Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

The soft approach: India-Myanmar


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: India- Myanmar relations



  • On November 20-21, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra made a two-day visit to Myanmar. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a press release stated that he met with members of the military junta that is currently ruling the country and discussed security and stability in the border areas, human trafficking issues (several Indian nationals have been victims), and infrastructure development.

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What are the interpretations over the foreign Secretary’s visit?

  • Myanmar’s national portal says discussion on friendly relations: According to Myanmar National portal, the two sides held discussions on Myanmar-India friendly relations, exchanged views on the promotion of bilateral cooperation and the implementation of Myanmar’s peace process.
  • India’s no mention of Myanmar’s return to democracy: The MEA statement made no mention of any Indian interest in seeing Myanmar return to the path of democracy or the release of political prisoners and other tricky issues.
  • Emphasis on completing the ongoing projects: On the contrary, the foreign secretary spoke about continued Indian support for “people-centric socio-economic developmental projects” and early completion of connectivity projects including the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway between India, Myanmar, and Thailand.
  • Assured development Programs: It appears that infrastructure and developmental projects were a big emphasis during the visit because Kwatra also assured the Myanmar junta about projects under Rakhine State Development Program and Border Area Development Program.
  • Contradictory omissions: Despite the MEA press release not mentioning it, the MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted that the foreign secretary had discussions on several important issues including “India’s support to democratic transition in Myanmar.”


Background of the different interpretations

  • MEA’s 2021 statement that India’s interest in Myanmar’s return to democracy: Contrast this with the December 2021 statement that the MEA issued following then-Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s visit where he emphasized India’s interest in seeing Myanmar’s return to democracy at the earliest; release of detainees and prisoners; resolution of issues through dialogue; and complete cessation of all violence.”
  • India’s strong and consistent support to ASEAN: He had also reiterated that India’s strong and consistent support to the ASEAN initiative and expressed hope that progress would be made in a pragmatic and constructive manner, based on the five point consensus.


What are the India’s concerns?

  • Human trafficking emerged as the major issue: Human trafficking has emerged as a major issue in Myanmar, with several criminal syndicates running a racket luring Indian citizens with fake job prospects. The MEA spokesperson, according to media reports, cautioned Indian nationals of being wary of trafficking. IT companies recruiting Indian workers in the pretext of jobs in Thailand, who were then taken to Myanmar. There have been reportedly close to 200 Indian nationals who have been duped into this job racket.
  • China’s support to Military Junta: Since the military coup, China has improved on its good relations with the military junta, providing much-needed support for the Myanmar leadership in the face of international opprobrium.
  • Chinas’ high investment in Myanmar: China reportedly has been a key source of foreign investment in Myanmar. China’s multiple projects include several high-speed railway lines and dams as well as a $2.5 billion investment in a gas-fired power plant. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, which consists of oil and gas pipelines and infrastructure development projects run into billions of dollars.
  • China’s aim to get better access to Indian ocean: Of particular interest to China is the deep sea port that China plans to develop at Kyaukphyu, on Myanmar’s west coast, this will possibly give China better access to the Indian Ocean, which China has been eyeing for a while.
  • Budding relationship between Myanmar and Pakistan a cause of concern: According to media reports, Myanmar took the delivery of six JF-17 light-weight multi-role fighter jets from Pakistan in 2018 after signing a contract two years earlier in 2016. Myanmar was to get another batch of 10 aircraft although the date of delivery is unknown.

Rational behind India’s changed interest in Myanmar’s return to democracy

  • Pragmatism on account of the growing presence and inroads of China in Myanmar has possibly pushed India to give up on its moralizing about democracy and increase its outreach to Naypyidaw.
  • While the pro-democracy elements within Myanmar as well as India’s strategic partners in ASEAN may not be particularly pleased with this outreach, especially India dropping ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, it appears that New Delhi sees itself as having not too many choices


  • Strategic factors appear to be driving India’s greater engagement with the military junta, especially fear of China and Pakistan making inroads into the country. India has to maintain delicate balance while dealing with the ruling military junta.

Mains question

Q. In the backdrop of much speculations about the recent visit of India’s foreign secretary to Myanmar. Discuss India’s evolving position, which shows a soft approach towards the ruling military junta.

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