- India shares a long land border of over 1600 kms with Myanmar as well as a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Four north-eastern states, viz., Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, have a boundary with Myanmar.
- Myanmar-India links are deeply rooted in history and belief.
- The legend of Shwedagon Pagoda, the story of two Burmese merchants meeting and obtaining a few strands of the hair of Lord Buddha, has had a powerful hold on the ordinary person’s perception in Myanmar that Buddhism originated in India.
- Historians point out that a royal monk of Asoka the Great visited Myanmar in 228 BCE, bearing the Buddha’s message and Buddhist sacred texts.
- Later, Theravada Buddhism reached Myanmar from India via Sri Lanka. An intense desire on the part of ordinary people as well as high dignitaries to visit Bodh Gaya and other famous Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India continues to be a strong bond between Myanmar and India.
- Myanmar (formerly Burma) was ruled as part of British India between 1886 and 1937, with Calcutta as the seat of government. Indians formed a substantive presence at the time in administration, police, education, trade and agriculture
- 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.
- It was in Japanese-occupied Burmathat Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose delivered his “Give me blood and I will give you freedom!” slogan,
- India established diplomatic relations after Myanmar’s independence from Great Britain in 1948.
- India provided considerable support when Myanmar struggled with regional insurgencies.
- India and Myanmar share a long 1,643 km geographical land border and maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar shares borders with 4 Indian states –Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India.
- Myanmar is India’s gateway to South-East Asia. Myanmar is seen as a crucial partner in the fight to end insurgency in India’s north-east, as a gateway to South-East Asia and a key component of South and South-East Asian regional cooperation.
- India also sees Myanmar as a key partner because of its membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or Asean—the economically dynamic bloc that has some of the fastest rates of GDP growth in Asia.
- India – Myanmar border is highly porous, poorly guarded and located along a remote,underdeveloped, insurgency-prone region and proximate to opium producing area.
- India–Myanmar border poses a challenge to India’s security as it is vulnerable to the activities of insurgents and drugs and arms traffickers.
- According to Indian intelligence agencies, separatists and insurgents operating in India’s north-east have used Myanmar as a base for their hit-and-run operations against India. Indian and Myanmar militaries have jointly undertaken operations to flush out militants.
- Myanmar is also important from the security point of view as the influx of sizable numbers of Rohingyafrom Myanmar’s Rakhine state continues.
- Myanmar is also a key component of India’s strategy to bridge South and South-East Asia through Bimstec, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. For India, making Bimstec work is important as for years it has blamed Pakistan for holding back the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or Saarc grouping.
- Myanmar is potentially an important partner in the energy sector as future offshore gas finds can be piped to India.
- Myanmar has consistently supported India’s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council
AREAS OF ENGAGEMENT
A) Economic relations
- The success of India’s Act East Policy, Neighbourhood first policy largely depend on its relations with Myanmar.
- The bilateral border trade agreement of 1994 provides for border trade to be carried out from three designated border points, one each in Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland.
- Bilateral trade has grown from $12.4 million in 1980-81 to $2.18 billion in 2016-17.
- Myanmar is also the beneficiary of a duty-free tariff preference scheme for least developed countries (LDCs).
- Some of the Indian companies such as Essar, GAIL, and ONGC Videsh Ltd. have invested in Myanmar’s energy sector.
- Cooperation in the banking sector, which is crucial for investment and trade, is moving ahead steadily. United Bank of India and EXIM Bank have representative offices in Myanmar.
- Indian firms engage in manufacturing, services (banking, insurance, dry port), power sector etc.
- Both governments are proceeding to enhance cooperation in agriculture, telecommunications, information technology, steel, oil, natural gas, hydrocarbons and food processing.
- India is the fifth largest trading partner of Myanmar – its fifth largest destination for exports and sixth largest source of imports. Agriculture sector dominates the trade, particularly supply of beans & pulses to India and timber
- India’s exports to Myanmar include sugar pharmaceuticals
- India is presently the eleventh largest investor in Myanmar Most of India’s investments have been in the oil & gas sector.
B) Infrastructure initiatives
- On 13 February 2001 India and Myanmar inaugurated 250 kilometre Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo highway, popularly called the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road, built mainly by the Indian Army‘s Border Roads Organisation and aimed to provide a major strategic and commercial transport route connecting North-East India, and South Asia as a whole, to Southeast Asia.
- India and Myanmar and Thailand have agreed to a 4-lane, 3200 km triangular highway known as India-Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand. The route runs from India from Guwahati in India and connects to Mandalay in Myanmar, continues to Yangon in Myanmar and then to Mae Sot in Thailand, which then continues to Bangkok.
- It has been designed to link the three countries and improve connectivity between India and ASEAN states.
- This will eventually be extended to Cambodia and Vietnam under Mekong-Ganga Cooperation within the wider framework of Asian Highway Network. This is aimed at creating a new economic zone ranging from Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal to Ho Chi Minh City on the South China Sea.
- The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project will connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with Sittwe seaport in Myanmar by sea; it will then link Sittwe seaport to Lashio in Myanmar via Kaladan river boat route and then from Lashio on to Mizoram in India by road transport.
- India’s connectivity projects with Myanmar also include the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) Economic Corridor, currently under joint study.
C) Development Assistance
- India has already extended $2 billion in soft loans.
- India is also providing assistance in setting up institutions for higher learning and research,namely Myanmar Institute of Information Technology, Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education, India-Myanmar Industrial Training Centres.
- A new Indian proposal suggests the setting up of infrastructure and socio-economic projectsjointly with Myanmar in the restive Rakhine state—in the areas of education, health, agriculture, agro-processing, upgradation of roads, small power projects and livelihood activity.
- ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) set up and subsequently upgraded a data processing centre in Myanmar for remote sensing applications.
- Under the highly successful Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme and related schemes, over two hundred Myanmar nationals have been receiving training in diverse programmes in institutions of excellence in India,
- The two governments have collaborated successfully to establish and operate four India-Myanmar Centres, each relating to enhancement of information technology (IT) skills, entrepreneurship development, English language training and industrial training.
D) Cultural Significance
- India and Myanmar share cultural ties in terms of Buddhist heritage and shared history of colonialism.
- Building on this shared heritage, India is undertaking some key initiatives in the restorationof the Ananda Temple in Bagan and the repair and conservation of a large number of damaged pagodas.
- 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.
- In particular, Theravada Buddhism has tremendously influenced Burmese society and culture for millennia, with 90% continuing to follow the religion to this day.
- India and Myanmar share close cultural ties and a sense of deep kinship, given India’s Buddhist heritage. Building on this shared heritage,
- The ‘Samvad-II’ Interfaith dialogue has been organized to build on the cultural heritage
E) Defence Cooperation
- India-Myanmar Bilateral Army Exercise(IMBAX) is aimed at building and promoting closer relations with armies and focused on peacekeeping operations.
- Myanmar is a key partner in the fight to end insurgencyin India’s northeast.
- Security and defence relations between the two countries focus primarily on border security and counter-terrorism
- A new instrument, the Treaty on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, was signed in August 2010.
- In a June 2015 ‘surgical strike’ in Myanmar by the Indian army’s Special Forces unit, which killed at least 60 insurgents from the Myanmar-based Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), in response to the killing of 18 Indian soldiers by the NSCN-K.?
- Indian and Myanmar troops carried out jointly Operation Sunrise and Operation Sunrise 2 in 2019 in their respective territories to destroy several insurgent camps.
- India also plays a role in Myanmar’s own internal peace process, acting as a signatory witness to Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement ceremonies
- Maritime cooperation between the two countries has also gained importance, with the Indian and Myanmar navies conducting their first-ever bilateral naval exercise, IMNEX-18, in the Bay of Bengal.
- The Myanmar navy also participated in the biennial, multilateral Milan naval exercise off the coast of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in early March.
- In 2017, the two countries signed an agreement to enhance maritime security cooperation in areas such as humanitarian assistance. India is also developing Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and implementing the US$484m Kaladan transport project, which will connect Rakhine State with India’s northeastern state of Mizoram
F) Humanitarian Assistance
- India has responded promptly and effectively in rendering assistance following natural calamitiesin Myanmar like Cyclone Mora (2017), Komen (2015), earthquake in Shan State (2010).
- India also offered to provide support in capacity building in disaster risk mitigationas well as in strengthening Myanmar’s National Disaster Response Mechanism.
- Restoration and conservation of Ananda Temple in Bagan and the repair and conservation of 92 earthquake damaged pagodas;
G) Indian Community and Ethnic Links
- The origin of the Indian community in Myanmar is traced to the mid-19th century with the advent of British rule in Lower Burma in 1852.
- Yangon and Mandalay had a dominating presence of Indians in civil services, education, trade and commerce during British rule.
- Ethnic links between the people of four Indian states bordering on Myanmar, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, and the people of western Myanmar, including Chins, Kukis and Kachins, have continued through the millennia.
- These links, cemented by linguistic commonality or affinity, family and tribal ties, traditional trade exchanges, shared lifestyles and cooperation among rulers, began well before India and Myanmar emerged as nation-states
- There are varying estimates of 1.5-2.0 million people of Indian origin living and working in various parts of Myanmar.
- A large number of the Indian community (nearly 150,000) live in Bago (Zeyawaddy and Kuayktaga) and Tanintharyi Region and Mon State, primarily engaged in farming.
H) Multilateral Partnership
- Myanmar is also a key component of India’s strategy to bridge South and South-East Asia through BIMSTEC(Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).
- Myanmar’s membership of ASEAN, BIMSTEC and Mekong Ganga Cooperation has introduced a regional/sub-regional dimension to bilateral relations and imparted added significance in the context of our “Act East” policy.
- Myanmar has generally been supportive of India’s stand in various international organisations. For our part, we have supported Myanmar’s association with SAARC as an observer, a status Myanmar formally acquired in 2008.
- Both India and Myanmarfavor a strong United Nations as a key factor in tackling global challenges and advocate the reform of the United Nations, including the Security Council, in order to make it “more representative, credible and effective”.
- India has been particularly appreciative that Myanmar has consistently supported India’s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, and that Myanmar follows a generally friendly policy towards India as far as South Asian affairs are concerned
- Internal Security is a major concern for India; Indo-Myanmar border is porous and lightly policed which is exploited by terrorist outfits and insurgent groups from North Eastern part of India such as supply of trained cadres, arms trafficking.
- Bilateral trade between India and Myanmar still falls short of expectations.
- Overtime trust deficit has widened between India-Myanmar because of the Indian reputation for delaying implementation of various projects.
- China has asserted itself through its soft power as well as through its trade and economic relations with Myanmar by taking up large infrastructure projects.
- China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and supports its position on the Rohingya crisis, and alongside Russia has shielded Myanmar from strong action by the UN Security Council.
- Chinese firms are upgrading of a naval base in Sittwe, a major seaport located close to the eastern Indian city of Kolkataand special economic zone in Rakhine State as part of the BRI further adding to the String of Pearls
- China and Myanmar have also agreed to develop an economic corridor between Kunming and Kyaukpyu, also as part of the BRI.
- Proximity to the ‘Golden Triangle’ together with a porous and poorly guarded border provides the enabling environment for traffickers to smuggle heroin and psychotropic substances into the country through the India-Myanmar border. India’s Northeast is pretty badly affected by narcotics and drugs trafficked from the Golden Triangle.
- Neglect of the Myanmar market by Indian businesses is a lacuna that needs effective and speedy correction. India Inc. has also been lagging behind when it comes to investing in Myanmar.
- Both the countries are affected due to the misuse of open border by internal and external forces, the responsibility of border management and regulation depends on both.
- It is also the only country that can act as a link between India and ASEAN.
- Myanmar is India’s gateway to Southeast Asia and could be the required impetus to realize India’s Act East Policy.
- Myanmar itself is an emerging consumer market of 60 million people who have demands for products ranging from personal care to beverages to smart phones. India should leverage these export opportunities.
- There are a few sectors where India can extend its presence in Myanmar. These include manufacturing high-end smart phones, exporting cement, furniture, FMCG, energy, telecommunications, healthcare, creating townships, low cost housing development, ports and logistics, rural electrification etc.
- Agriculture is another sector where India can substantially augment its cooperation with Myanmar in rice research activities, post-harvest technology, agriculture financing and articulating policies.
- India’s Kaladan Multimodal Transit and Transport project and India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway have seen much delay over the past couple of years. Hence, it can be said that the success of India’s Act East Policy will now depend on India’s prompt action and pragmatic approach for completion of projects.
- Enhancing economic partnership with Myanmar needs to be a priority in India’s Act East Policy which will benefit New Delhi in enhancing ties with Southeast Asia.
- State actors have clearly recognized and are taking steps to address these changing dynamics of insurgency in the region.
- Enhancing vigilance along the international border with intensified border fencing activities along the India-Myanmar border adjacent to Nagaland.
- At the same time, the two governments should agree to deepen cooperation in checking the misuse of the 16 km visa-free zone on either side of the international border.
- The changing dynamics of insurgency becoming cross-border in character should not detract from the continued importance of both maintaining a presence and continuing to win “hearts and minds” within.
- Given the geo-strategic importance of Myanmar for India and vice versa, the essential linkage of defence between India’s North-East and Myanmar’s western region defence cooperation should be an important component of bilateral relations
- Several areas such as pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, cement, manufacturing, agro processing and small industry offer attractive potential for green-field investments and joint ventures
- At government level, there is scope for further expansion of economic cooperation, particularly in enhancing Indian investments and expanding the basket of development projects