President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, U Win Myint was on a State Visit to India. Myanmar is a critical anchor in India’s “Act East” and ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policies. It is key to India’s approach to the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries as the primary goal is to develop extensive economic and strategic links with South-east Asia.
After a ceremonial welcome, President U Win Myint, held talks with President Ram Nath Kovind. Prime Minister Narendra Modi held delegation level talks with the Myanmar President. The two leaders discussed bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual concern.
For enhancing bilateral cooperation, ten Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) and Agreements were signed during the high level visit. India is commitment to advancing socio-economic development in Rakhine State. Under Rakhine State Development Programme, both countries will cooperate in construction of incinerator in Mrauk Oo township hospital, seed storage houses and water supply systems in Gwa township, distribution of electricity by solar power in five townships, construction of Kyawlyaung- Ohlphyu road and Kyaung Taung Kyaw Paung road in Buthedaung township. In 2019, India provided pre-fabricated houses and relief materials for displaced persons in northern Rakhine. Additionally, there is an agreement to advance development cooperation within the framework of High Impact Community Development Projects and Quick Impact Projects under the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation mechanism.
Myanmar lies at the core of India’s regional connectivity designs. India prioritises the Sittwe Port and the Kaladan Multi Modal Transit Transport Project. A Port Operator to maintain the Sittwe Port and Paletwa Inland Water Transport Terminal has been appointed in February 2020. Early completion of the Paletwa-Zorinpui road, the last leg of the Kaladan Highway connecting Sittwe to North-east India is highlighted. Moreover, work on Kalewa-Yargyi section of the Trilateral Highway is likely to be finished by 2021. India is committed to upgradation of the 69 bridges on the Trilateral Highway. Construction of the modern Integrated Check Post as Phase-I at Tamu and the early conclusion of discussions on Motor Vehicles Agreement is on the agenda. A MoU has been signed between the private operators to establish a Coordinated Bus Service between Imphal (in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur) and Mandalay by April 2020.
India is pragmatically engaged in capacity building programmes; including making flagship projects like Myanmar Institute of Information and Technology (MIIT) and Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education (ACARE). Myanmar-India Industrial Training Centres imparts skills to youth at Pakokku and Myingyan, established with Indian grant assistance. Additional centres are being built at Monywa and Thaton. Myanmar-India Border Area Development Programmes in Chin State and Naga Self-Administered Region advances infrastructure and socio-economic development.
Furthering strategic objectives of India’s Neighbourhood First Policy demands strengthening defence and security cooperation focussing on military training, surveillance, and maritime security. Joint operations by Indian and the Myanmar armies targeting the insurgents in Myanmar have cemented a strong foundation in this regard. Countering terrorist groups and violent extremism through increased information and intelligence sharing was underscored. The MoU on Defence Cooperation and MoU on Maritime Security Cooperation and exchange of white shipping data has strengthened bilateral security cooperation.
As one of Asia’s dynamic economies, Myanmar offers several opportunities for India. Though, economic relations remain below potential with bilateral trade amounting around US$ 1.75 billion. There is a need for upgrading connectivity, market access, assisting financial transactions, simplifying business-to-business connect and supporting bilateral and regional trading agreements. Myanmar is an important partner in India’s energy relations. There is a need for better integration in the energy sector. Indian oil and gas Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) have invested in Myanmar’s upstream and are exploring opportunities to export to India a portion of the output.
The bilateral relations is rooted in shared historical, cultural and religious ties. President U Win Myint also visited Bodh Gaya and Agra. India will continue to invest in elevating the bilateral partnership to newer heights factoring in the cooperation in the broader Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of the unfolding geo-strategic developments.
Script: Dr. Titli Basu, Strategic Analyst on East & South-East Asia