Prime Minister's Myanmar visit
India and Myanmar have a crucial role to play in strengthening ASEAN and both countries are crucial to pushing through vital connectivity issues affecting the whole region and India’s North East.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar was yet another hallmark converting India’s ‘Look East Policy’ to that of ‘Act East’. His first stop in his 10-day trip to Myanmar, Australia and Fiji began with his arriving in Myanmar’s capital Naypydaw where he also attended the ASEAN-India Summit and the East Asia Summit, besides meeting the political hierarchy including meeting President U Thein Sein as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and meeting the India diaspora.
India and Myanmar cultural and civilisational relations are ancient particularly with bonds of Buddhism. Myanmar is becoming increasingly important in strategic terms with its location in the arch of Bay of Bengal and the enhanced geopolitical focus on the Indian Ocean region (IOR) in this 21st century. It was former Myanmar President U Win who had first talked of India and Burma (now Myanmar) together forming the ‘Arch of Bay of Bengal’.
Myanmar is also part of the strategic outreach of China to the IOR through land with road and waterway connectivity, development of deep sea port at Kyaukphyu and gas-oil pipelines connecting Yunnan-Kunming with Myanmar to obviate the choke point of Malacca Strait, not that Myanmar would ever be a client state of another nation. In his meeting with Myanmar President U Thein Sein, Prime Minister Modi had comprehensive discussions reviewing all aspects of bilateral relations including connectivity, commercial ties and cultural bonds since India seeks deeper economic engagement with the South East Asian Nations.
On arrival in Myanmar, Prime Minister Modi had said, “Our ties with South East Asia are deep rooted. Strengthening relations with ASEAN nations is an important part of our ‘Act East’ policy.” President Thein Sein conveyed to Prime Minister Modi that India’s growth story as envisaged by him will immensely benefit Myanmar and have a salutary effect. In his speech at the ASEAN-India Summit, Modi spoke of his government’s resolve to translate the ‘Look East’ policy into an ‘Acting East’ one and that he would push through with connectivity corridors with the 10-member ASEAN bloc.
India and Myanmar have a crucial role to play in strengthening ASEAN and both countries are crucial to pushing through vital connectivity issues affecting the whole region and India’s North East. There already are plans to develop industrial hubs along the proposed trilateral 3,200-km highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand connecting Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar that is expected to be completed by 2018, connecting India and the South East Asian countries.
At the East Asia Summit, Prime Minister Modi said that this Summit is an important pillar of his government’s ‘Act East’ policy. He praised the initiatives taken by the East Asia Summit in disaster preparedness and response, adding that no other forum brings together such large collective weight of global population, youth, economy and military strength, and no other forum is so critical for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia-Pacific and the world. He asserted that the world community must reject any linkage between religion and terrorism while formulating a genuinely international partnership to counter all forms of terror acts.
Prime Minister Modi met a whole range of world leaders attending the ASEAN-India Summit and East Asia Summit. Amongst the various meetings, Modi spoke to the India diaspora in the same vein as at Madison Square in New York. While President described Prime Minister Modi as a ‘man of action, President Xi Jinping told Modi that Beijing is looking forward to his visit. President Park Geun Hye invited Modi to South Korea. In his characteristic style, Modi praised the Malaysian model of performance assessment while speaking to Premier Najib Razak.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Myanmar and addresses at ASEAN-India Summit and East Asia Summit breathes fresh realignment to India’s ‘Act East’ policy, also strengthening these organisations. It is apparent that Modi has been able to not only cement physical connectivity but institutional and psychological connectivity; a characteristic that has ushered a new dynamism in India’s foreign policy. This visit is the inauguration of an intense and more active engagement with Myanmar, driving the focus on the need for India to have a larger economic role in the region that comprises ASEAN and East Asia member nations.