Narendra Modi in Myanmar, seeks Gateway to ASEAN

Before leaving for his 3 nation tour, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that ASEAN is at the core of our Act East Policy and at the centre of our dream of an Asian century, characterised by cooperation and integration. He also said that he is looking forward to discussing with ASEAN leaders how to take “our relationship to a new level, which will supplement our deepening bilateral ties with each member”.

While Asean is important, Myanmar is the gateway to South-East Asia. Equally important is the fact that India has strategic concerns and deeper ties with Myanmar are important.

PM Modi is also meeting several global leaders during the East Asia Summit to be held Nay Pyi Taw. Some of the participants in the East Asia Summit include China, Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and also the US.

This is going to be a matrix of multilateral as well as bilateral meets during the three days that the Prime Minister is going to spend in Myanmar.

Ties with Myanmar have not been so deep and with increasing Chinese investments and a non-democratic establishments, there have been certain degree of coldness between India and Myanmar. PM Modi’s visit can create a thaw in these relations. The Diplomat says –

India and Myanmar share a long 1,624-kilometer (1,009 mi) border. However, in all likelihood, the lack of an invite for Myanmar’s President Thein Sein was not a mistake or a deliberate omission, but simply something that was on nobody’s mind…. Relations with Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, will undoubtedly be given more priority in the upcoming few months. The previous Congress government unfortunately neglected India’s relations with its Asian neighbors, its elite English-speaking and Western-educated leaders seemingly forgetting that India is in fact in Asia and not in the West — a psychological orientation reflected in external policy. The Indian nationalist narrative reflected in BJP thinking is, on the other hand, more oriented towards Asia. To begin with, India will seek greater connectivity with Southeast Asia and land routes must necessarily pass through Myanmar.

However, according to some policy experts, China’s strong ties with Myanmar may be going through a transitory phase. It is true that Beijing has provided the junta with military and diplomatic support for a long time, but the present Government headed by Thein Sein has significantly decreased its dependence on China. In fact China is being blamed for exploitation of the country’s natural resources and territorial space for gas and oil pipeline. China and Hong Kong have a combined investment of $20.8 billion in Myanmar. Thein Sein Government has suspended the Chinese-led $3.6 Myitsone dam project, meant for supplying electricity to China. Given this there is a belief that opening up the political system to more democratic reforms would help liberal western support and Chinese stakes can be less exploitative for them.

It is because of this that Myanmar looks for better ties with India as a Modi-led Government could be more proactive when US, Japan and Australia among other bigger players are converging for the East Asia Summit.

Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with President Thein Sein comes at a time when other countries are looking at economic opportunities in Myanmar. It could surely open up a whale of opportunities. As PM Modi said, “We had extensive discussions covering various aspects of our bilateral relations.” “We talked about strengthening ties in the fields of culture, commerce and enhancing connectivity,” he further added.

It may well be a defining visit and could pave way to changing equations with Myanmar in the times to come.

Courtesy Niti Central



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