Gist of Rajya Sabha TV : India-Myanmar Bilateral Ties & Cooperation

  • Published
    13th Oct, 2020

Introduction

India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. A number of agreements enhancing bilateral Cooperation have been signed between the two countries. High level visits have been a regular feature of India-Myanmar relations for several years. And talking about visits, Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane where in Mynamar on a two-day visit. They met Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for talks on taking forward bilateral relations in a wide range of areas. Shringla and Naravane discussed “important bilateral issues” during their meeting with Suu Kyi, the Indian embassy said in a tweet without giving further details.

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM THE DEBATE

Historical Background of India and Myanmar

  • India has strong cultural affinities with Burma owing to the spread of Buddhism into the region during ancient times.
  • These affinities further grew during the colonial period as India and Myanmar together endured imperialism.
  • Indian leaders also maintained close relations with it during the freedom struggle which was led by Aung San.
  • India established diplomatic ties with Myanmar in 1948 after it gained independence.
  • The ties however deteriorated after the overthrow of Democracy in Myanmar in 1962 as India condemned the military coup.
  • Incidentally, this was the period when Myanmar went into the Chinese fold.
  • The relations further worsened during late 1980s when Myanmar witnessed pro-democracy movements that were suppressed by the military junta causing a mass influx of Burmese refugees into India.
  • Indo- Myanmar ties however witnessed a turnaround during 1990s when India mooted the Look East Policy with Myanmar emerging as key to this foreign policy posture by India.
  • Today, with an elected government in Myanmar, under Aung San Suu Kyi, Indo- Myanmar relations are at a firmer stead.

Areas of Cooperation

  • India and Myanmar share a long 1,643 km geographical land border and maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar shares borders with 4 Indian states – Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India.
  • Myanmar is India’s gateway to South-East Asia.
  • The success of India’s Act East Policy, Neighbourhood first policy largely depends on its relations with Myanmar.
  • Myanmar is also the beneficiary of a duty-free tariff preference scheme for least developed countries (LDCs).
  • India is building the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport, a road-river-port cargo transport project, to link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and then from Myanmar’s Kaladan river to India’s north-east.
  • India, Myanmar, and Thailand are building the Asian Trilateral Highway, which will connect India to ASEAN.
  • India has already extended $2 billion in soft loans. It has offered to help Myanmar developmental assistance in the areas it wants rather than be prescriptive.
  • India-Myanmar Bilateral Army Exercise (IMBAX) is aimed at building and promoting closer relations with armies. Myanmar is a key partner in the fight to end insurgency in India's northeast.
  • India and Myanmar share cultural ties in terms of Buddhist heritage and shared history of colonialism.
  • India has responded promptly and effectively in rendering assistance following natural calamities in Myanmar like Cyclone Mora (2017), Komen (2015), earthquake in Shan State (2010).
  • Myanmar is also a key component of India’s strategy to bridge South and South-East Asia through BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).
  • India does not directly engage with the issue of Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya Muslim minority. But India has condemned the recent terrorist attacks in northern Rakhine State.

Recent developments between the nations

  • India and Myanmar have exchanged many agreements and MOUs in a number of fields ranging from infrastructure, energy, communication and health.
  • India and Myanmar have signed a MoU on Cooperation for Prevention of Trafficking in Persons; Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Re-Integration of Victims of Trafficking.
  • The countries have signed MOUs on Infrastructure i.e. India building Road in Myanmar, solar panels and resettlement of Rohingyas etc.
  • An agreement regarding Indian Grant Assistance for Implementation of Quick Impact Projects (QIP).
  • The two nations also decided to work together to launch India’s RuPay Card in Myanmar at the earliest and explore the creation of a digital infrastructure.
  • The countries have agreed to cooperate in the field of petroleum products, for cooperation in refining, stockpiling, blending and retail through a Government-to-Government Memorandum of Understanding.
  • India will offer medical radiation equipment Bhabhatron II for treatment of cancer patients, and strengthen cooperation in the health sector.
  • India will help Myanmar with the project of e-ID cards, which is modelled after the Aadhaar project.

Challenges

  • Internal Security is a major concern for India; Indo-Myanmar border is porous and lightly policed which is exploited by terrorist outfits and insurgent groups from North Eastern part of India.
  • Bilateral trade between India and Myanmar still falls short of expectations.
  • China has asserted itself through its soft power as well as through its trade and economic relations with Myanmar by taking up large infrastructure projects.
  • India has found it difficult to counter Chinese influence in Myanmar.
  • Lack of basic infrastructure and low trading volume at the Indian border.
  • The India Intelligence Agency stated that the smuggling of light arms, drugs and counterfeit currencies have been spotted along the border.

Way forward

  • It is also the only country that can act as a link between India and ASEAN.
  • Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia and could be the required impetus to realize India’s Act East Policy.
  • There are a few sectors where India can extend its presence in Myanmar.
  • Agriculture is another sector where India can substantially augment its cooperation with Myanmar.
  • Timely implementation and completion of the projects undertaken.
  • Increasing people to people ties and promoting exchange of culture and soft power of India.
  • Need for frequent dialogues at local level, business level and political level.
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