen Ties
India needs to focus on strengthening its relations in the region—forging partnerships. Besides security and economic interests, New Delhi must leverage its cultural and historical ties with Myanmar and the South East Asian region to build a strong and sustainable relationship. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Myanmar is part of the government’s neighbourhood fi rst policy. In doing so, India will present an alternative to China in the region.