logo

Myanmar connectivity

Myanmar connectivity

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first visit to Myanmar (September 5-7) generates a great deal of euphoria from the perspective of his Act Asia policy and paves the way for a North East –Myanmar connectivity. Myanmar is the only nation in ASEAN that has both road and sea borders with India. The two share a land border of 1,643 kilometres.

The North East – Myanmar connectivity is crucial for the development of the North-East region, which has hitherto been neglected because of its rugged roads and constant outbursts of ethnic turmoil and simultaneous relegation as a peripheral part of the country. Myanmar borders the North East, comprising of eight states. Besides, Myanmar serves as the buffer state between India and China as the two nations are at loggerheads due to intermittent border disputes. The synergy of Myanmar connectivity is tri-lateral – for a new challenge to India's geopolitical strategy in South East Asia and a turning point for North East development to the containment of China's outreach in the region through OBOR.
Myanmar witnessed a new dawn of democracy in November 2015 after five decades of military rule, when NLD (National League for Democracy) led by Aung San Suu Kyi swept the general elections, overthrowing the military government. Following that, the victory of the civilian President in March 2016 affirmed the faith in democracy of the Myanmar people for the first time in 50 years.
The return of democracy, which pitched for major changes in the geopolitical situation between India and Myanmar, offers unique opportunities to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make Myanmar a pivot for his Act Asia policy. Located at the crossroad between Bangladesh, China, Laos, and India, home to more than 40 per cent of the world population, a big potential exists for trade and investment expansion in these areas using Myanmar as the epicentre.
Return of democracy in Myanmar is a major leg up for India to contain the rebels in the North East region. India is facing constant threats from insurgent groups in the North East. These groups have bases on the 1600 km India-Burmese border line. They are the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and insurgent groups of Manipur. They are being constantly stirred up by China's anti-India movement. India wants to contain these insurgencies with the new government in Myanmar. Another security concern was China's benevolent selling of arms to the military Junta in Myanmar, which became the gateway for supply of arms to India's North East regions' insurgents. The return of democracy in Myanmar raises hope to tackle the Chinese arms supply to the insurgents with joint military actions.
Historically, India had maintained close relations with Myanmar since British colonialism (formerly Burma). The British brought a number of Indians to Burma during its colonial rule. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru provided arms to the Burmese government in 1949, which prevented the fall of Rangoon from the rebels. On July 7, 1951, India and Burma signed a Treaty of Friendship in New Delhi. The relationship between India and Burma was deeply engaged and informal during Nehru's regime.
The bonhomie between the two nations faded after China flexed its muscle. China emerged as a major political and economic partner of Myanmar during the military junta government. The Sino-Burmese border agreement and a treaty of friendship between China and Myanmar were signed in January 1960, which overshadowed India's close relation with Myanmar.
India's relation with Myanmar deteriorated further with India's support to Burma's pro-democratic movement in 1988. India, along with the USA and other Western countries, isolated the Myanmar Military Junta.
Myanmar is in the throes of transformation. The relation with India spurred under the UPA regime, with the initiative of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In the event of the uptrend in the India-Myanmar relation, the North East can pose as a junction and Myanmar as the gateway to South East Asia, according to an event report by ORF. In this perspective, strong connectivity between the North East and Myanmar is imperative.
Connectivity projects like the India- Myanmar-Thailand tri-lateral highway project and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor project (BCIM) – the first expressway between India and China, which will pass through Myanmar and Bangladesh — will form major constituents in the economic cooperation between the two countries. Connectivity got further muscle after the Modi government boosted the initiative by approving the upgradation and widening of 65 kilometres of Imphal - Moreh road in Manipur.
Currently, the economic relationship between the two countries is at the rock bottom. Myanmar accounts for less than one per cent of India's exports and eight per cent of India's imports. The Import basket swells because of pulses, which accounts for over 80 per cent of trade between the two countries. For Myanmar, India is the 5th largest trading partner – third largest export destination and seventh nation for imports.
India-Myanmar trade portends a big potential in border trade. At present, there are four LCS (Land Customs Stations) in India dealing with border trade with Myanmar. Not much headway was made to capitalise the border trade between the two countries. One of the primary reasons for the low level of border trade is the unfavourable trading arrangement. The lack of modern trade infrastructure and adequate security dwarfed the potential of border trade. Hopes are raised with an India-friendly Myanmar government, which will usher constructive measures for improvement of border trade.
Myanmar is a potential investment destination in South East Asia. Amidst the lacklustre growth in FDI in South East Asian countries, Myanmar was spotted as a bright destination for foreign investors. Myanmar approved US $ 8.1 billion FDI in 2014-15 against US $ 4.1 billion in 2013-14 - almost a 100 per cent jump in FDI. The lifting of USA and Western embargoes triggered Myanmar's attractiveness for the foreign investors.
India is far behind China in terms of investment in Myanmar. India accounts for less than one per cent of foreign investment against 40 per cent by China – the biggest investor. Myanmar is endowed with big oil and gas and precious stones reserves, such as rubies, sapphires, and jade.
Myanmar's new government is likely to face a daunting task. Politically, it is yet to be fool-proof; acute poverty and severe unemployment eclipse the nation. The military-drafted constitution reserves 25 per cent of the seats for non-elected military representatives. They have veto powers for constitutional changes. The Constitution vests powers with the Commander-in –Chief to appoint ministers for home, defence and border affairs.
Despite these, the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and her penchant for India's support for development will act as a bridge to reinvigorate the relation between India and Myanmar. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit, particularly after the Doklam standoff and its diffusion, will likely provide a political boost to the Myanmar government for its assertion on full fledged democracy and delink it from the Chinese influence in the region.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Agencies

Agencies

Our Contributor help bring you the latest article around you


Exclusive

View All

Latest News

View All
Share it
Top