India-Myanmar Relations

India-Myanmar Relations

This article deals with ‘India-Myanmar Relations.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is important pillar of GS-2 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here

Historical Bonds

  • In the ancient times, two Indian monks named Tapusa and Bhallika were responsible to promote Buddhism in the Myanmar region. Ashoka, during his reign, also sent missionaries to Myanmar or Burma.
  • Rulers of Myanmar , since the ancient times, have been majorly Kshatriyas and their origins can be traced back to   India .
  • Britishers exiled Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor, to Yangon in Myanmar and the Konbaung King of Myanmar to Ratnagiri.
  • Yangon was once a centre for India’s independence struggle.
  • General Aung SanBurma’s independence hero, was a close friend of Netaji
  • In modern times, In 1951, India and Burma established diplomatic relations through a treaty of friendship.

Importance of Myanmar for India

Myanmar is very important for India because 

  • Myanmar is important part of India’s Act East Policy .
  • Myanmar can act as transit for North East .
  • It is the only Indian neighbour who is ASEAN Member (Hence, Myanmar can act as India’s Bridge to ASEAN) .

1 . Connectivity

Can be seen in following aspects

1. 1 . Bridge to ASEAN

Projects in which Myanmar is important include

  • IMT Highway : Highway connecting Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand  and passing through  India, Myanmar & Thailand .
  • BCIM Project : Bangladesh , China, India and Myanmar are part of this project.

1.2 . Important for connecting North East

  • Project  which are important in this regard includes Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project .

Side Topic : Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project

  • Kaladan Multimodal Project can act as  an alternate outlet for North East and an alternate route to connect to mainland India .
  • It will connect Kolkata (port) => Sittwe (port in Myanmar)  => Paletwa (river port on Kaladan river) => Mizoram (via road).
India-Myanmar Relations
  • The project will boost employment and will lower the food prices in the region but the intrusion into the region will create a threat to local heritage.

Side Topic : BCIM Corridor

BCIM Corridor will start from Kunming and end at Kolkata passing through Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar .

BCIM Corridor

Why China wants BCIM ?

Southwest China is landlocked & poor .China hopes, BCIM corridor will

  • Provide outlet to Yunan Province
  • Boost trade & tourism

Thereby, reducing the poverty and extremism in its south-west region .

Advantages of BCIM

  • Act East Policy and North East
    • BCIM project is in line with India’s Act East Policy .
    • Indian states of North East will come into mainstream. 
    • It can help in containing insurgency in North East by providing economic prosperity .
  • Exploiting each other’s trade complementarities i.e. China’s manufacturing, India’s Service sector, Bangladesh’s low cost manufacturing and Myanmar’s cheap labour and raw material.
  • BCIM project will help in creating Energy Corridor as
    • South West China (Yunan Province) , Bangladesh, Myanmar and Assam in India has petroleum resources .
    • This region has huge potential of Hydro Electric Energy .
  • It will lead to revival of Kolkata port .  Earlier, Kolkata’s importance was lost due to  its unnatural isolation from its natural eastern neighbourhood.
  • Huge Market as the region hosts nearly 50 crore people  & growing middle class with increasing per capita income  .
  • Tourism too will get a boost.

Problems

  • Ethnic insurgency :
    • Fighting between Myanmar Army and ethnic Kokang rebels  based near Chinese border .
    • United Wa State Army runs parallel government in North Eastern Myanmar .
    • Indian North Eastern states are itself insurgency hit .
  • China insisting to make it part of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and India is not part of  BRI  .
  • Due to this project, India’s trade deficit with China will increase further .
  • Region is also hit by the communal violence involving Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims .

Side Topic : IMT Highway

  • Connect Moreh in Manipur to Mandalay in Myanmar to Mae Sot in Thailand .
  • India and Thailand have constructed their part . Only Myanmar is lagging behind because of the political instability . 
IMT Highway

2. LNG / Energy

  • Myanmar has large reserves of natural gas .
  • Myanmar’s gas is attractive for India  because
    • Proximity : Easy to transport via pipelines .
    • Untapped : Indian Companies likes ONGC Videsh can buy stake .
    • It can usher prosperity in North Eastern states (same done by China wrt Yunan Province) .
  • ONGC has already invested $1.6 billion in Myanmar gas with 30% stake in Shwe gas fields.
  • Jubilant Energy and Reliance are also working in shallow water blocks in Myanmar.
  • Note : China is far ahead as  Chinese investments in  energy sector in Myanmar has been $ 8 billion .

3. Trade & Investment Opportunities

  • Myanmar’s economy is opening up . Hence, there are immense investment opportunities for Indian Companies .
  • India imports beans, pulses and forest products from Myanmar while it exports steel and pharmaceutical products.
  • Myanmar is also helpful in Make Outside India because of Free Trade Access to ASEAN Market
  • There are large untapped Natural Resources (oil, gas, teak, copper & gemstone)  
  • Myanmar is the second largest supplier of beans and pulses to India . 
  • There has been a huge presence of Indian companies in Myanmar. Tata Motors has established a truck assembly plant in Magway. Apart from that, GMR, TVS motors, Birla Corporation, ITC hotels , Shree cement and Bharti Airtel are the notable Indian companies in Myanmar .
  • State Bank of India has also acquired commercial license for banking purposes in Myanmar.
  • India is also trying to built a Buddhist circuit in association with Myanmar where India intends to  promote tourism and create job.

4 . Security

  • Insurgents in North East  especially Naga groups find havens in Myanmar where border is not fenced and free movement of people is permitted (due to 16 Km Free Movement Regime).
  • In 2015 , Indian troops reportedly crossed into Myanmar territory to target a NSCN (Khaplang) military camp .  India & Myanmar are now helping each other in containing insurgency by not allowing insurgents to take shelter  in each other’s territories.
  • Myanmar is a part of the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Thailand and Laos) and has become an important transit country for illegal drug trafficking. In 2010, India and Myanmar established Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty on criminal matters which has emerged as the core legal instrument to address issues related to drug smuggling .
  • India has been an important arms supplier to Myanmar. India has supplied T-55 tanks, transport planes and naval crafts to Myanmar .
  • In 2006, both concluded an MoU on intelligence sharing and training of Myanmar military personnel.

Side Topic : Rohingya Issue

  • A large number of Muslims were taken by the Britishers from Bengal to Burma from 1823 onwards when the British occupied the Rakhine state of Myanmar. After the independence of Burma in 1948, these Muslims stayed back in Burma.  These are known as Rohingyas in Myanmar.
  • According to the 1982 Citizenship law of Myanmar, the Rohingyas were not recognized as an official ethnic group and since then have become stateless in Myanmar.
  • In 2011, ethnic violence broke against the Rohingyas under the influence of radical and rightist Buddhist monk known as Ashin Wirathu.  This led to the mass exodus of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, India and Thailand . Those who remain are  ghettoized and persecuted .
Rohingya Issue
  • There are around 40,000 Rohingyas in India. The Indian government has decided to deport the Rohingya Muslims as
    • They have immigrated to India illegally.
    • These illegal immigrants, living majorly in Kashmir, are susceptible to recruitment by terrorist groups and thus constitute a security threat to India.
    • Influx of Rohingya Muslims to India also disturbs the demographic pattern and social, political and cultural stability of the society.

5. People to People Contacts

  • Buddhism reached Myanmar from India .
  • Both nations have great relations since centuries . Even during British colonialism, both Myanmar and India had almost free movement of people & goods .
  • Many Tribes in North East like Nagas have population on both sides of the border.

6. Multilateral Engagements

  • ASEAN: Myanmar is only ASEAN country which shares a land border with India.
  • BIMSTEC: Myanmar is a member of BIMSTEC .
  • India and Myanmar are part of Mekong Ganga Cooperation .
  • SAARC: Myanmar was given the status of observer in SAARC in August 2008.

Issue : China Factor

  • Myanmar is part of OBOR and China is building following in Myanmar
    • Kyaukpyu port
    • Pipelines and Rail connecting Kyaukpyu to Yunan
  • Myanmar is important to provide outlet to South Western Province (Yunan) .
  • Energy : China has invested $ 8 billion in Energy sector .
  • With Ethnic conflict going on in Myanmar & its porous borders with China, Myanmar requires Chinese assistance to cope with situation.

Advantages of India over China in Myanmar

  • India prefers to give ‘development & Human Capital Formation loans” while China indulges in ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ .
  • India can help Myanmar in building up strong democratic institutions.   
  • India is investing heavily in Myanmar  . Eg : Sittwe Port and Kaladan Multimodal Project .
  • Both are part of  Multilateral Forums like  BIMSTEC and Indian Ocean Rim Association  .
  • Cultural Ties : India is birthplace of Buddhism and most of Myanmar’s population follow this tradition . Eg:  ancient city of Bagan, has famous Hindu temples .

Constraints

Rohingya Problem Large number of these refugees have also fled to India.
Sittwe port and Kaladan Multimodal Project also passes through Rakhine Province .  
Chinese Factor China is investing in large projects in China as part of it’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ . Ports like Kyaukpyu are alleged to  part of String of Pearls strategy of China to contain India.  
Project Delays There is widespread discontent against India over continuing delay in completion of flagship projects — Kaladan and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway.  
Economic Development Myanmar is one of the poorest nations in Asia. Infrastructure in Myanmar is almost non-existent  . Hence, Private Indian capitalists hesitate to invest .  
Military Control One-quarter of seats in both Houses of Parliament are reserved for the military. Hence, Military yields too much control in Myanmar .

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