Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India’s Myanmar dilemma


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Countries bordering Myanmar

Mains level: Paper 2- Coup in Myanmar and India's dilemma in dealing with the situation

The coup in Myanmar poses several challenges for India. For one, it poses a dilemma in India’s dealing with Myanmar’s military. Also, it has implications for the Rohingya issue and containing the insurgency in north-east India.

Implications of the coup in Myanmar

1) Political realignment and role of Aung San Suu Kyi

  • Threat of sanctions from the United States and the West in the wake of the recent coup could lead to unique political realignments in Myanmar.
  • As a result, the international community may not have any alternatives than Aung San Suu Kyi when it comes to pursuing the restoration of democracy in the country.
  • The democratic credentials of Aung San Suu Kyi, remain deeply diminished today due to her justification of the ill-treatment meted out to the Rohingya,
  • Yet the recent events have brought her right back into the centre of the international community’s political calculations in Myanmar.

2) Implications for Rohingya issus

  • International community will have to condone the government’s past actions against the Rohingya in order to highlight Suu Kyi as an anchor of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The case against Myanmar’s conduct during her government’s tenure at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will most likely be put on the backburner.
  • Increasing global support for Ms. Suu Kyi could potentially negative consequences for the persecuted Rohingya.

3) China factor

  • In the short run, the coup stands to hurt the interests of China, India and even the rest of the international community, all of whom were able to do business with Myanmar in their own unique ways.
  • For China, the coup has complicated its larger regional economic plans in Myanmar.
  • However, the international community’s sharp reactions will likely force the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) to turn to China.
  • International sanctions are unlikely to have a major impact on the country’s largely inward-looking junta and its Generals.
  • However, it Generals would still expect Beijing to give them
  • For China, the coup has complicated its larger regional economic plans in Myanmar.
  • On the positive side for Beijing, decisive western sanctions will force the military to get closer to China.
  • To that extent, China will be its biggest beneficiary of the February coup by default.

India’s dilemma

  • India faces the most challenging dilemma on how to respond to the military coup in Myanmar.
  • The dual power centres of the military and the civilian government that existed in Naypyitaw until recently, suited India.
  • While India’s national interests clearly lie in dealing with whoever is in power in Myanmar, India would find it difficult to openly support the junta given the strong western and American stance.
  • On the other hand, it can ill-afford to offend the junta by actively seeking a restoration of democracy there.
  • While Ms. Suu Kyi was getting cozy with Beijing, it was the Myanmar military that had been more circumspect.

India’s concerns

  • While a friendless Myanmar junta getting closer to China is a real worry for New Delhi, there are other concerns too.
  • For one, Myanmar’s military played a helpful role in helping India contain the north-eastern insurgencies.
  • Equally important is the issue of providing succour to the Rohingya in the wake of the military coup in Myanmar.

Consider the question “Developments in Myanmar have several implications for the regional geopolitics. In light of this, examine the challenges India faces from the development in Myanmar.”


India is left with very few clear policy options. And yet, it must continue to maintain relations with the government in power in Myanmar while discreetly pushing for political reconciliation in the country. In the meantime, the focus must be on improving trade, connectivity, and security links between the two sides.

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