Growing importance to foreign policy in UPSC IAS MAINS is evident of India’s rising role in world politics and consistent economic growth. A symbolic shift is seen in UPSC IAS MANS exam where more importance is given to the global polity influencing socio-economic structure in India. Here we will cover India and Myanmar growing relations and future way ahead’s to prosperity.
Myanmar is one of India's strategic neighbours and shares a 1,640-km-long border with a number of northeastern states including militancy-hit Nagaland and Manipur. In September 2017, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed his first bilateral visit to Myanmar. During the visit, both the countries signed 11 agreements signed in a range of sectors including one on maritime security cooperation to further strengthen their multifaceted partnership. The agreements were signed following delegation-level talks headed by Narendra Modi and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.
Highlights of the 11 Agreements
• A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Election Commission of India and Union Election of Myanmar.
• An MoU was signed on cooperation between Myanmar Press Council and the Press Council of India.
• Both the sides signed an agreement for cultural exchange programme for the years 2017 to 2020.
• Two MoUs were signed on establishment of the India-Myanmar Centre for Enhancement of IT Skill and the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology (MIIT).
• Two other MoUs were signed on medical products regulation and in the field of health and medicine.
• Another MoU was signed on enhancing cooperation for upgrade of the Women’s Police Training Centre at Yamethin, Myanmar.
• The two sides also signed an agreement for sharing white shipping information to improve data sharing on non-classified merchant navy ships or cargo ships.
• An MoU on Maritime Security Cooperation was also signed.
• A Technical Agreement was signed between both the sides for providing Coastal Surveillance System.
Q1. Myanmar is a key partner for India for the successful execution of the Act East Policy. Elaborate.
Q2. Examine recent developments in India-Myanmar relations against the backdrop of the Rohnigya Crisis.
Q3. “Myanmar is pivotal for India in interregional as well as intercontinental connectivity” Comment.
India and Myanmar: A New Phase
India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. As the land of Lord Buddha, India is a country of pilgrimage for the people of Myanmar. India and Myanmar relations have stood the test of time.
The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to people contact. India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. A large population of Indian origin lives in Myanmar.
India and Myanmar signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1951. The visit of the Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 laid the foundations for a stronger relationship between India and Myanmar.
The year 2016 has written a new historic chapter in Myanmar’s political regime, nearly half a decade old military rule ended when the National League of Democracy came to power with a watershed win of more than 72% majority.
This new pro – democratic Political stand has provided India with an impeccable opportunity to foster bilateral ties with its only Southeastern Asian border sharing country-Myanmar. As Myanmar embarks on a journey of democracy and development, India assured it of unstinted support as the two traditionally close neighbors agreed to enhance ties in a range of areas including security and trade.
India wants its projects to touch the lives of ordinary citizens of the Myanmar and hence agriculture will now plays a major role in India’s development plans for example the proposal to develop a Seed Production Centre in Myanmar to improve the quality of seeds.
Tourism is another major sector where the real potential between of both historically and culturally rich connected countries is still tapped.
For India, Myanmar is of strategic importance as it borders its sensitive North Eastern states. The two countries share a 1,600 km-long border and have agreed that a close coordination to ensure security in the areas along its border that serves the interests of both our countries. The two sides decided to ramp up border vigilance.
Why Myanmar so significant?
Myanmar is pivotal for India’s regional north-east and foreign Asean policy. Both countries share a heritage of religious, linguistic and ethnic ties. Further, Myanmar is our gateway to South East Asia and ASEAN with which we are seeking greater economic integration through India’s 'Look East' and ‘Act East’ Policy.
Myanmar also offers us an alternative access route to the Northeast. Four North-Eastern States viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram share international boundary with Myanmar.
Historical and cultural ties:
Myanmar (formerly Burma) was made a province of British India by British rulers and again separated in 1937. India established diplomatic relations after Myanmar's independence from Great Britain in 1948.
For many years, Indo-Burmese relations were strong due to Myanmar previously having been a province of India, due to cultural links, flourishing commerce, common interests in regional affairs and the presence of a significant Indian community in Myanmar.
India provided considerable support when Myanmar struggled with regional insurgencies. However, the overthrow of the democratic government by the Military of Myanmar led to strains in ties.
Along with much of the world, India condemned the suppression of democracy and Myanmar ordered the expulsion of the Burmese Indian community, increasing its own isolation from the world.
India had long historical relationship with Myanmar since antiquity; cultural exchanges included Buddhism and the Burmese script, which was based off the Indian Grantha script.
India and Myanmar share close cultural ties. There is a deep sense of kinship, particularly amongst the Buddhist community, given India’s association with the Buddha’s life.
In particular, Theravada Buddhism has tremendously influenced Burmese society and culture for millennia, with 90% continuing to follow the religion to this day.
Commercial and Trade ties:
Commercial cooperation is another area of focus. India and Myanmar signed a trade agreement in 1970. Bilateral trade has been growing steadily reaching USD 1571.95 million in 2014-15 and India is the fourth largest trade partner of Myanmar but trade remains below potential.
Agriculture sector dominates bilateral trade. Myanmar is the second largest supplier of beans and pulses to India and Timber and wood products. India’s exports to Myanmar include pharmaceuticals products, steel & iron products, electrical machinery, Mineral oil, Rubber and articles, plastics etc.
Most of India’s investments have been in the oil and gas sector. Indian companies have evinced interest in investing in Myanmar and major contracts have been won by Indian companies. More facilitative environment that includes greater air, sea and road connectivity options would give a fillip to the cooperation. Cooperation in banking sector is crucial for investment and trade.
Mechanisms such as Joint Trade Committee, Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement and other technical level committee on trade have contributed significantly in strengthening trade and investment relations. Myanmar is an important partner in strengthening our energy security.
Probabilities and Possibilities:
-->Myanmar as a nation is struggling to make democratic culture take root in its country. It believes that India with its nation building experience so similar to Myanmar can help this Endeavour.
Myanmar is building a very young democracy and India is helping it, especially with capacity building of its legislators to make sure rule of law is established in the country via parliamentary rules, procedures and practices as well as in managing Union-State/Region relations, allocation of powers and resources between the Union and States etc.
-->Both countries have called for the expeditious finalization of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism presently being negotiated in the United Nations and Myanmar is positively believed to back India’s stand against any terrorist front.
-->Myanmar is also India’s bridge to the larger Asean market and an integral part of India’s "act east policy". The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, which will open the waterways for transport of goods in the region, forms an important part of connectivity aims. The trilateral Asian highway is also nearing completion.
-->Apart from supply of pulses, possibilities of energy supply from offshore blocks in Myanmar and business opportunities that emerging from an opening economy underpin our future bilateral relations.
-->On maritime security, both countries have agreed on Maritime Security Cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and by extending cooperation in the Indian Ocean region too, both countries have the potential to develop an alternate inter-portal trade route via Bay of Bengal.
-->Myanmar is an important partner in strengthening our energy security. Having an enormous potential in untapped energy sources like oil and mineral exploration, Myanmar offer a cheap and efficient prospect for our exploration policies.
-->On regional cooperation under SAARC, BIMSTEC, India and Myanmar both have the roots to write a new chapter in Asean connectivity and develop a regional hub of Buddhist tourism for all. The trans-border connected road of India-Myanmar-Thailand is a welcome step in this regard.
In these initial years of democratization of Myanmar, India has an instrument role to play as its expected of India to foster it’s legacy and experiences on nation building via constitution and institution building capacity.
Myanmar is India’s land bridge to Southeast Asia. Besides being our closest Southeast Asian neighbor, Myanmar’s importance in India’s foreign policy is marked by its long porous international border with Northeast India, India’s quest for connectivity with East Asia, India’s search for alternative sources of energy, and its economic linkages with the region.
With the renewed emphasis on India’s ‘Act East’ policy, the bilateral relations between these two countries are expected to gain exponential credentials.