Why Myanmar matters so much for India

President Ram Nath Kovind will be on a four-day state visit to Myanmar starting on December 10. This will be the fifth high-level visit between the two countries in the last four years. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit last year was the third by an Indian prime minister in five years and his second in three years.

THE HISTORY: The two neighbours did not have very good relations between much of 70s and 80s. That was because of India’s support for democracy in Myanmar following its takeover by the military regime in 1962. Relations started to improve only in the 1990s.

TO FIGHT TERROR: India shares 1,600 km land border with Myanmar (touching Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram) and a maritime boundary too. That makes it an important ally to end insurgency in the north-east. Insurgent groups operating in the north-east have often used Myanmar as a base.

FOR BUSINESS: Myanmar is a member of Asean (the economic bloc of some of the fastest growing Asian economies) which makes it an important link to South East Asia, with which India is seeking greater economic integration.

FOR DOMESTIC TRADE: India is building the Kaladan project in Myanmar to link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and further from (Myanmar’s) Kaladan river to the north-eastern states. The project will connect the Indian mainland to the north-east via sea and create an alternative route for goods from north-east to the rest of the country.

ROHINGYA CRISIS: India treats roughly 40,000 Rohingya (the persecuted minority who fled Myanmar) in the country as illegal immigrants and not refugees, and wants to send them back. To help smoothen the process and ensure that lakhs of them in Bangladesh don’t spill over to India, it is building houses in Myanmar’s Rakhine province for their return. President Kovind will dedicate some of these houses during his trip.

CHINA FACTOR: Last month, China clinched a multi-billion-dollar deal to build a port along the coast of Bay of Bengal in Myanmar, its third project in India’s neighbourhood after Sri Lanka and Pakistan (as part of its ‘string of pearls’ strategy to encircle India). The port would give China direct access to Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. Beijing’s economic presence in Myanmar has increased significantly in recent times, which India has been trying to counter through aid and joint development projects.


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