Myan­mar and In­dia seek to build closer ties

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - SHOON NAING news­room@mm­times.com

The neigh­bour­ing coun­tries have gone to great lengths in or­der to de­pict Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw’s re­cent visit as a ce­ment­ing of ties.

IN­DIA and Myan­mar have gone to great lengths to paint Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw’s re­cent four-day visit as a his­toric ce­ment­ing of bi­lat­eral ties. The neigh­bour­ing coun­tries’ re­la­tions, long over­shad­owed by China’s more ag­gres­sive over­tures, have forged ahead un­der the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led ad­min­is­tra­tion.

U Htin Kyaw, First Lady Daw Su Su Lwin and a del­e­ga­tion of ministry of­fi­cials were re­ceived with much fan­fare when they ac­cepted In­dian Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee’s in­vi­ta­tion on Au­gust 27.

Su­per­fi­cially, the visit ap­peared lit­tle more than a se­ries of photo op­por­tu­ni­ties along with a high­lights tour of re­li­gious and cul­tural sites, punc­tu­ated at the end by the ink­ing of mi­nor mem­o­randa of un­der­stand­ing. The trip nev­er­the­less dom­i­nated Myan­mar state me­dia head­lines on each of the four days.

“U Htin Kyaw is on a four-day visit to In­dia seek­ing sup­port in the on­go­ing re­build­ing ef­forts in Myan­mar. Myan­mar wants In­dia to step up its role in sev­eral sec­tors rang­ing from in­fras­truc­ture and ed­u­ca­tion to health­care and en­ergy,” The Global New Light of Myan­mar said of the visit on Au­gust 30.

A joint state­ment, pro­duced af­ter meet­ings with Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi in New Delhi, reads like a 30-point back-scratch­ing to-do list.

“Ac­cord­ing to Myan­mar’s ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion and in­ter­na­tional strate­gic plan, there are four pri­or­ity coun­tries: In­dia, China, Ja­pan and Amer­ica. Among th­ese coun­tries, In­dia has col­lab­o­rated the least with Myan­mar in the past. That’s why State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sent Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw to show the in­ten­tion that Myan­mar con­sid­ers the de­vel­op­ment of In­dia-Myan­mar ties as im­por­tant,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst U Than Soe Naing.

Much of the joint state­ment is­sued at the con­clu­sion of the trip ad­dresses a mu­tual re­solve to pro­tect the 1640-kilome­tre (1020-mile) shared bor­der, and to “fight the scourge of ter­ror­ism and in­sur­gent ac­tiv­ity”.

Just weeks be­fore the visit, there were re­ports that in­sur­gent groups based in north­east­ern In­dian states had used Myan­mar as a launch­pad for at­tacks against In­dia, and in re­tal­i­a­tion the In­dia Army had crossed into Myan­mar to tar­get a rebel mil­i­tary camp.

“Both sides re­it­er­ated their com­mit­ment to re­spect the sovereignty and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity of the other and to con­tinue prac­tis­ing the pol­icy of not al­low­ing any in­sur­gent groups to use their soil for hos­tile ac­tiv­i­ties against the other side,” the state­ment said.

It added, “The In­dian lead­er­ship also ex­pressed sup­port to the na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and peace pro­cess of the gov­ern­ment of Myan­mar un­der the ‘21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence’.”

While the visit con­cluded just one day be­fore the launch of Myan­mar’s key peace talks, In­dia is not typ­i­cally con­sid­ered one the fore­most in­ter­na­tional play­ers in the peace pro­cess, and none of the armed groups that con­cerns In­dia is part of the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

But the visit also came just af­ter State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s own over­tures to China, which main­tains close ties with Myan­mar’s most pow­er­ful eth­nic armed group, the United Wa State Army. The UWSA re­fused to sign the na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment last year, along with other ma­jor armed groups, leav­ing Myan­mar gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials con­vinced that China was be­hind the boy­cott.

“[China’s] ac­tions are seen to be driven by both a con­cern over a rise in smug­gling and an at­tempt to grab a stake in build­ing roads and rail­ways in north­ern Myan­mar. Recog­nis­ing that Myan­mar must be mind­ful of China’s clout with rebels and its eco­nomic mus­cle, In­dia is look­ing to present it­self as an ally whose in­ter­ests are truly in syn­ergy with Myan­mar in ar­eas of se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment,” said Udai Bhanu Singh, a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at the New Delhi-based In­sti­tute for De­fence Stud­ies & Analy­ses.

While Myan­mar’s re­la­tions with In­dia are of­ten de­picted as a foil to Sino ties, his­to­rian U Thant Myint-U noted that it would ben­e­fit the neigh­bours to mine the un­tapped po­ten­tial of a more nu­anced col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“There doesn’t need to be a new ‘Great Game’ over Myan­mar. Myan­mar doesn’t need to choose be­tween In­dia and China and in­stead should seek to be the best of friends with both coun­tries. This will be to the ad­van­tage of the en­tire re­gion,” he said.

“Few re­la­tion­ships are as im­por­tant for Myan­mar as with In­dia. Myan­mar-In­dia re­la­tions hold tremen­dous po­ten­tial in prac­ti­cally all fields, from se­cu­rity to trade to ed­u­ca­tion to cul­ture,” he added.

Dur­ing the trip, U Htin Kyaw signed four MoUs with In­dia’s pres­i­dent on tra­di­tional medicine, re­new­able en­ergy, con­struc­tion of bridges connecting the two coun­tries and up­dat­ing the Kalaywa-Yagyi road.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi plans to visit In­dia later this year to at­tend a re­gional sum­mit for BIMSTEC, the Bay of Ben­gal Ini­tia­tive for Multi-Sec­toral Tech­ni­cal and Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion.

Photo: AFP

Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw (cen­tre) in­spects the guard of hon­our dur­ing a cer­e­mo­nial re­cep­tion at the pres­i­den­tial palace in New Delhi on Au­gust 29.

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