Where China meets India

While it is true, that China is far more focused and efficient than India in increasing its economic foothold in different parts of the world such as Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and off course Asia. The reasons are manifold. Firstly, China has no dearth of economic resources. Second, the Chinese government has been enthusiastic in not just announcing support to economic investment and projects, but also been brilliant in execution. In India, it is the private sector which has taken the lead as far as investments and overall economic presence is concerned, the government’s performance has not been spectacular. Last but not least, the fact that China has an authoritarian regime means that it does not have to really bother about whether another country is democratic or not.

While China has been expanding its presence globally, India has been unable to cash in on certain advantages which it has over China in different parts of the world – including Asia. One country, where India clearly has the potential to challenge China is Myanmar – which is India’s gateway to South East Asia.

There is no doubt, that in the economic sphere China has overtaken India in Myanmar – in fact it is miles ahead. The former’s investment is to the tune of 14 billion dollars, India’s investment in comparison is a paltry 270 US Billion dollars. Similarly, in terms of connectivity, China’s Yunnan province is well integrated with Myanmar’s Arakan province, and there are plans to enhance rail connectivity. India on the other hand has struggled to connect its North Eastern region to Myanmar. Efforts are being made now, to increase the level of connectivity. Yet, even projects like the Kaladan Multi-Modal transport link and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway have taken longer.

Yet, it would be only fair to say that India is certainly not a push over however, and there are areas where it clearly scores over China in Myanmar. Firstly, the shared history between India and Myanmar is a big advantage.  Myanmar is home to a large number of persons of Indian origin, there are also some important historical shrines like the tomb of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar which are a clear manifestation of old historical ties between both countries. India should make efforts not just to showcase these monuments, but also extend support to individuals of Indian origin and seek to create a strong Pro-India lobby.

Second, Myanmar is in a phase of institution building. The country is making a transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Many observers and political actors are skeptical about the sort of transition Myanmar will actually make, with many believing, that the military is likely to run the show for a few years. Yet it is encouraging to note, that there are some indicators that the country has the potential to emerge as a reasonably free and intellectually vibrant society. One strong illustration of this point is the large number of newspapers and television channels which have mushroomed in the recent past. There are a number of departments of journalism as well in prominent universities.

India without any direct interference in this transition, should lend support to civil society as well as academic institutions and sections of the media. It should also try to build goodwill by encouraging exchanges with journalists and civil servants of Myanmar.

Third, there is a yearning in Myanmar to integrate with the global economy and India could help Myanmar in specific areas like Information technology and even assistance with English language training. These are important spheres and substantial help with both could help in generating good will for India.

Fourth, India’s multi-ethnic social fabric is a good model for a country plagued by clashes between the Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. China’s handling of Uighurs can certainly not classify as a model for Myanmar. India’s model of respecting different faiths and cultures is a far more durable model for a country moving towards a democratic set up.

Fifth, there is a hidden resentment against China amongst sections of the local population. While the current regime has Pro-China tilt, a large percentage of locals is vary of the increasing Chinese influence especially in the economic sphere. There is a feeling, that the military junta is allowing China to increase its influence in the country. New Delhi should keep a close eye on perceptions towards China. It is not only the government, but even India’s private sector which needs to cash in on the apprehensions which Myanmarese have vis-à-vis China. Large companies should make investments and have the ability to take risks.

Finally, apart from China many other countries too are seriously looking to make in roads into Myanmar.  It is time, that New Delhi joins hands with other countries like Japan.Japan is already providing Myanmar financial assistance for a number of purposes, such as upgradation of the railway link, water services, up gradation of postal services and training to the police.

Author is a New Delhi-based columnist and policy analyst
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