Considering the high priority India attaches to its relationship with Myanmar, in accordance with its “Neighbourhood First” and ‘Act East’ policies, very senior Indian authorities engaged with the top brass of Myanmar government and armed forces to further deepen the relationship of trust and cooperation in the economic and security arenas. Despite the prevailing atmosphere due to the Covid-19 pandemic; the Indian Chief of Army Staff General M M Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Myanmar.
The visit provided an opportunity to review the sustained progress achieved in recent years in bilateral relations. Both countries have over the years developed strong bonds in development and economic cooperation to security to energy sectors, besides cooperation in regional multilateral organisations like ASEAN and BIMSTEC. The joint visit of the Indian Army Chief and Foreign Secretary was also significant from the strategic angle. Both India and Myanmar have been victims of terrorism.
Myanmar leadership also accorded great importance to the visit of the high ranking Indian officials. The State Counsellor of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Commander in Chief of the Defence Services, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing met with the visiting Indian dignitaries to discuss the future trajectory of bilateral relations. From the Myanmar side, the Deputy Commander in Chief of Myanmarese Armed Forces, Senior General Soe Win held an extensive discussion with Indian Army Chief on new measures for strengthening cooperation between defence forces of the two counties; whereas the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar U Soe Han separately discussed issues of bilateral significance with the Indian Foreign Secretary.
The officials discussed progress made in several high value infrastructure development projects in Myanmar, which India is promoting, these projects are worth more than US$ 1.4 Billion. Two are flagship connectivity projects, the trilateral highway linking Kolkata with Bangkok via Myanmar and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport. These two projects when completed will greatly contribute to the economic development of both the countries. The two sides expressed satisfaction and noted considerable progress made under the Rakhine State Development Programme. As part of India’s capacity building efforts, a Centre of Excellence on Software Development and Training was inaugurated by the Foreign Secretary during the visit. Besides discussions on the progress of development projects, the two sides reviewed the ongoing security cooperation with special emphasis on maintenance of security and stability in their border areas. Both sides reiterated their mutual commitment not to allow their respective territories to be used for activities inimical to each other. The Indian side expressed appreciation to Myanmar for handing over of 22 cadres of various insurgent groups to India.
As part of India’s moral responsibility to help a friendly neighbour during the Covid-19 crisis; Foreign Secretary and the Army Chief handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir, the drug that helps in treatment of coronavirus, to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. This would help in the treatment of Coronavirus infected citizens of Myanmar. Foreign Secretary also indicated India’s willingness to prioritize Myanmar in sharing Covid-19 vaccines as and when these become available. India has also provided humanitarian help with financial and material support to both Myanmar and Bangladesh to facilitate early return of displaced persons of these two countries.
India and Myanmar have in the recent years, also strengthened their energy ties. During the February 2020 visit of Indian President Ramnath Kovind to Myanmar, the two sides had signed a MoU for cooperation in Petroleum products. Both countries already have institutional mechanism to guide bilateral cooperation in the energy sector through Joint Working Group on Oil and Gas sector, the last meeting of which was held in June this year. To promote border trade between the Indian state of Mizoram and Myanmar, India announced a grant of US$ 2 million for the construction of border “Haat” Bridge at Saarsichauk in Myanmar’s Chin State that will provide increased economic connectivity. India also announced assistance to preserve cultural heritage of Myanmar like the world famous Bagan Pagodas which were damaged in 2016 earthquake.
Script: Ranjit Kumar, Senior Journalist