Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Why India is fencing its border with Myanmar — and why that could be a problem

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : India's Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Rakhine State

Mains level : complexities surrounding the Indian-Myanmar border situation

Free Movement Regime is aiding illegal immigration.

Central Idea:
The article discusses the complex situation at the Indian-Myanmar border, particularly in Mizoram, highlighting the influx of Myanmar soldiers seeking refuge and the growing influence of rebel groups. It also examines India’s response to these developments, focusing on the challenges posed by border security, economic interests, and diplomatic considerations.

Key Highlights:

  • Refugee Crisis: Myanmar soldiers fleeing conflict in Chin State seek refuge in Mizoram, exacerbating tensions at the border.
  • Rebel Advancements: Rebel groups, such as the Chin National Army and the Arakan Army, gain control over significant territories along the border, challenging the authority of the Myanmar government.
  • Indian Response: India grapples with the security implications of the border situation, considering measures like building fences and ending the Free Movement Regime (FMR).
  • Economic Interests: India’s economic interests in Myanmar, particularly in rebel-held areas like Rakhine State, necessitate a cautious approach amid escalating conflict.
  • Diplomatic Dynamics: India’s policies in the region are influenced by considerations of regional stability, cooperation with Myanmar’s government, and competing interests with China.

Key Challenges:

  • Security Concerns: India faces challenges in maintaining border security amidst escalating conflict and infiltration by armed groups.
  • Economic Implications: Balancing economic interests with security concerns poses a dilemma for Indian policymakers.
  • Diplomatic Complexity: India must navigate diplomatic relations with Myanmar while considering regional dynamics and competition with China.
  • Social Impact: Measures like ending the Free Movement Regime may strain familial and tribal ties across the border, potentially leading to social unrest.

Main Terms:

  • Rebel Groups
  • Free Movement Regime (FMR)
  • Border Security
  • Refugee Crisis
  • Economic Interests
  • Regional Stability

Important Phrases:

  • “Liberated zones”
  • “Border fencing”
  • “Neighbourhood First”
  • “Act East”
  • “Arakan Army surged”

Quotes:

  • “We were surprised by how quickly the army posts fell.”
  • “…the kinship and tribal ties are such that they will not be curbed by the measures.”
  • “Neither China nor India are likely to change their current policies till such a viable process is in place.”

Useful Statements:

  • “Calls for fencing the border have been strongest from the beleaguered Chief Minister of Manipur.”
  • “India has not retreated from its support to the army dispensation in Myanmar.”
  • “Rebel armed groups, some of which have been fighting the Myanmar army for over 70 years, are unlikely to be able to march on the capital of Naypyidaw.”

Examples and References:

  • Chin National Army’s control over Chin State.
  • Arakan Army’s campaign in Paletwa.
  • India’s Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Rakhine State.

Facts and Data:

  • Chin refugees sheltering in Mizoram after the 2021 coup in Myanmar.
  • India’s eastern border with Myanmar.
  • Proposal to end the Free Movement Regime allowing movement up to 16 km across borders.

Critical Analysis:

The article provides a nuanced understanding of the complexities surrounding the Indian-Myanmar border situation, emphasizing the interconnectedness of security, economic, and diplomatic factors. It highlights the challenges faced by India in maintaining stability in the region amidst escalating conflict and competing interests with China.

Way Forward:

  • India should adopt a balanced approach that prioritizes both security and economic interests.
  • Diplomatic engagement with Myanmar should focus on promoting stability and addressing the root causes of conflict.
  • Efforts to secure the border should be accompanied by measures to mitigate social and economic impacts on border communities.

Overall, a comprehensive strategy that considers the multifaceted nature of the border situation is essential for India to effectively navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by its eastern frontier with Myanmar.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India suspends Free Movement Regime (FMR) with Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Free Movement Regime (FMR), 16km buffer

Mains level : India-Myanmar Relations

Free Movement Regime

Introduction

About Free Movement Regime

  • Initiated in the 1970s, the FMR allowed people living within 16 km of the India-Myanmar border to travel up to 16 km into the other country without a visa.
  • India shares a 1,643 km-long border with Myanmar, which passes through the States of Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km), and Mizoram (510 km).
  • This regime recognized the deep-rooted familial and ethnic connections between communities on either side of the unfenced border.
  • The FMR was last revised in 2016, aligning with India’s Act East policy. However, it was suspended in Manipur since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historical Context of India-Myanmar Relations

India’s relationship with Myanmar has evolved over time, shaped by historical events and geopolitical shifts:

  • Pre-1937: Deep-rooted cultural and religious ties, marked by ancient Buddhist exchanges.
  • 1937 Separation: Burma’s separation from British India, leading to distinct political trajectories.
  • Post-1962 Coup: Strained relations due to Myanmar’s military rule and alignment with China.
  • 1990s Shift: India’s re-engagement with Myanmar under its Look East Policy, emphasizing economic and strategic cooperation.
  • 2015 Democracy: Improved bilateral ties following Myanmar’s transition to democracy.
  • 2021 Coup: Renewed challenges in relations due to Myanmar’s military takeover and ensuing instability.

Why is Myanmar important to India?

[A] Geopolitical Perspective

  • Border sharing: India and Myanmar share a significant land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal, emphasizing the importance of stability in Myanmar for India.
  • Geostrategic Location: Myanmar’s location is pivotal for India’s “Act East” policy and the development of the Northeast region, acting as a vital link between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
  • Multilateral support: Myanmar’s unique position as the only ASEAN nation bordering India makes it crucial for regional cooperation. It is a member of BIMSTEC, SAARC observer, and part of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation, facilitating India’s multilateral engagement.
  • Security Imperatives: Myanmar’s territory serves as a base for insurgent groups like NSCN-K, necessitating collaboration for counter-insurgency efforts. Additionally, addressing the drug trade originating from the Golden Triangle region is a shared security concern.
  • Chinese Influence: India sees Myanmar as a strategic partner to counterbalance China’s expanding influence in the region, emphasizing the need for enhanced bilateral engagement.

[B] Socioeconomic Perspective

  • Cultural Affinities: Beyond geographical proximity, India and Myanmar share ethnic, religious, and linguistic commonalities, fostering cultural bonds.
  • Indian Diaspora: Myanmar is home to a sizable population of Indian origin, estimated at around 2.5 million, strengthening people-to-people ties between the two nations.
  • Investment in Infrastructure: Infrastructure projects, such as the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project and the Sittwe Port, IMT Highway aim to boost connectivity, trade, and investment.
  • Bilateral Trade: India ranks as Myanmar’s fifth-largest trading partner, registering bilateral trade at USD 1.03 billion in 2021-22.
  • Energy Cooperation: Myanmar holds significance for India’s energy security. With an energy portfolio of over USD 1.2 billion, Myanmar is the largest recipient of India’s investment in the oil and gas sector in Southeast Asia.

Reasons for the Policy Shift

  • Drug Trafficking and Insurgency: Myanmar’s status as an opium producer fuels drug trafficking and supports insurgent groups in India’s northeastern states.
  • Refugee Influx Post-Coup: Following Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021, over 40,000 refugees entered Mizoram, and around 4,000 entered Manipur, exacerbating security concerns.
  • Local Government Stance: Manipur’s Chief Minister urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to cancel the FMR and complete border fencing, linking ethnic violence in the state to the free movement across the border.

Way forward

  • Border Fencing: The government plans to fence about 300 km of the border, with a tender expected soon.
  • Regulatory Revisions: Experts suggest refining the FMR to better regulate movement while maintaining cross-border ties.
  • Infrastructure and Trade: Enhancing infrastructure and formalizing trade at designated entry points could mitigate some negative impacts.
  • Community Engagement: Involving border communities in decision-making is crucial for effective and sensitive border management.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Fate of Indian Projects in Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kaladan Project

Mains level : Read the attached story

myanmar

Introduction

  • The Arakan Army captured Paletwa in the Chin State, near Bangladesh and India. This has cast aspersions about the development of key Indian projects in Myanmar.

Myanmar Coup: A quick recap

  • Myanmar’s military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021.
  • The military expected resistance to subside quickly. After three years, opposition to the military regime is growing.

Conflict Dynamics near Indian Borders

  • Complex Dynamics: The capture of Paletwa has triggered a complex dynamic between the Chin and Arakan ethnic groups.
  • Ethnic Majority: Majority of Paletwa’s residents belong to the Chin ethnic community.
  • Historical Claims: Some in the Rakhine State argue that Paletwa historically belonged to the Arakan Hill Tracts during colonial rule.
  • InterEthnic Solidarity: Inter-ethnic solidarity among EAOs is essential for an effective fight against the military.
  • Challenge of Compromise: Finding an inter-ethnic compromise on settlements like Paletwa is challenging due to its strategic location.

Impact on India’s Kaladan Project:

  • Significance for Kaladan: The developments in Paletwa have implications for India’s Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project (KMTTP) in Myanmar.
  • Addressing Challenges: The Kaladan project aims to address northeast India’s geo-economic and geo-political challenges.
  • Project Delays: Delays in project implementation were caused by rugged terrain, inadequate coordination, political instability, and security challenges.
  • Local Attitudes: Attitudes of local ethnic organizations must be considered for swift Kaladan project execution.
  • Local Interest: People in Mizoram and Chin State are interested in the project’s completion as it boosts economic activity.

China Factor in the Region

  • Three Brotherhood Alliance: The Arakan Army is part of the Three Brotherhood alliance, believed to have Chinese support. This alliance aims to safeguard Chinese investments in Myanmar.
  • Reports of Chinese Support: Reports suggest that the Arakan Army receives funding and military equipment from China.
  • Concerns for India: Concerns exist in India about Beijing using armed groups to hinder India’s connectivity projects in Myanmar.
  • China’s Economic Presence: China has increased its economic presence along Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal coast.
  • Infrastructure Initiatives: Operationalized pipelines and agreements for a deep-sea port and special economic zone are part of China’s initiatives in Myanmar.

Conclusion

  • India, as a liberal democracy, faces scrutiny regarding the impact of its external engagement on sectarian/identity-based violence in the neighborhood.
  • Scaling up humanitarian and development assistance while collaborating with ethnic organizations is essential.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Suspending the Free Movement Regime: India’s Border Policy with Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Free Movement Regime

Mains level : Read the attached story

Free Movement Regime

Central Idea

  • On January 2, the Indian government announced plans to scrap the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the Myanmar border.
  • Residents in border areas, previously able to cross freely, will now require visas.

About Free Movement Regime

  • Initiated in the 1970s, the FMR allowed people living within 16 km of the India-Myanmar border to travel up to 16 km into the other country without a visa.
  • India shares a 1,643 km-long border with Myanmar, which passes through the States of Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Nagaland (215 km), Manipur (398 km), and Mizoram (510 km).
  • This regime recognized the deep-rooted familial and ethnic connections between communities on either side of the unfenced border.
  • The FMR was last revised in 2016, aligning with India’s Act East policy. However, it was suspended in Manipur since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reasons for the Policy Shift

  • Security and Illegal Activities: The FMR has been under scrutiny for facilitating illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and insurgency.
  • Refugee Influx Post-Coup: Following Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021, over 40,000 refugees entered Mizoram, and around 4,000 entered Manipur, exacerbating security concerns.
  • Local Government Stance: Manipur’s Chief Minister urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to cancel the FMR and complete border fencing, linking ethnic violence in the state to the free movement across the border.

Implications of Scrapping the FMR

  • Impact on Local Communities: Ending the FMR could significantly affect the daily lives of border residents, who depend on cross-border access for various needs.
  • Cultural and Social Disruption: The policy change might strain the cultural and social fabric of communities with shared ethnicities across the border.

Way forward

  • Border Fencing: The government plans to fence about 300 km of the border, with a tender expected soon.
  • Regulatory Revisions: Experts suggest refining the FMR to better regulate movement while maintaining cross-border ties.
  • Infrastructure and Trade: Enhancing infrastructure and formalizing trade at designated entry points could mitigate some negative impacts.
  • Community Engagement: Involving border communities in decision-making is crucial for effective and sensitive border management.

Conclusion

  • Balancing Security and Community Needs: The decision to end the FMR requires a nuanced approach that considers both national security and the rights of border communities.
  • Diplomatic Engagement: Strengthening diplomatic relations with Myanmar is key to managing this transition effectively.
  • Future Challenges: As India navigates this policy change, it faces the challenge of securing its borders while respecting the socio-economic realities of border populations.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Enhancing connectivity and regional integration: The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway project

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bilateral and Multilateral infrastructure projects in news

Mains level : India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, significance, challenges and way forward

Central idea

  • On the sidelines of the recently concluded 12th Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) meeting in Bangkok on July 16, Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar met with his Myanmar counterpart U Than Swe to discuss regional connectivity initiatives, with particular emphasis on expediting the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway (IMT-TH) project.

What is the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway (IMT-TH) project?

  • The IMT-TH is a significant regional connectivity project that aims to establish a road network connecting India’s Northeast region with Thailand through Myanmar.
  • The primary goal of the project is to enhance trade, commerce, tourism, and people-to-people interactions between the three nations, promoting regional integration and cooperation.
  • Within India, the highway is expected to pass through Moreh, Kohima, Guwahati, Srirampur, Siliguri, and Kolkata, spanning a total distance of over 2,800 kilometers.
  • The longest stretch of the highway will be in India, while the most minor road section will be in Thailand.

Significance of the IMT-TH

  • Enhanced Connectivity: The IMT-TH project aims to improve connectivity between India’s Northeast region, Myanmar, and Thailand. By establishing a direct land route, it reduces travel time and transportation costs, facilitating smoother movement of goods, services, and people across the borders.
  • Trade and Commerce: The highway presents a major boost to trade and commerce among the three nations. It opens up new markets and opportunities for businesses, enhances the flow of goods and services, and contributes to economic growth in the region.
  • Tourism Promotion: With improved road connectivity, the IMT-TH project is expected to promote tourism between India, Myanmar, and Thailand. Easier travel and cultural exchange will attract more tourists, leading to economic benefits for the tourism industry in each country.
  • Regional Integration: The project fosters regional integration and cooperation between India, Myanmar, and Thailand. It strengthens bilateral and multilateral ties, encourages joint ventures, and promotes a sense of partnership for mutual socio-economic development.
  • Socio-economic Development: The IMT-TH project has the potential to bring socio-economic development to the regions it traverses. Improved connectivity can lead to better access to healthcare, education, and other essential services, uplifting the quality of life for local communities.
  • Strengthening India’s Act East Policy: The project aligns with India’s Act East Policy, which aims to strengthen ties with Southeast Asian countries and foster greater engagement in the region. The IMT-TH highway serves as a tangible demonstration of India’s commitment to regional cooperation and connectivity.
  • Regional Stability and Prosperity: By promoting economic cooperation and connectivity, the IMT-TH project contributes to regional stability and prosperity. Enhanced trade and economic ties are likely to reduce tensions and create a more conducive environment for peaceful relations among the nations involved.
  • Geopolitical Implications: The project has geopolitical implications as it connects the Indian subcontinent with mainland Southeast Asia. It can serve as an alternative trade route, reducing dependence on traditional maritime routes and providing strategic benefits to the participating countries.

Key Challenges and Bottlenecks

  • Road Network in Myanmar: While several sections of the highway have been completed or upgraded, several stretches still require progress. Urgent attention is needed to replace 69 bridges along the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa road, which has been delayed since 2015.
  • Construction Difficulties: The Yar Gyi road section, characterized by steep gradients and sharp curves, poses considerable construction challenges. Converting a 121.8-km portion of the road into a four-lane motorway between Kalewa and Yar Gyi will require more time than anticipated.
  • Security Concerns: The ongoing conflict between the Junta and ethnic armed groups in the Chin State and Sagaing Region of Myanmar poses a significant security risk for contractors, making the resumption of work uncertain.
  • Implementing the IMT Trilateral Motor Vehicle Agreement: Infrastructure limitations, bureaucratic hurdles, and security concerns hinder smooth cross-border transportation and the implementation of the agreement between the three nations. Obtaining permits and clearances remains challenging due to differences in vehicle movement rules and procedures in each country.

Way Forward: Key Factors for Successful Implementation

  • Infrastructure Development: Addressing Myanmar’s infrastructure limitations is crucial for the smooth movement of vehicles between India, Myanmar, and Thailand. Adequate financing and resource allocation are necessary to overcome these challenges.
  • Policy Coordination: Strengthening policy coordination with ASEAN regarding Myanmar is essential for a holistic approach to regional issues and ensuring a stable environment for connectivity projects.
  • Commitment to Democratic Transition: India’s commitment to supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition process and emphasis on peace and stability are vital for the region’s progress and prosperity.

Conclusion

  • The successful completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway holds the potential to enhance economic growth, regional integration, cultural exchange, and cooperation among the participating nations in the Mekong-Ganga region. By addressing the challenges and focusing on key factors, the project can contribute to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region, reinforcing the spirit of cooperation and connectivity among the nations involved.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India operationalizes Sittwe Port in Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kaladan Multimodel Project

Mains level : Read the attached story

myanmar kaladan

Central Idea

  • The Sittwe Port in Myanmar has been made operational with the departure of the inaugural shipment, the MV-ITT LION (V-273), from Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port in Kolkata.
  • This development is part of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport project, which aims to provide alternate connectivity from the eastern coast of India to the northeastern states through the Sittwe port.

About Sittwe Port, Myanmar

  • The Sittwe Port in Myanmar has been built under a grant assistance from the Indian government.
  • It has been developed under a framework agreement between India and Myanmar for the construction and operation of a multimodal transit transport facility on the Kaladan river.

Significance of Sittwe Port

  • The Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways has stated that the port will open up new opportunities for trade and transit from and to Myanmar, particularly the Rakhine state.
  • The port is expected to enhance trade and commerce between India and Myanmar, and the wider region.

Connectivity of KMTTP

  • Once fully operationalized, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport project will provide alternate connectivity from the eastern coast of India to the northeastern states through the Sittwe port.
  • The port connects to Paletwa in Myanmar through an inland waterway, and from Paletwa to Zorinpui in Mizoram through a road component.
  • The port is expected to boost trade and commerce between India and Myanmar, and the wider region.

Back2Basics: Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project

myanmar

  • It connects the seaport of Kolkata in India to Sittwe seaport in Rakhine State, Myanmar, by sea.
  • In Myanmar, the project links Sittwe seaport to Paletwa in Chin State via the Kaladan river boat route and then from Paletwa by road to Mizoram state in Northeast India.
  • The project is being funded by the Indian government and is aimed at reducing the distance from Kolkata to Sittwe by approximately 1,328 km.

History of the Project

  • It was initially scheduled to be completed by 2014.
  • The project is affected by Chin conflict, Rohingya conflict, and militant groups such as Arakan Army and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Route of the Project

  • There are different sections of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, which combines multi-modes of transport, including sea, river, and road routes.
  • It includes- Kolkata-Sittwe shipping route, Sittwe seaport to Paletwa inland jetty river boat route, Sittwe Special Economic Zone at Ponnagyun town, Paletwa inland jetty to Zorinpui road route in Myanmar, and the Zorinpui to Aizawl road route in India.
  • This project will complement the river-road route of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar-Mizoram.
  • It has the Sittwe-Kyaukhtu railway in Myanmar, Kyaukhtu-Zorinpui in Myanmar, and the Zochawchhuah (Zorinpui)-Sairang railway in India.

 

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

The soft approach: India-Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : India- Myanmar relations

Myanmar

Context

  • 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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Myanmar

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.”

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.

Myanmar

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

Conclusion

  • 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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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India’s Troubled Neighborhood, Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Military coup, Troubled neighborhood and issues of refugees crisis

India-myanmar

Context

  • Twenty-one months after a military coup, which derailed a decade old experiment with limited democracy, Myanmar is struggling to cope with the consequences. People are suffering, authorities and opposition forces are locked in a cycle of violent clashes, the economy is deteriorating, and ASEAN’s mission to produce a solution has failed.

Background of Present situation in Myanmar

  • Violation of constitution by Military: When the Tatmadaw (military), unhappy with the victory of the Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy in the November 2020 elections, chose to violate the constitution, it acted in the belief that the people would accept its diktat, as they had done in previous decades.
  • Civilian opposition continues: Clearly, military junta underestimated public anger and their commitment to freedom and democracy. Even after killing over 2,300 people and imprisoning thousands, including Ms. Suu Kyi, the military still faces a rebellion. Its plan to hold an election next year stands jeopardized.
  • Imprisonment of Suu Kyi: Suu Kyi, 77, the most popular leader, has been sentenced to 26 years of imprisonment in multiple cases on apparently trumped-up charges. Besides, 1.1 million Rohingya, driven by military oppression to seek shelter in Bangladesh in 2017, continue to languish there. Dhaka’s efforts to arrange their safe return have failed.
  • Migration crisis in India and Bangladesh: Armed clashes between the military and their ethnic opponents in the border region are having a spill-over effect in Bangladesh. Dhaka continues to show restraint and a preference for diplomacy to manage the situation.

India-Myanmar

How is the response of civilian opposition against military?

  • National unity Government: The parallel National Unity Government (NUG) may not be recognized by any state, but it continues to receive political and financial support from abroad. It has effectively channelled popular indignation against military rule, while still being vulnerable due to the paucity of resources and the absence of a visible leader.
  • Support of ethnic groups to NUG: About 20 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), located in the east, north and west of Myanmar’s periphery, have divergent approaches towards the postcoup conflict. Many view it as an intra Bamar contestation, an issue of limited concern to them. Some like the Karens and Kachin’s support the NUG, while others, especially those controlled or supported by China, remain aloof.
  • Strong military but disunity among groups: Those operating in the Chin and Rakhine states are engaged in a fierce armed conflict with the military and have enfeebled it. But overall, due to their divergences and relative weaknesses, the EAOs are unlikely to defeat the military.
  • No nationwide opposition: While the opposition has performed well, it is unable to turn the tide in its favour, without a nationwide front against the Tatmadaw. National reconciliation between the military and civilian forces, and ethnic reconciliation between the majority Bamars and ethnic minorities, have been put on hold.

India-Myanmar

UN and International criticism

  • Criticism of coup: The UN has been forthright in criticizing the coup. It has expressed concern over continuing violence, support for a ‘democratic transition’, a release of all political prisoners and dialogue among the parties concerned.
  • Division among international community: However, the UN Secretary General’s special envoy has had little success in promoting peace. The UN’s failure lies in the sharp divisions within the international community on how to deal with this vexed issue.
  • Sanction on military: The western powers have been severely critical of the military. They have put in place several restrictive measures and imposed more sanctions. They have extended support to the NUG.
  • Russian support to military: On the other hand, Russia has given considerable backing to the military regime, seeing in its own isolation an opportunity to strengthen bilateral cooperation in defence and energy supplies.
  • China’s exploiting the opportunity: China is keeping a door open to democratic forces even while doing business with the regime and exploiting every opportunity to ensure progress on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
  • ASEAN’s divided response: ASEAN is divided in three ways: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are prodemocracy; Thailand and Laos are promilitary; and Vietnam and the Philippines are ambivalent. This disunity and the Tatmadaw’s refusal to cooperate with ASEAN have led to the non-implementation of the Five Point Consensus. The upcoming ASEAN summit may provide clues on whether the grouping can forge a united stand and devise something that works better.

India-Myanmar

India’s reaction to Myanmar situation

  • Refugee crisis in India: India is concerned as the postcoup conditions have adversely impacted its interests and hampered bilateral cooperation. Mega projects stand delayed. Some 50,000 refugees, as per unofficial estimates, have been camping in Mizoram.
  • Advocating the democracy: Meanwhile, there is an erroneous perception that India has abandoned the Myanmar people. The reality is that India proactively advocates an early restoration of democracy, the release of prisoners, and internal dialogue.
  • Myanmar under the shadow of India-China relations: Can India do more? It can explore the possibility of a combined mediatory role with ASEAN and likeminded neighbors. Will China have a role in such a group? India-China relations preclude that possibility.
  • Brokering the political settlement: Through greater unity, external players can help Myanmar in creating a suitable environment for dialogue on a political settlement. Distant countries such as Norway and Japan can play a helpful role as catalysts. But the principal responsibility to construct a solution must rest with the Myanmar elite and leadership of both camps. Through resilience and pragmatism, they crafted a way out in 2011-21. They must recreate that spirit.

Conclusion

  • India has been walking on tight rope on balancing national interest and restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Sooner the civil war in Myanmar ends better for India and especially for Mizoram. ‘The Golden Land’, where Lord Buddha is revered, needs to be reinspired by his teachings. Else, a prolonged, contested military rule or a failed state seems a distinct possibility.

Mains Question

Q. How situation in Myanmar is affecting the national interest of India? What is the India’s response to the military coup in Myanmar?

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India’s response to Sri Lanka and Myanmar crises is a study in contrast

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Crisis in Myanmar and issues with India's response to it

Context

There is a stark contrast contrast between the Indian response to the crisis in Sri Lanka and the dawning civil war in Myanmar.

Crisis in Myanmar

  • According to UN human rights monitors, over 2,000 people have been killed, around 14,000 are in prison, including 90 lawmakers, over 7,00,000 are refugees and half a million internally displaced.
  • Humanitarian aid to coup opponents is blocked.
  • The economy is in free fall.
  • Though the international community has not accepted the junta or its nominees as official representatives of Myanmar, it has not recognised the unity government as the legitimate successor of the pre-coup elected administration either.
  • Its armed wing, the recently-formed People’s Defence Force (PDF), exists in a shadowy limbo.
  • If it is too weak to impose significant costs on the junta, one root cause is the lack of support from neighbours.
  • As against Europe’s military support for Ukraine’s defence, no Asian country has stepped up to support the unity government and PDF.
  • Role of ASEAN:  It is ASEAN which shouldered the responsibility to mediate in Myanmar, whereas India took the initiative with Sri Lanka.
  • But ASEAN has been largely unsuccessful.
  • The five-point consensus that the junta agreed on with the regional grouping included an immediate end to violence and resumption of negotiations between the ousted administration and the Tatmadaw.
  • ASEAN’s reaction has been weak at best.
  • The US, EU, Australia and Canada announced targeted sanctions on the junta, and the EU imposed an embargo on arms sales to the country. ASEAN did not.

India’s response and issues with it

  • The contrast between the Indian response to the crisis in Sri Lanka and the dawning civil war in Myanmar could not be starker.
  • There is no support from the India administration for Mizoram’s aid effort, and apparently there is no Indian policy vis a vis the coup either.
  • Cooperation against cross-border insurgency: Given our land and sea borders with Myanmar, and the troubled history of cross-border insurgencies between our two countries, the India’s inertia is alarming, though not entirely surprising.
  • Successive Indian administrations maintained relations with the junta in the hope that they would cooperate against cross-border Indian armed groups.
  • But these insurgencies have reduced.
  • In fact, over the 10 years of Myanmar’s partial democracy, from 2011 to 2021, cross-border support for Indian insurgents dipped sharply.
  • Direct security interest: In other words, we have a direct security interest in the restoration of our neighbour’s democracy.

Way forward

  • Stringent sanctions: Sanctions that will starve the junta are a first step that Myanmar’s neighbours are yet to try.
  • While ASEAN has the initiative, all Myanmar’s neighbours need to unite on sanctions, especially nations such as Japan, Australia and India that are members of the Quad along with the US.
  • Myanmar ought to have topped the recent Quad summit’s agenda and it is shameful that it did not.
  • It is still not too late to call a virtual emergency meeting of Quad heads of state, along with ASEAN heads of state, to agree to stringent sanctions.

Conclusion

Our neighbourhood is more unstable today than it has been for decades. Four of our bordering countries are in free fall, while China’s grip comes closer to our shores by the hour. Can India afford to fiddle while wildfires ignite around us?

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Myanmar’s internal situation shouldn’t hobble India’s ‘Act East’ policy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Act East Policy

Context

The military takeover in Myanmar on February 1, 2021 and its aftermath have seen an adverse impact on India’s Act East policy.

What happened in Myanmar?

  • The 2021 coup occurred in the aftermath of the general election on 8 November 2020, in which the NLD won 396 out of 476 seats in parliament, an even larger margin of victory than in the 2015 election. The military’s proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, won only 33 seats. The Army claimed the results of the election were rigged and did not acknowledge the results.
  • On February 3 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest under charges for breaking COVID-19 laws. Additional charges included importing and using radio and communication devices from her security team which is prohibited in Myanmar and require clearances from intelligence agencies.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi received an additional criminal charge for violating the National Disaster Act on 16 February, and two additional charges for violating communications laws and an intent to incite public unrest on 1 March.

Events of the Myanmar Coup

  • By March 31st 2021, at least 520 civilians have been killed by military or police forces and at least 3070 pope. At least three members from the NLD have died in police custody
  • About 400 elected parliament members were placed under house arrest. Following the coup, the NLD arranged for the MPs to remain housed in the complex until 6 February.
  • When the Myanmar ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, condemned the coup by the military, he was fired from his post the following day.
  • Civil resistance efforts have emerged within the country, in opposition to the. Numerous acts of civil disobedience labour strokes, military boycott campaign, and formal recognition of the election results by elected officials
  • Since the onset of the coup, residents in urban centres such as Yangon staged cacerolazos, striking pots and pans in unison every evening as a symbolic act to drive away evil, as a method of expressing their opposition to the coup.

India’s stance regarding the Myanmar Coup

  • Ever since the protests started, there have been reports of defections from the Myanmar Police Force. On March 11, 2021, 11 officers crossed the India-Myanmar border into the state of Mizoram with their families. The Myanmar government reached out to India to extradite them, with the Indian government replying that they would make a decision regarding that matter.
  • The Assam Rifles were given orders to tighten security along the India–Myanmar border. From 10 March, the border has been closed after 48 nationals from Myanmar have crossed it.
  • Officially, the Indian government has expressed its deepest concern regarding the developing situation in Myanmar. While supporting a smooth and transitional process towards democracy, it is also concerned that the instability in Myanmar may affect the northeastern states.

Look East Policy

  • In order to recover from the loss of the strategic partner -USSR (end of the Cold war 1991), India sought to build up a relationship with the USA and allies of the USA in Southeast Asia.
  • In this pursuit, former Prime minister of India P V Narasimha Rao launched Look East policy in 1992, to give a strategic push to India’s engagement with the South-East Asia region, to bolster its standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China.

 

Difference Between Look East and Act East:

Look East:

  • Look East policy focused on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries + Economic Integration.
  • India became a dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1996 and summit level partner in 2002.
  • In 2012 the relationship got up-graded into a Strategic Partnership.
  • The time when India launched the Look East Policy in 1992, India’s trade with ASEAN was USD 2 billion. After signing the Free Trade Agreement in 2010 with ASEAN, the trade has grown to USD 72 billion (2017-18).
  • India is also an active participant in several regional forums like the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) etc.

 

Act East:

Act East Policy focused on ASEAN countries + Economic Integration + East Asian countries + Security cooperation.

Prime minister of India highlighted 4C’s of Act East Policy.

  • Culture
  • Commerce
  • Connectivity
  • Capacity building

 

  • Security is an important dimension of India’s Act East Policy.
  • In the context of growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, securing freedom of navigation and India’s own role in the Indian Ocean is a key feature of Act East Policy.
  • In pursuance of this, India has been engaged under the narrative of Indo-pacific and informal grouping called Quad.

Impact on Act East policy

  • With the present dispensation in Myanmar, the Act East policy is going nowhere.
  • Impact on outreach: This has not only stymied New Delhi’s initiatives in terms of land outreach towards the vibrant economies of South East Asia, but has retarded development in the Northeast.
  • Pragmatism demands that an ambitious policy that had fired the aspirations of the Northeast does not become a casualty to the inertia of policymakers.
  • There seems to be a full-bodied recalibration exercise among insurgent groups operating from the Sagaing Division and Chin State in Myanmar.
  • In the north, the ULFA which was until recently in a submissive mood and had declared three back-to-back unilateral ceasefires has suddenly turned belligerent.
  • Need for a relook at Act East policy: In this background, a fresh look needs to be taken at both the furtherance of the Act East policy and the security matrix that governs the Northeast.

Suggestions

1] Opening a new axis of land-sea connectivity

  • Promoting trade and commerce: Favourable bilateral relations with Bangladesh offer an opportunity for opening a new axis of land-sea connectivity for promoting trade and commerce with Southeast Asia.
  • Upgrade land routes: There is a need to upgrade the multitude of land routes to the seaports of Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh, from Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura.
  • The key land linkages from the Northeast are — Agartala via Akhaura, Dawki (Meghalaya) via Tamabil, Sutarkandi (Assam), and Srimantapur (Tripura) via Bibir Bazar.
  • Exploit shared river connectivity: In addition, there is a need to use inland water transport (IWT) to exploit the shared river connectivity of the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers.

2] Continued engagement with Myanmar

  • The land gateway to South East Asia does not seem likely in the near future.
  • But there should be no dilution in our initiatives to ensure that peace and stability return to Myanmar at the earliest.
  • For this, there is a need for continued engagement, both formal and informal, with the warring factions in Myanmar.

3] Develop appropriate infrastructure

  • Appropriate infrastructure such as container depots, cold storage facilities and seamless highways will have to be developed on a war footing.
  • Indian manufactured goods will have to be transported to the rail/roadheads in the Northeast like Guwahati for ready access to the seaports of Bangladesh.

4] Integrated defence zones

  • To make ineffective the strike capability of the insurgent groups there is a need to create “integrated defence zones”.
  •  These should be jointly manned by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) and the Indian Army/Assam Rifles
  • To enthuse dynamism and empower the Assam Rifles, there is a need to retain its current structure of being officered by the Indian Army, as it ensures systemic command and control.
  • This force needs to be mandated to undertake intelligence operations for greater transparency of the events within Myanmar and further the national strategy.

Conclusion

The Act East policy is intertwined with India’s Northeast policy. Let not the dismal scenario of Myanmar impede our vision for the actualisation of our ambitious Act East to go East, as alternates exist. To that end, there is a need to ensure the continued economic development of Northeastern states.

 

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India must prioritise stability in Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sagaing region

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Myanmar relations

Context

One year ago, the military in Myanmar attempted to grab power from the elected civilian government in a dramatic coup. Meanwhile, the deposed civilian lawmakers who were elected in free-and-fair elections in November 2020 put together their own government known as the National Unity Government (NUG).

The current situation in Myanmar

  • The coup faced popular resistance from the first day, with mass protests bringing the country to a halt.
  • According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, as of January 28, 1,499 civilians have been killed in Myanmar since the coup.
  • Dozens of civilian militias, called People’s Defence Forces (PDF), now armed with more sophisticated weapons, mushroomed in nearly every region and state.
  • Today, the military is having to fight on multiple fronts, as even powerful ethnic armed groups in the north, northwest, and east have joined forces with the PDFs.

India’s approach towards situation in Myanmar

  • Balanced approach: Since the coup, India has taken a balanced diplomatic approach on Myanmar, calling for restraint, restoration of democracy, and release of political prisoners, but also maintaining its lines of communication with the military.
  • Avoiding sanctions: India has also firmly stayed away from imposing sanctions on the junta.

Why does India need to recalibrate its approach?

  • The last 12 months have made it clear that the military is incapable of providing the kind of political, economic, and social stability that India needs in Myanmar to advance its interests, including development projects.
  • Public faith in the military as a state institution is at its lowest.
  • Northeastern border issue: For New Delhi, India’s Northeastern border with Myanmar remains on top of the bilateral agenda.
  • However, even on this, the military has damaged whatever semblance of stability was left.
  • Sagaing region, which borders three Northeast Indian states, has seen the highest number of clashes so far.
  • Chin state, bordering Mizoram and Manipur, has seen dramatic military offensives in civilian areas, which have forced thousands to flee into India.
  • The Myanmar military has roped in Manipuri insurgents as mercenaries to attack anti-junta forces, in exchange for safe haven.

Way forward

  • New Delhi must reconsider its partnerships in Myanmar and invest in those entities that can not only provide a stable political environment overall but also effectively secure its security interests along the border.
  • The NUG enjoys much more mass popularity than the military, which means it is in a position to restore calm.
  • China has strong links with ethnic armed groups in northern Myanmar, but not with the new PDFs.
  • So, if India really wants to offset Chinese influence in Myanmar, it needs to take this opportunity to forge new friendships.

Conclusion

It is time India rapidly expanded its links with these entities, instead of playing by the old rules.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Places in the news: Sittwe Port

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Sittwe port

Mains level : Paper 2- Why India should engage with Myanmar

Context

Notwithstanding the unfortunate developments since the Tatmadaw took over, a recalibration exercise for developing a robust relationship with Naypyidaw is the need of the hour.

Need for proactive neighbourhood policy with Myanmar

  • Security and economic interests: India should implement an unbiased and proactive “Neighbourhood First” strategy that facilitates the Act East policy crucial for India’s long-term security and economic interests.
  • Myanmar — regardless of who governs its polity — is not only the decisive lynchpin for India’s Act East policy but critical for the economic development and security of India’s Northeast.
  • China factor: Such a policy should take into account the measures that China has taken to arm the Tatmadaw.

How to support Myanmar?

  • Critical requirements: India should find ways to support Naypyidaw for its critical requirements of systems and platforms like UAVs, surveillance systems and communication equipment.
  • Economic engagement: There is a need for dynamic economic engagement with Myanmar, to expedite the completion of the earlier agreement on the operationalisation of the Sittwe port, the establishment of an oil refinery and joint vaccine production facilities at a cost of $6 billion.
  • People-to-people goodwill: India also needs to proactively employ the existing “people-to-people” goodwill and proximate ties between the two armies.
  • Engage with military leadership to stop highhandedness: India has the singular advantage of acceptability from both factions in Myanmar and it is, therefore, imperative that it takes the lead in engaging with the ruling military leadership, to stop the highhandedness.
  • The visit by India’s Foreign Secretary to Myanmar in the last week of December 2021 was significant.
  • It conveyed the message that India, notwithstanding its commitment to democracy, is amenable to conduct business with the country, regardless of who is in the seat of power.

Conclusion

It is of the utmost importance for India to positively engage Naypyidaw and stave off attempts to exploit Myanmar by countries inimical to India’s growth. Any ambiguity or delay in India’s constructive engagement with Myanmar would only serve the interests of anti-India forces.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

A chance to tap India’s high equity in Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Myanmar relations

Context

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.

Conclusion

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

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

China-Myanmar New Passage

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : China-Myanmar New Passage

Mains level : Chinese encroachment in India's neighborhood

The shipments on a newly-launched railway line under the China-Myanmar New Passage from the Myanmar border to the key commercial hub of Chengdu in western China have started.

China-Myanmar New Passage

  • The passage provides China a new road-rail transportation channel to the Indian Ocean, were delivered last week, state media reported on Tuesday.
  • The transport corridor involves a sea-road-rail link.
  • It connects the logistics lines of Singapore, Myanmar, and China, and is currently the most convenient land and sea channel linking the Indian Ocean with southwest China.
  • Goods from Singapore reached Yangon Port, arriving by ship through the Andaman Sea of the northeastern Indian Ocean, and were then transported by road to Lincang on the Chinese side of the Myanmar-China border in Yunnan province.
  • The new railway line that runs from the border town of Lincang to Chengdu, a key trade hub in western China, completes the corridor.

Why does India need to be watchful?

  • From the perspective of security, India’s border with Myanmar has historically presented serious security challenges.
  • Chinese troops had used the Myanmar route to threaten India’s North-eastern States prior to the 1962 war.
  • In the run-up to the India-China war of 1962, Chinese troops had commissioned local muleteers in Northern Myanmar to facilitate the movement of troops and war logistics to challenge India’s Northeast.

Way forward

  • The work on infrastructure projects in India’s Northeastern States needs to be expedited to ensure speedy mobilization of India’s own troops to face different contingencies.
  • Monitoring of developments including deployment of space assets to ensure that India is not caught unaware would be desirable.
  • Most importantly, India on its part needs to substantially step up its own game in Myanmar and proactively engage Myanmar in the realm of the infrastructure upgrade.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

An unquiet neighbourhood

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Factors to consider in finding solution to conflicts in Afghanistan and Myanmar

The article highlights the inherent difficulty in finding a solution to the two conflicts raging on in India’s neigbourhood.

Tale of two conflicts in neighbourhood

  • Efforts to end two major conflicts in India’s neighbourhood have become intense.
  • To the west, a peace summit on Afghanistan, seeking to end decades of conflict there, was also scheduled to take place in Istanbul over the weekend.
  • To the east, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has produced a diplomatic opening with Myanmar’s military leadership.
  • Afghan conflict go back to the late 1970s; since then we have seen different phases of the conflict.
  • Although the crisis in Myanmar appears recent, the tension between civil-military relations is not new.
  • Back in 1988, the army annulled the huge mandate won by Aung San Suu Kyi and unleashed massive repression.

3 Common Themes in the effort at peace and reconciliation

1) Ending violence

  • The first is about ending violence.
  • In Afghanistan it has been near impossible to get a resurgent Taliban to agree to stop its attacks on government forces or the civilian population.
  • The ASEAN initiative in Myanmar calls for an immediate cessation of violence and utmost restraint from all sides.
  • The opposition demanding restoration of democracy might find this rather ironic, since it is the army that is employing violence and has shown scant restraint.

2) Dialogue among all parties

  • The second theme in the ASEAN initiative — “constructive dialogue among all parties” to “seek a peaceful solution” — is also common to all peace processes.
  • The Taliban found all kinds of excuses to delay a dialogue with the Kabul government that it always saw as illegitimate. So far, it has avoided one.
  • In Myanmar, the army might be ready to engage the opposition in a prolonged dialogue and defuse international pressure; but it will be hard for the victims of the coup to accept a dialogue on the army’s terms.

3) Third-party mediator

  • The Afghan conflict has long been internationalised.
  • All major powers, including regional actors and neighbours, have acquired stakes in the way the Afghan conflict is resolved.
  •  This unfortunately makes the construction of an internal settlement that much harder.
  • In Myanmar, the ASEAN has set the ball rolling by agreeing that a special envoy will be traveling to the region and will engage with all parties to the conflict.

Cost-benefit in diplomacy

  • The US is hoping that the Taliban will moderate some of its hardline positions given its need for significant international economic assistance for reconstruction, political legitimacy.
  • In Myanmar, too, the international community will hope the military would want to avoid the risks of political isolation and economic punishment.
  • But how the Taliban and the Myanmar army calculate these costs and benefits could be very different.
  • Both have long experience of surviving external pressure and enduring sanctions.

Conclusion

Few civil wars have seen the kind of massive external effort to change the internal dynamics as in Afghanistan; but to no avail. In Myanmar, it is not clear how far the international community might go. The prospects for positive change in Afghanistan and Myanmar, then, do not look too bright in the near term.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

On Myanmar, India has to decide whether it is on the side of the future

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- India-Myanmar relations

The article highlights the factors India needs to consider in formulating its response to the crisis in Myanmar.

Implications of Myanmar issue for India

  • India, because of its proximity to Myanmar, its geopolitical role, and its interests, will inevitably be drawn into the train of events.
  • The most immediate challenge is, of course, dealing with the refugee crisis that this coup occasions.
  • The rich and powerful nations have not pulled their weight in crafting an adequate multilateral response.
  • Myanmar’s other neighbours, and especially ASEAN countries, are also unlikely to intervene.
  • The principle of non-refoulement has to be the cornerstone of any civilised state’s response to a politically induced humanitarian disaster.
  • It is not clear where India stands on this.

Factors India should consider in its Myanmar policy

1) Protestors are widespread

  • The protests for democracy are widespread, involve young people, and are driven by a genuine opposition to military rule.
  • India has to decide whether it is on the side of the future. 

2) Concerns of Northeastern states

  • Northeastern states like Manipur and Mizoram which will immediately bear the costs of helping refugees are calling for a more generous and imaginative policy.
  • The concerns of the Northeast states have often been historically sidelined in India’s handling of the “trijunction”.
  • This was partly because of counterinsurgency fears, and partly because of suspicion of political forces in the Northeast.
  • But ignoring accommodative sentiments in the Northeast, would be to potentially signal their marginality in shaping India’s calculations.

3) Reputation for humanitarian concern

  • The counterinsurgency and subversion fears have to be intelligently handled.
  • Relying only on cooperation with the Myanmar military, without support for the local population, we will once again be setting ourselves up for long-term problems.
  • A broadbased reputation for humanitarian concerns and the welfare of people is a strategic asset, not a liability in the long term.
  • India should also now have the confidence that it can both politically and militarily handle any risks that occasionally arise in the context of doing the decent thing.
  • But by closing down its borders, it is not sending a signal of strength but one of weakness.

4) Geopolitical factors

  • With every major power, from Russia to China now seeing Myanmar in terms of geopolitical terms, the stakes for India are going to be high.
  • But its military seems more repressive, and its elites, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been more conservative in harnessing democratic and progressive impulses.
  • So under such circumstances, it will be tempting for India to deeply engage with the military.
  • There is also a great deal of exaggeration about Myanmar’s economic importance to India.
  • Certainly, connectivity and trade with Myanmar provide momentum for India’s eastward interests.
  • But the benefits from engagement with Myanmar are not so great that India cannot put them aside to act on a modicum of principle.

Way forward

  • Presumably, India wants to be a key interlocutor in two contexts.
  • It wants to be a key player in shaping a global response to the crisis.
  • And it wants to have some role in helping with a settlement towards a less repressive transition within Myanmar.
  • But for both of those roles, it is important that India has widespread credibility with the different groups and movements inside Myanmar.

Conclusion

India needs to consider these factors before deciding its response to the situation developing in Myanmar.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

India’s Myanmar dilemma

Note4Students

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.”

Conclusion

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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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

The way forward in Myanmar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Rohingya crisis

Mains level : Paper 2- Factors to consider while dealing with the situation in Myanmar

The article discusses the five lessons from past experiences as the international community frames its response to the military coup in Myanmar.

Coup in Myanmar

  • After Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept the polls by winning almost 80% of the vote, Myanmar’s military staged a coup and declared a state of Emergency for a year.
  • Myanmar, which started a fragile transition to democracy 10 years ago after decades of brutal military dictatorship, is back in the hands of the Generals.

Lessons for the international community

1) Benefits of sanctions

  • The developments in Myanmar will invariably bring back the old debate around the prudence of sanctions.
  • Notwithstanding the western sanctions before 2010 [during military rule], China, Thailand and Singapore were the key trading partners of Myanmar.
  • The present reality is no different.
  • Singapore was reportedly the largest foreign investor in Myanmar in 2020, accounting for 34% of the overall approved investment.
  • Given that the military has been able to economically withstand sanctions by striking deals with Asian countries in the past, sanctions are unlikely to bring any major political change.

2) Accountability for crime against humanity

  • As political changes got underway in 2010, many generals were on the radar of the international community for perpetuating a regime of human rights abuses, quietly vanished from the scene.
  • This bred a culture of impunity.
  • During the 2017 Rohingya crisis, senior military officials brazenly exploited social media to mobilise public support for brutality against Rohingyas.

3) China’s influence

  • Three, a critical international player in Myanmar is China.
  • The international community, particularly the West, has to factor in China’s multi-layered influence on Myanmar.

4) Revival of past international mechanisms

  • Many international mechanisms comprising Western and Asian countries that were formed to coordinate strategies on Myanmar were disbanded after the 2015 election.
  • That the changes in Myanmar were irreversible was the standard thinking.
  • Relevant actors should be brought on a common platform by reviving past mechanisms.

5) Increasing the engagement with domestic stakeholders

  • The expectation that Myanmar will see a nationwide protest against the military after the coup should be examined with the geographical extent of Bamar, Myanmar’s largest ethnic group, who support the National League for Democracy.
  • The minorities in the country form around 35% of the population.
  • In the current scenario, the military will continue to exploit ethnic and religious fault lines.
  • Engagement with domestic stakeholders, including ethnic minorities, especially from the north, should be pursued by the international community.

Consider the question “As military hinders Myanmar’s transition to democracy, what are the factors that should be considered by the international community as it form the response to the situation in the country.”

Conclusion

There is one consistent lesson, that no change is irreversible, particularly in a context where military leadership scripted the meaning of democracy, and domestic forces and geopolitics continuously fail to deter its actions and impulses to rule.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Myanmar

Myanmar’s Military Coup

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : India-Myanmar relations

Myanmar’s military staged a coup detaining de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and declaring it had taken control of the country for one year under a state of emergency.

Q.Despite its military coup, Myanmar is the key in linking South Asia to Southeast Asia and the eastern periphery becomes the focal point for New Delhi’s regional outreach. Analyse.

What is the news?

  • The intervention came with rising tensions between the military, which ruled the country for nearly five decades, and the civilian government over allegations of fraud in November’s elections.
  • The military had signaled its intentions to seize power to settle its claims of irregularities in the polls, which Suu Kyi’s party won easily.

How was the coup carried out?

  • The military detained the leaders of the governing NLD party and Myanmar’s civilian leadership, including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, along with various ministers and even the opposition.
  • The military quickly seized control of the country’s infrastructure, suspending most television broadcasts and canceling all domestic and international flights, according to reports.
  • Telephone and internet access was suspended in major cities.
  • The stock market and commercial banks were closed, and long lines were seen outside ATMs in some places.
  • In Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, residents ran to markets to stock up on food and other supplies.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

  • Suu Kyi came to power as state councilor in 2016 after the country’s first fully democratic vote in decades.
  • Her ascension to leadership was seen as a critical moment in the transition of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to democracy from military dictatorship.
  • Suu Kyi, the daughter of the country’s independence hero General Aung San, spent more than 15 years under house arrest.
  • Her time in detention made her an international icon, and she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
  • Since her release, her reputation has been tarnished by her cooperation with the military and her deadly campaign against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group.

India’s response to the takeover

  • India is “deeply concerned” with the return to military rule, which is a repeat of events thirty years ago.
  • It sees only option to engage, building on its outreach in recent years via the security and defence establishment.
  • India seeks a more pragmatic approach, engaging the military while pushing for more freedoms and democracy in Myanmar.

Various issues concerning India

  • One important reason for the change is that India’s security relationship with the Myanmar military.
  • These days, it has become extremely close, and it would be difficult to “burn bridges” with them given their assistance in securing the North East frontiers from insurgent groups.
  • Apart from strategic concerns, India has cultivated several infrastructure and development projects with Myanmar, which it sees as the “gateway to the East” and ASEAN countries.
  • These include the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multi-modal transit transport network, as well as a plan for a Special Economic Zone at the Sittwe deep-water port.

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India and Myanmar relations: Change in dynamics by democratic triumph

After decades of struggle, finally democracy triumphed over military junta and Myanmar parliament enters democratic era after 54 years of military rule. It’s time to glance over India-Myanmar relations and how India will be benefited from such stable democratic government.

India and Myanmar have traditionally had much in common, with cultural, historical, ethnic and religious ties, in addition to sharing a long geographical land border and maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Let’s see it in brief!

How did India and Myanmar engagement begin ?

  • Myanmar is India’s bridge to east, and an important ally for growing its regional power.
  • India and Myanmar’s relationship officially got underway after the Treaty of Friendship was signed in 1951.
  • For many years, India did not open up to the authoritarian regime, and it was only over a period of time that India started engaging with the military junta of Myanmar.
  • The region’s focus has revolved around the SAARC countries and China, Myanmar is becoming increasingly important for India in both a strategic and economic context.

What about bilateral trade ties?

  • Bilateral trade has grown from $12.4 million in 1980-81 to $2.18 billion in 2013-14.
  • Agricultural items like beans and pulses and forest based products make up nearly 90 percent of India’s imports.
  • Myanmar is also the beneficiary of a duty-free tariff preference scheme for least developed countries (LDCs).
  • Both countries also signed a border trade agreement in 1994 and have 2 trade points along their 1,643 km border.
  • India has also promoted some trade events such as the India Product Show 2012, which represented 19 Indian companies.

But, How shared cultural links promote unique relations between both countries?

  • The two countries have shared cultural exchanges through various cultural troupes.
  • One such exchange was in 2009 when Myanmar sent a 13 member student group that attended a SAARC cultural festival in India.
  • This was followed by another major event at which the Indian embassy in Yangon organized the annual Indian Film Festival, which is a major event on the Yangon cultural calendar.

Does India have historical bond with Myanmar?

  • Yes! Yangon was once a center for India’s independence struggle.
  • The Indian National Army (INA), formed by Indian nationalists during World War II in 1942 with the motto of Ittehad, Itmad aur Qurbani (Unity, Faith and Sacrifice).
  • Comprised over 40,000 soldiers, who fought valiantly against the British imperialist forces.
  • Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose became leader of the INA in 1943 and undertook a groundbreaking march towards Indian territories from Burmese soil with the aim of achieving Indian independence.<This time we can expect question on Netaji and his work, as we know current happenings about Netaji’s files declassified>
  • General Aung San, Burma’s independence hero, was a close friend of Netaji, the supreme commander of the INA.
  • That friendship was reflected in cordial relationship between the soldiers of the INA and their counterparts in the Burmese National Army (BNA).
  • So, it’s good to use this historical bond for building more coherent and strong relations with Myanmar.

How Myanmar is Strategically significant to India?

  • Myanmar is strategically important to India as it is the only ASEAN country that shares a land border with India.
  • 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 Look East Policy.
  • India has also decided to upgrade the Kalewa-Yargyi road segment to highway standard.
  • Myanmar would develop the Yargyi-Monywa portion, and this would help to connect Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar.
  • This in turn would improve India’s connectivity and relationship with both Myanmar and Thailand.

How can India become regional pivot in Asia?

  • If India is to become an assertive regional player in Asia, it has to work toward developing policies that would improve and strengthen it domestically.
  • This will encourage more confidence in its ability to lead the region and be an important global player.
  • Competition with China should also be considered and taken seriously. As China’s growing influence in the region would lead to a more one-sided dynamic in the region.
  • 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 in the country.
  • India on the other hand needs to use its soft power more effectively, and at the same time strengthen itself domestically and regionally.

What are advantages that India has over China with regard to Myanmar?

  • One is the democratic process, which results in different governments at the center and states through free and fair elections.
  • There is also the respect for institutions that are strong enough to hold the country together.
  • Finally, cooperation in different multilateral forums such as ASEAN and BIMSTEC strengthen the relationship between the 2 countries.
  • Apart from these reasons, India has sent a clear signal that while economic ties are important, it is keen to build a holistic relationship and is prepared to assist in institution building in Myanmar.

What is the significance of Connectivity in India-Myanmar Relations? 

<How North-Eastern region can play vital role in this?>

  • Myanmar’s vast oil and natural gas reserves and other resources make it a natural partner for many countries in the world.
  • India, being its next door neighbour, cannot be indifferent to this reality.
  • Besides, geo-political considerations, historical and civilizational links, and the ethnic overlap across their borders, have all come together to make India’s North-East the land bridge between the South and South-East Asia through Myanmar.
  • The 1,640 km-long border between Myanmar and the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram signifies the importance of this eastern neighbour for India.
  • India expects to reap various economic benefits by bolstering bilateral trade and investment, which critically depends upon better connectivity in the region.

How bilateral cooperation agreement gives impetus to India’s Look-East Policy?

  • The strategic location of Myanmar is pivotal to India in reaching out to the economically vibrant South-East Asian countries.
  • India’s Look-East Policy envisages building infrastructure and expanding the transportation network including railroads, aimed at furthering surface connectivity in the region.
  • It is recognized that in addition to more economic contacts, such connectivity will promote social stability in the region by facilitating people-to-people contact amongst trans-border ethnic groups.
  • It is expected that insurgent outfits would lose their recruitment base once the local resources begin to be exploited and employment is generated leading to overall development. 
  • Concrete economic benefits are expected to come up in the region with establishment of border haats.
  • In addition, internal trade routes have the potential to enhance accessibility to sub-regional markets that connect Bangladesh, Myanmar and Bhutan.

Way forward

  • The basic foundation for the relationship between India and Myanmar has been laid by previous governments, the onus is on the present Indian administration to demonstrate that it can take the relationship to a higher level.
  • India can become a strong regional player through a more proactive approach, cement India’s place in the region and grow into a powerful, global country.

 

 

Published with inputs from Arun
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