India - Myanmar Relations and Act East Policy UPSC IAS Target

India - Myanmar Relations and Act East Policy UPSC

23 Jun 2019

Category : International Relations

Topic: India - Myanmar Relations and Act East Policy UPSC

India-Myanmar relation in past

India had a long historical relationship with Myanmar since cultural exchanges, antiquity, included Buddhism and the Burmese script, which was based on the Indian Grantha script. Particularly, Theravada Buddhism has immensely influenced Burmese culture and society for millennia. Today, 90% of the people are following this religion in Myanmar.

Relation of Myanmar & India during British rule

Myanmar (previously Burma) was established as a province of British India by British rulers and again alienated in 1937. It was in Japanese-occupied Burma that Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose delivered his slogan "Give me blood and I will give you freedom!", and Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted Burma's significant role in the Indian independence movement.

India-Myanmar relation after independence

India made a diplomatic relations after Myanmar's independence from Great Britain in 1948. For many years, Indo-Burmese relations were strong due to:
  • Common interests in regional affairs
  • Because of flourishing commerce and cultural links
  • Myanmar formerly having been a province of India
  • The presence of a crucial Indian community in Myanmar

During the struggle with regional insurgencies, India was supporting Myanmar. Although, the military of Myanmar overthrown the democratic government which led to strains in ties. India has also condemned the suppression of democracy and Myanmar ordered the removal of the Burmese Indian community, increasing its own separation from the world. Only China maintained close relations with Myanmar while India assisted the pro-democracy movement.

India-Myanmar relations under India’s Look East policy after the end of cold war

A breakthrough occurred in 1987 when the then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tripped to Myanmar, but relations spoiled after the military junta's reaction towards pro-democracy movements in 1988, which resulted in the arrival of Burmese refugees into India. However, since 1993 the governments of the Indian Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and P. V. Narasimha Rao changed course and started to create warmer relations b/w the two nations, as part of a wider foreign policy of increasing India's influence and participation in Southeast Asia, in light of the growing influence of the People's Republic of China

India’s major project in Myanmar

The GoI is involved in over a dozen projects in Myanmar, both in non-infrastructural and infrastructural areas. An ADSL project for high-speed data link in 32 Myanmar cities has been accomplished by TCIL. GAIL, ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL), and ESSAR are major participants in the energy sector in Myanmar. M/s RITES is involved in the development of the rail transportation system and supply of railway locos, coaches, and parts. Many other projects are in hydro-electric power, Electric power, manufacturing plant, etc also under progress.

An India-Myanmar Industrial Training Centre in Myanmar, a second centre is being also established in Myanmar, while the Myanmar-India Entrepreneurship Development Centre (MIEDC), Myanmar-India Centre for English Language (MICELT), and an India-Myanmar Centre for Enhancement of IT Skills (IMCEITS) are all operational. Other projects include overhauling of the Ananda Temple in Bagan, up-gradation of the Sittwe General Hospital and Yangon Children’s Hospital, etc

Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project
  • KMTT is a multi-modal transport project including Inland Water, shipping and road transport stretches.
  • The longest among them is shipping section from Kolkata to Sittwe port in Myanmar.
  • Reduces dependency on Chicken’s Neck corridor in West Bengal
  • Provides another route to India to ship goods to the non-coastal northeastern States.
  • Lower the distance and cost of movement from Kolkata to Mizoram and beyond.
India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway Project
  • The India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway is a highway under construction under India's Look East policy that will link Thailand via Myanmar and Moreh, India with Mae Sot.
  • The proposed 3,200 km route from India to Vietnam is known as the East-West Economic Corridor. This highway will also connect to the river ports being developed along the way at Kalay and Monywa on the Chindwin River.
  • ASEAN and India have plans to extend this route to Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia as this connectivity will generate annually, an estimated US$70 billion in incremental GDP and 20 million in incremental aggregate employment by 2025. India has also offered a US$1 billion line-of-credit for the India-ASEAN connectivity projects

Defence relationship between Myanmar and India

  • India-Myanmar joint operation damaged several militant camps of Arakan Army on the Indo-Myanmar border.
  • The action averted a possible threat to the ambitious Kaladan transit and transport project which is crucial for improving the connectivity in the Northeast.
  • Myanmar is crucial for India because of the historical, cultural, geographic, and economic ties that span centuries as well as for the overall development of North-Eastern Indian states.

Defence exercise

India-Myanmar Bilateral Army Exercise (IMBAX) is aimed at promoting and building closer relations with armies.

Border trade:

India and Myanmar signed a border trade treaty in 1994 and have two operational border trade points:
  • Moreh-Tamu
  • Zowkhatar –Rhi on the 1643 km long border
  • A third border trade point is proposed to be launched at Avakhung Pansat
With an estimated border trade of US$ 12.8 mn (2010-11), major items bought by Myanmar traders from the Indian side are soya bean meal, cotton yarn, pharmaceuticals and auto parts, etc. After the 2008 meeting, Border Trade at the existing points upgraded to Normal Trade to promote bilateral trade b/w the two countries.

Trade Fair & Market Promotion

Recent trade promotion events include the India Product Show March 2012, NEFIT's car rally from March 2012, the much successful Enterprise India shows 2011 held by CII in November 2011, the North East India Conclave held in Yangon and Mandalay in September 2010 by the Indian Chamber of Commerce, Kolkata and the UMFCCI, visits by the Indo-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IMCCI), etc.

Training Programme

Myanmar is a beneficiary of training programmes under GCSS, ITEC, TCS of Colombo Plan, and MGCSS schemes. India has also offered training to two sets of local journalists who were given intensive training at IIMC, New Delhi by the XP Division.

Culture Exchange

  • In November 2009, a 13-member student group from Myanmar joined SAARC Cultural Festival in India.
  • In January 2010, the Embassy held the annual “Indian Film Festival” at Yangon. This event has become a highlight of the Yangon cultural calendar.
  • In March 2010, a famous landscape artist from Myanmar went to Puducherry, India to take part in the “South Asian Artists Camp” organized by SEHER and ICCR.
  • In December 2009, a well-liked Myanmar music band ‘Emperor’ visited India to join in the “South Asian Bands Festival” held by ICCR.

The paintings emerging from that camp were demonstrated in the Embassy Auditorium in November 2010 and received an outstanding response from the local community. Similarly there were many groups from both sides joined different cultural programmes in both countries. There was a packed calendar of memorial activities for the Rabindranath Tagore 150th birth anniversary celebrations, including a dance, seminar, drama, film festival etc.

Indian Diaspora

The origin of the Indian community in Myanmar is traced back to the mid-19th century with the arrival of the British rule in Lower Burma in 1852. The two cities of Myanmar namely, Yangon/Rangoon and Mandalay had a dominating presence of Indians in different like civil services, trade & commerce, education during the British rule. A large number of the Indian community is living in the Tanintharyi and Bago Regions primarily engaged in farming. The NRI families in Myanmar live in Yangon and are engaged in import-export business or are employees of MNCs based in Singapore, India, and Thailand.

What India need to do

  • The border management and regulation is the responsibility of both sides. India cooperates with Myanmar so that china doesn’t support to secessionist group
  • Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia and could be the required impetus to realize India’s Act East Policy, so India needs to give momentum to pending infrastructure projects like Kaladan multimodal project.
  • There are a few sectors where India can expand its presence in Myanmar. These include manufacturing exporting cement, high-end smartphones, furniture, FMCG, energy, healthcare, creating townships, telecommunications, etc.
  • Myanmar itself is a rising consumer aid in attracting FDI especially in a trade war situation where companies seeking a place for their establishment.
  • Agriculture is another sector where India can significantly augment its cooperation with Myanmar in post-harvest technology, rice research activities, agriculture financing, and articulating policies.

India shares some common concerns with Myanmar that range from socio-economic development, similar climatic and ecological concerns, shared concerns over insurgency and regional peace in light of growing Chinese assertiveness. These offer tremendous scope for cooperation. India needs to grab this opportunity and speed up the work on ongoing projects while at the same time exercising soft power through cultural exchange and constructive aid.