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INDIA-MYANMAR: flourishing ties

Paper no.902            23. 01. 2004

 

by C.S Kuppuswamy.

This may be read in conjunction with Paper No. 162  " Indo-Myanmar Relations- A volte face" and Paper No. 197  " India-Myanmar Strategic Partnership: Indian Imperatives" posted on this site.

Myanmar is the only ASEAN country with which India shares both land and maritime boundaries. Till the early 90’s India was more idealistic in supporting the democracy movement and realized later that constructive engagement was in Indian interest. The ground realities such as the security of the North-East, the economic interests in the ASEAN region, the increasing influence of China over Myanmar and China’s overtures for securing an access to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar  finally pushed India  into a 'u' turn to improve its relations since 1992.The strengthening relations had a high point in the year 2003 with seven ministerial visits by either Myanmar or India including that of the Vice-President of India to Myanmar from 2 to 5 November 2003. Commerce and Industry Minister Arun Jaitley visited Myanmar from July 14-16, 2003 to sign an MoU on establishment of a Joint Trade Committee. Communications and Information Technology Minister Arun Shourie visited Myanmar from August 25-30, 2003.  An MoU on IT cooperation was signed during this visit. Two high  level defence visits took place in September 2003.  Admiral Madhavendra Singh visited Myanmar and the Air Chief of Myanmar visited India

Visit of the Vice-President

Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekawat made an official visit to Myanmar from 2 to 5 November 2003 at the invitation of the Vice -Senior General  Maung Aye  who is also the Vice Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council(SDPC).  He had meetings with Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the SDPC (Head of State) and other leaders.  During the visit the following agreements/MoU were signed:

*An agreement on visa exemption for official and diplomatic passport holders of the two countries.

*Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Education, Government of Myanmar and the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India was signed for cultural and educational exchanges

Visit of the Myanmar Foreign Minister 

The India-Myanmar-Thailand meeting on Transport linkages was held at New Delhi on 23 December 2003. The progress made in the project for construction of the Trilateral Highway from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand to Bagan in Myanmar was reviewed.  U Win Aung the Foreign Minister of Myanmar and Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai,  Minister of  Foreign affairs  of Thailand attended this meeting where  some decisions on speedy implementation of the project were taken.

During this visit to India in December 2003, U Win Aung the Myanmar Foreign Minister when queried on the activities of Indian insurgents in Myanmar replied “ we will take action and will cooperate with the Indian Government.  We will flush out Indian insurgent camps, if any, in our country”.  The External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha corroborated this by saying that India had the “fullest assurance” from Burma.  He added that India had told Myanmar of action taken by Bhutan in this regard.  A subsequent news report (Asian Age 6 January 2004) indicated that Myanmar has launched a military offensive against Indian separatist bases belonging to the NSCN (Khaplang faction) though there is no official confirmation of this report

Recent Developments.

* Institutional mechanisms for facilitating regular dialogue on issues of bilateral interest have been set up in the form of Foreign office  consultations,  National and Sectoral level meetings and Border Liaison meetings.  The last Border Liaison meeting was held in April 2003.

* India is assisting Myanmar in a number of development projects in the road and rail sector, inland water transport, human resources development, information and communications technology and energy.

* A Joint  Trade Committee was established at the ministerial level with a target of annual bilateral trade of US $ 1 billion by the year 2006.

* The  Indian Consulate General  at Mandalay  was  re-opened  in July 2002 and was formally inaugurated by the Foreign Secretary  in November 2002.  The Myanmar Consulate General In Kolkata started functioning from September 2002.

* India has provided a $ 25 million loan to Myanmar and has promised another $ 57 million for upgrading the Yangon-Mandalay railway.

* A team of Officials from Ministry of Petroleum visited Myanmar in April 2003 for examining commercial on shore possibilities in the Oil and Gas sector.

* India’s Ambassador to Myanmar, Rajiv Bhatia has hailed the year 2003 as “ an eventful and productive year” for bilateral ties (Myanmar Times-January 19, 2004).  He added that during this year seven cooperation agreements in sectors of economic development, telecommunications and education have been made.

Conclusion

Myanmar is under growing international pressure for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi who was arrested following an orchestrated clash on May 30, 2003.  The recently (August 2003) appointed prime minister, General Khin Nyunt and the military Government keeps harping on the seven step “road map” to democracy, of a national convention and a new constitution as part of the political reforms.  However as per an Amnesty international report “there was a major contradiction between the fine words coming from Rangoon and what was happening in practice.  In fact there had been a large upsurge in political detentions since May 2003”.  There are reports to indicate that a few of the political prisoners of the NLD (Suu Kyi’s party) have been released though many more are languishing.

The military Government is wooing the ethnic groups to attend the proposed national constitutional convention.  A BBC news report of 21 January indicated that an agreement with the Karen National Union (the largest of the rebel groups) is likely to be reached. Ceasefire agreements have already been reached with 17  armed groups since 1989.  The inclusion of these ethnic groups is key to the credibility of the convention and will help soften international criticism.

India has been more pragmatic in improving its relations with Myanmar despite criticism from certain quarters for not supporting the struggle for political change in Myanmar.  Myanmar is also strategically important to India.  India has far too much at stake in a stable and enduring relationship with Myanmar.  The positive responses from the Myanmar government for action against the Indian insurgents on their soil have also contributed to further strengthening of the ties.

China has for long been supporting Myanmar politically, economically and militarily and has openly opposed sanctions being imposed on Myanmar.   With India, the other major Asian power also on their side, Myanmar remains undeterred by the international pressure and the military government continues to have its own way in implementation of the political reforms, both in terms of substance and speed.

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