Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

A chance to tap India’s high equity in Myanmar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Myanmar relations


The recent short visit to Myanmar by India’s Foreign Secretary had a clearly-etched mandate: to deepen cooperation with an important neighbour. His mission succeeded to a large extent, but challenges remain.

Background of the current political scenario in Myanmar

  • Transition to democracy and derailment: Since the military coup on February 1, 2021, the international community has stayed divided on how to address the derailment of Myanmar’s transition to democracy.
  •  For a decade, the country’s system based on power-sharing between the military and elected representatives ran well enough.
  • An overwhelming electoral victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2020, unnerved the military leadership.
  • The Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) moved faster, seizing power in violation of the Constitution and putting down the Opposition with an iron hand.
  • Global reaction: Global dismay was evident in the western sanctions, but others such as Russia saw the opportunity to strengthen ties with the new rulers.
  • China took urgent steps to stabilise and expand cooperation with the military regime.
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) first showed creativity through its ‘Five-Point Consensus’ formula, but later its unity stood damaged once Myanmar’s top leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing refused to cooperate.

India’s position and bilateral concerns

  • In Indian foreign Secretary Mr. Shringla visit he succeeded in holding substantive discussions with various stakeholders.
  • India’s position: India’s position, as conveyed to Myanmar, is similar to and supportive of ASEAN: release of political prisoners; resolution of issues through dialogue; cessation of “all violence”; and full cooperation with ASEAN.
  • Assistance for capacity building: In recent years, India has assisted Myanmar through capacity-building programmes for strengthening the transition to democracy.
  • This assistance remains available, but it is not an offer of mediation by India in the military-NLD conflict.
  • This burden will have to be borne by ASEAN.
  • India’s concerns: India’s principal concerns pertaining to border security and stability in its neighbourhood were clearly conveyed, especially the noticeable escalation of activities of anti-India insurgent groups.
  • Refugee issue: The second issue — the outcome of Myanmar’s instability — is that of refugees. Several thousands of Myanmar people have sought shelter in Mizoram.
  • This will only be reversed by a political settlement in Myanmar, through dialogue.
  • Economic cooperation: Economic cooperation has always been a major agenda item in all bilateral discussions with Myanmar.
  • Central to this is India’s long-delayed commitment to “expeditious implementation” of mega initiatives such as the Trilateral Highway and Kaladan projects.

Way forward

  • China is not the only friend: India continues to have high equity in Myanmar, which it must now carefully leverage.
  •  It is reflected in the special gesture made by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to receive Mr. Shringla and hold detailed discussions in Yangon. This is unusual.
  • The protocol departure for Mr. Shringla revealed current political realities which should be carefully factored in against the argument that China is the only friend Myanmar has.
  • Leverage the gainst of the visit: India can leverage the gains of this visit and keep up the momentum by inviting Myanmar’s Foreign Minister at an appropriate time as well as other important stakeholders to India for deliberations with their counterparts here.


The single goal should be to put Myanmar back on the path of becoming “a stable, democratic and federal union.

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