In­dia Acts In East

Af­ter dif­fus­ing Chi­nese plan of BRICS + Five ini­tia­tive, New Delhi has ac­cel­er­ated the road­way project from Myan­mar to Thai­land and an­swer Bei­jing’s OBOR in the re­gion

The Day After - - CONTENT - By MriDu Ku­MAri

When Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi re­cently un­der­took his first bi­lat­eral visit to Myan­mar, he in a way of­fered a mo­men­tum to In­dia’s Act East pol­icy, an ini­tia­tive which was fa­thered by the Narasimha Rao gov­ern­ment in the ear­lier 1990s. Though the Prime Min­is­ter had vis­ited Myan­mar in Novem­ber 2014 also, but it was in con­nec­tion with ASEANIn­dia sum­mit.

Myan­mar, in keep­ing with In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy agenda, ful­fills key ob­jec­tive of be­ing a gate­way to South­east Asia. It shares 1643-km long bor­der with In­dia, while 2204-km long bor­der with China. Hence, this South­east Asian na­tion’s strate­gic im­por­tance is im­mense for In­dia. Yet while China, us­ing its cheque book diplo­macy, has en­hanced its strate­gic foot­print in Myan­mar, In­dia is try­ing to woo it away from China’s in­flu­ence with the help of de­vel­op­men­tal as­sis­tance pack­age which also in­clude ca­pac­ity and in­sti­tu­tion build­ing as­sis­tance. Grad­u­ally, a strate­gic thrust is be­ing given to bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment of the two coun­tries. Sign­ing of mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment be­tween the two coun­tries along with 10 oth­ers dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter Modi’s re­cent visit to the South­east Asian na­tion shows it clearly.

In­dia is al­ready en­gaged in the con­struc­tion of sev­eral in­fra­struc­ture re­lated project. The Kal­adan Multi-Model Tran­sit Trans­port Project that will con­nect Kolkata port with Sit­twe port of Myan­mar is the first ma­jor project taken up by In­dia. The project which is in Myan­mar’s trou­bled state of Rakhine, is ex­pected to be com­pleted in 2019. En­tirely be­ing funded by In­dia, it in­volves con­struc­tion of 69 bridges, in­clud­ing sev­eral ap­proach roads. As per a re­port, the tri­lat­eral high­way, on com­ple­tion, will con­nect Moreh in Ma­nipur to Mae Sot in Thai­land

via Myan­mar. In the sec­ond phase, it will be likely to be linked with Cam­bo­dia, Laos and Viet­nam and this is what Min­is­ter of State for Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Gen VK Singh told the Ra­jya Sabha on De­cem­ber 8, 2016.

“Gov­ern­ment of In­dia is ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of ex­tend­ing the In­dia-Myan­mar-Thai­land high­way to Cam­bo­dia, Lao PDR and Viet­nam. The ex­ten­sion is en­vis­aged as an im­por­tant con­nec­tiv­ity project that would fa­cil­i­tate trade and pro­mote pro­duc­tion net­work across the bor­ders,” said, Gen VK Singh in re­ply to a ques­tion.

Un­der the in­sti­tu­tion and ca­pac­ity build­ing ini­tia­tive, In­dia has es­tab­lished the state-of-the art Myan­mar In­sti­tute of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy in Man­dalay. For five years pe­riod (2015-2020) In­dia, through mon­i­tor­ing by the In­dian In­sti­tute of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy-Ban­ga­lore, would op­er­ate the MIIT. It has been es­tab­lished with aim to make it an in­sti­tute of global re­pute in ed­u­ca­tion and re­search. Then In­dia is in­volved in upgra­da­tion of Yan­gon and Sit­twe hos­pi­tals. Train­ing of para­medic staff for these two hos­pi­tals has been com­pleted; process is on to in­stall high­tech health equip­ment in these hos­pi­tals. Ad­vance Cen­tre for Agri­cul­ture and Ed­u­ca­tion (ACARE) is be­ing set up in Nay Pyi Taw, Myan­mar’s cap­i­tal. The In­dian Agri­cul­ture Re­search In­sti­tute (IARI) has been ap­pointed as the con­sul­tant to as­sist in train­ing, mon­i­tor­ing, cur­ricu­lum for­ma­tion and set­ting up of lab­o­ra­to­ries. Next to this agri­cul­tural in­sti­tute, In­dia is en­gaged in es­tab­lish­ment of a rice bio park in Yezin in Myan­mar. MS Swami­nathan Re­search Foun­da­tion (MSSRF) is the con­sul­tant cum project man­ager of the rice bio park which will serve as train­ingcum-demon­stra­tion park for con­ver­sion of rice biomass into mar­ket driven prod­ucts.

There are sev­eral projects in which In­dia is di­rectly in­volved. It is plan­ning to set up a Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zone (SEZ) in Sit­twe in Myan­mar where it has al­ready built a port. The pro­posed SEZ will ri­val Chi­nese SEZ lo­cated 80 km away from Sit­twe. Once SEZ is built, it is will help ex­pand In­dia’s foot­prints in the South­east Asian re­gion. A few na­tions have de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance of such a high scale. If they fail to get com­plete. Dur­ing the re­cent visit of Suu Kyi, the two coun­tries signed three agree­ments in the sec­tors of power, bank­ing and in­sur­ance, sug­gest­ing cat­e­gor­i­cally that In­dia would con­tinue to be a part of de­vel­op­ment in Myan­mar. But in view of China’s grow­ing foot­print in this South­east Asian na­tion, ex­perts sug­gest, In­dia will have ac­tively in­volve it­self in Myan­mar.

“In­dia can ill af­ford to ne­glect Myan­mar or per­sist with its slug­gish im­ple­men­ta­tion of projects there. It must ac­tively in­volve it­self in Myan­mar, in­clud­ing by col­lab­o­rat­ing with Ja­pan, with which it en­joys fast-grow­ing strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion. The gi­ant Thi­lawa in­dus­trial zone south­east of Yan­gon sym­bol­izes Ja­pan’s in­vest­ment cam­paign in Myan­mar to gain ac­cess to a new mar­ket and coun­ter­bal­ance China,” noted strate­gic ex­pert Brahma Chel­laney said in his re­cent ar­ti­cle in the Ja­pan Times. He added that cou­ple with greater In­dian in­vest­ment, New Delhi’s counter in­sur­gency co­op­er­a­tion with Myan­mar and In­dia-Ja­pan part­ner­ship on ma­jor projects can help re­duce Chi­nese in­flu­ence in Myan­mar.

How­ever, things are chang­ing fast on geo-po­lit­i­cal level in South Asian and South­east Asia. In keep­ing with this, In­dia has fast tracked its bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment with all coun­tries in the neigh­bour­hood and in the ex­tended neigh­bour­hood. For the first time, sur­pris­ing even hard­core crit­ics of his for­eign pol­icy, Prime Min­is­ter Modi has in­vited all 10 mem­bers of ASEAN to be­come chief guests at the coun­try’s Re­pub­lic Day func­tion next year.

In the po­lit­i­cal his­tory of In­dia, never has New Delhi re­sorted to such a mea­sure, espe­cially on the oc­ca­sion of Re­pub­lic Day. In his re­cent ar­ti­cle in English daily, Min­haz Mer­chant who is the bi­og­ra­pher of Ra­jiv Gandhi and au­thor of ‘The New Clash of Civ­i­liza­tions,’ writes: “Modi has changed that per­cep­tion. He has spent con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on boost­ing ties with East Asian coun­tries. By invit­ing ASEAN’s ten lead­ers Modi has also sent a pow­er­ful mes­sage to China which has dis­putes with sev­eral ASEAN mem­ber­na­tions, in­clud­ing the Philip­pines, Thai­land, Brunei and Viet­nam. ASEAN coun­tries like Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia have large eth­nic In­dian pop­u­la­tions, espe­cially from Tamil Nadu. Many have strong cul­tural links with In­dian Bud­dhism. All this gives In­dian soft power an edge in an Asia in­creas­ingly dom­i­nated by China’s hege­monic am­bi­tions.” But then

Modi has a track record of sur­pris­ing peo­ple, it was for the first time all heads of state in South Asia and also from Mau­ri­tius thronged New Delhi to at­tend swearingin cer­e­mony of the Modi gov­ern­ment. In Oc­to­ber 2015, it was his gov­ern­ment that in­vited all 54 African coun­tries’ heads for the 3rd In­dia-Africa sum­mit in New Delhi. Mak­ing China eat a hum­ble pie on Dok­lam has made it clear that In­dia has come of its age. It re­fused to be a part of China-led Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

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