India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to people contact.
India Myanmar Border
India and Myanmar share a 1,643 km border
Mizoram shares 510-km.
Manipur shares 398-km.
Arunachal Pradesh shares 520 kms.
Nagaland shares 215 kms
The border along the four states is unfenced and porous and people on either side have familial ties.
- India – Myanmar/Burmese relations date to antiquity and cultural exchanges included Buddhism and the Burmese script, which was based on the Indian Grantha script.
- In particular, Theravada Buddhism has tremendously influenced Burmese society and culture for millennia, with around 90% of Burma’s population continuing to follow the religion.
- Myanmar (formerly Burma) was made a province of British India in 1885 by British rulers through 3 indo Burmese war and again separated in 1937.
- It was in Japanese-occupied Burma that Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose delivered his “Give me blood and I will give you freedom!” slogan.
- India established diplomatic relations after Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948.
- A number of agreements enhancing bilateral Cooperation have been signed between the two countries. Institutional mechanisms for facilitating regular dialogue on a range of issues of bilateral interest have also been established.
- For many years, Indo-Burmese relations were strong due to Myanmar previously having been a province of India, due to cultural links, flourishing commerce, common interests in regional affairs and the presence of a significant Indian community in Myanmar.
- India provided considerable support when Myanmar struggled with regional insurgencies.
- The overthrow of the democratic government by the Military of Myanmar led to strains in ties. Along with much of the world, India condemned the suppression of democracy and Myanmar ordered the expulsion of the Burmese Indian community, increasing its own isolation from the world.
- Only China maintained close links with Myanmar while India supported the pro-democracy movement.
- A major breakthrough occurred in 1987 when the then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited Myanmar, but relations worsened after the military junta’s reaction towards pro-democracy movements in 1988, which resulted in an influx of Burmese refugees into India.
- However, since 1993 the governments of the Indian Prime Ministers P. V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed course and began to establish warmer relations between the two nations,
- India-Myanmar joint operation destroyed several militant camps of Arakan Army on the Indo-Myanmar border.
- During 2002, the Indian Consulate General in Mandalay was re-opened and the Consulate General of Myanmar was set up in Kolkata.
- Presently our relation with Myanmar is complicated, Rohingya issue continues to fester and it strains Myanmar’s relations with Bangladesh & China’s expanding economic foot print in Myanmar and the continuing impasse on India-China border are the present day realities.
- Myanmar is geopolitically significant to India as it stands at the center of the India-Southeast Asia geography.
- Being the only country that sits at the intersection of India’s “Neighborhood First” policy and its “Act East” policy, and serves as a land bridge to connect South Asia and Southeast Asia.
- Myanmar is the only Southeast Asian country that shares a land border with northeastern India, along with maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
Regional economic cooperation
- Myanmar is an important member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) & Mekong Ganga Cooperation significance in the context of our “Act East” policy.
- Facilitating connectivity is central to improving India-Myanmar economic relations. India regards Myanmar as a gateway to link up to the rest of Southeast Asia, and thus has invested in ASEAN-wide infrastructural projects that are able to boost trade in the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area.
Co-operation in Regional Security
- Myanmar has reaffirmed its respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and adopted the policy of not allowing any insurgent group to utilise Myanmar’s soil to undertake hostile acts against the Indian Government.
- The origin of the Indian community in Myanmar is traced to the mid-19th century with the advent of the British rule in Lower Burma in1852.
- There are varying estimates of 1.5-2.5 million people of Indian origin living and working in various parts of Myanmar.
- Development Cooperation valued at $1.4 Billion (through grants) is substantive.
- Capacity building has been accorded priority, several new institutions were set up for Agricultural education, Information Technology and Industrial training. They have benefited Myanmar Youth immensely.
- Over 100 projects have been completed as part of the Border Development Programme in Western Myanmar.
- Two of the major connectivity projects i.e., Kaladan Project and Trilateral Highway are major cause of concern and needs high level attention. and they are part of policy for the Indian Ocean called Security and Growth for All in the Region(SAGAR), central to which is “port-led development,”
- The Indian and Myanmar armies have carried out two joint military operations, codenamed Operation Sun shine, to fight militants along the borders of Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
- India provides military training and conducts joint military exercises with the Myanmar Army like the India-Myanmar Bilateral Military Exercise (IMBAX-2017and IMBEX 2018-19), by which India had trained the Myanmar Army to be able to participate in UN Peacekeeping Operations.
- India and Myanmar signed a landmark defense cooperation agreement.
- The navies of both India and Myanmar conducted a historic bilateral naval exercise, IMNEX-18.
- India also invited the Myanmar Army to participate in the India-led multilateral Milan naval exercisethat occurs biennially in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- To elevate its “Made in India” arms industry, India has identified Myanmar as key to increasing its military exports. Myanmar bought India’s first locally-produced anti-submarine torpedo, called TAL Shyena, acquired a diesel-electric Kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhuvir.
- India is Burma’s 4th largest trading partner after Thailand, China, and Singapore.
- India is the second-largest export market for Burmese exports after Thailand.
- The agriculture sector dominates the bilateral trade which comprises mostly of pulses and beans imports to India.
- India is additionally the tenth largest investor in Myanmar. India has substantial investments in Myanmar’s oil and gas sector.
- India and Myanmar have decided to work together to launch India’s RuPay Card in that country at the earliest and explore the creation of a digital payment gateway.
People to people contact:
- Buddhist Circuit initiative, seeks to double foreign tourist arrivals and revenue by connecting ancient Buddhist heritage sites across different states in India.
- It could also build up India’s diplomatic reservoir of goodwill and trust with Buddhist-majority countries such as Myanmar.
- India’s assistance in restoring of the Ananda temple in Bagan and two temples in Bodh Gaya built by Burmese rulers has been widely appreciated in Myanmar.
- India’s timely help of medicines and equipment to fight the Corona pandemic also received positive response in Myanmar.
Cooperation at Political & Diplomatic Levels
- Cooperation on political and diplomatic levels exist in ample measures.
- Since 2014, seven visits at the head of state/government level took place resulting in numerous agreements and deepening of mutual understanding.
- Liaison Office of the embassy of India was inaugurated recently, where, only a few countries have set-up such offices.
India has kept its focus on ‘Development Assistance’, supported through grants-in-aid, lines of credit, training programmes, and provisions for expert knowledge and capacity building initiatives thereby overpowering the Chinese economic clout which are more commercial in nature through loans at high rates of interest. Tackling cross-border ethnic insurgency in their shared border regions Indian side is visible in supporting Myanmar to promote democratic values and re-build its institutions along with socio-economic reforms.
This is particularly noticeable in the field of
Health and Education
- up gradation of the Yangon Children’s Hospital and Sittwe General Hospital,
- India has successfully established centers for industrial training and enhancement of IT skills and other capacity building programmes.
- Education is a crucial area where India exercises competitive advantage in Myanmar for building a sustainable academic partnership between the two countries. Building up an effective workforce in Myanmar requires higher Centres of Excellence and Learning.
Infrastructural development and energy cooperation
- Myanmar’s oil and gas has attracted the largest foreign investment.
- ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL), GAIL and ESSAR holding stakes in Gas field off the coast of Rakhine State.
- There are Plans to build cross-border pipelines,
- Ministry of Electric Power-1 (MoEP-1) and NHPC signed an agreement for development of the Hydro-Electric Power project in Chindwin River valley.
Trade and Commerce
- The two countries have also signed several bilateral investment promotion agreements facilitating their venture in each other’s country.
- As of 2019, India’s investment in Myanmar reached $763 million, ranking 11thin the line-up of foreign investors with 30 permitted enterprises.
Transport and Communication
- High speed data link in 32 Myanmar cities has been completed by TCIL.
- Connectivity interest to link its landlocked northeastern region with the Bay of Bengal through Rakhine State through development of port at Sittwe.
- up gradation and resurfacing of the 160 km. long Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road; construction and up gradation of the Rhi-Tiddim Road in Myanmar;
- Parliamentary training and support for ethnic reconciliation initiatives.
- ‘High Impact Community Development Projects’ & ‘Border Areas Development Projects’ have been crucial in reaching out to States in the border regions of Myanmar and boosting people to people contacts.
- Rehabilitation of refugees – ‘India-Myanmar Friendship Project’ India has handed over 250 pre-fabricated houses in the Rakhine State for the rehabilitation of refugees after their return.
- its engagement with India in recent times in the economic field and trade statistics have not been satisfactory which has just reached 1.6 billion in the year 2017-18.
- India’s economic involvement in Myanmar, largely through the public sector, has not been up to the mark with complaints about implementation delays and quality controls.
- Gap in project implementation, however, must be bridged by the Indian private sector which might make inroads.
- The building of rail-road connectivity through Myanmar to other Southeast Asian countries and reviving old rail-road links from Assam to Vietnam calls for much attention.
- Investment in agriculture, industry, banking sector, education, health, transport and communication is urgently required by India.
Bilateral trade: India sees Myanmar as being vital to fulfilling its ambition to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024. But with a total bilateral trade of $2 billion, India’s economic engagement with Myanmar lags behind China.
Rohingya Crisis: Delhi could not take a hard-line approach on Naypyidaw vis-à-vis the Rohingya issue, even keeping its distance when Myanmar was hauled into the International Court of Justice over accusations of Rohingya genocide.
China’s Investments in Myanmar:
- China’s relationship with Myanmar is extractive in nature. It already has an oil and gas terminal near Bay of Bengal coast.
- China is going to build Special Economic Zone. Now it is asking for controlling stake in a natural deep sea harbor at Kyaukpyu that could form part of its ambitious BRI
Issue of Border Security:
- The Indian insurgent groups with bases in Myanmar remain a matter of concern
- Over the years, the India-Myanmar border has become the main conduit for the trafficking of arms and drugs from Myanmar.
Slow Pace of Development Projects
Connectivity/ infrastructure projects like the Trilateral Highway, the Kaladan Multi-modal Transport and Transit Project are long drawn due to security complications.
- Delicate Balancing On Rohingya Issue
- The balancing act between Myanmar and Bangladesh remains one of the keys to India’s overall approach to Rohingya issue.
- By positioning as playing an active role in facilitating the return of Rohingya to Myanmar, India has made it clear that, it supports Myanmar’s efforts and also understands Bangladesh’s burden.
- The quicker the Rohingya issue is resolved, the easier it will be for India to manage its relations with Myanmar and Bangladesh, focusing instead more on bilateral and sub-regional economic cooperation.
- Non-Interference in Internal Politics
- The political logic that has shaped India’s Myanmar policy since the 1990s has been to support democratization driven from within the country.
- This has allowed India to engage with the military that played a key role in Myanmar’s political transition.
- Converting our investments in the trilateral highway and the kaladan projects to fuller trade and investment corridors.
- A broader development partnership to the grassroots with the help of civil society.
- New political approach to the Indian Insurgent Groups issue beyond the intelligence-based approaches.