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Millennium Post

‘Look east’ policy only in name

It seems India has made little progress in implementing its proposed infrastructure-related projects in Myanmar, despite the initial euphoria generated over the opening up of the country’s economy.

The delay and an apparent lack of interest on part of Indian investors have come in for critical comment in a section of the Burmese media. One recent report notes, ‘New Delhi has talked about its “Look East” policy for many years, but has actually done little investing in Myanmar.’ What intrigues observers is that India is not alone in this. Except Japan, most other countries have been slow in getting off the starting block, regarding the launch of new projects.

However, with the Chinese losing some of their earlier economic dominance in Myanmar during the last couple of years, India as a big regional power was expected to step in effectively – an impression the Indian Government did nothing to counter. The report mentions the ‘several business delegations’ visiting Myanmar in recent months.

India’s go-slow has also prompted fresh speculations about its priorities. The dredging of the Kaladan River and the upgradation of the Sittwe port in the Rakhine province are two of the biggest projects being handled by India. Work started only in 2010, after much discussion. The primary objective, according to Burmese circles, is to ensure better connectivity between India’s mainland and its northeast. No mention is made of the projects contributing to an improvement in the local infrastructure. The planned highway linking India and Thailand through Myanmar again has been discussed since 2004, but no formal agreement has been signed yet.

Two hydropower projects planned on river Chindwin, with India’s help and participation, have now been deemed ‘not feasible’ by following a detailed study of local conditions by Indian experts.

Similarly, Bangladesh has offered to buy offshore gas from Myanmar, but there has not been much progress. It also offered to participate in joint venture power projects.

However, relations between Myanmar and India have been warmer in recent years than between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Major differences have arisen between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the thorny issue of the Rohingiya population settled in the Rakhine province. Also, the countries have had to go for international arbitration to settle a longstanding dispute over respective jurisdiction over and claims on, territorial water limits in the Bay of Bengal.

However, it is the Chinese who seem to be losing in a major way, with the opening up of the economy to international finance. First, the construction of a major dam on river Irrawady, intended to ensure steady power supply for China’s fast developing Yunan province, was halted till 2015 by Myanmar authorities because of environmental issues. Then angry protests at the Chinese-aided copper mines at Monywa district affected work. It seems the future of Chinese investments in Myanmar are no longer safe. Experts point out that transparency and co-ordination do not really exist in Myanmar yet, despite the political takeover by a more liberal political regime from the army. This is a major reason why international investors face many problems doing business in the country. (IPA)
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