Putting Connectivity in Place to Act East
India and Myanmar have turned a new leaf with Dr Man Mohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar. As Myanmar begins its journey towards democratisation and opening up to the world, there is a growing interest by China and the West too in investing in the geo strategic, political and economic potential of Myanmar. The US has evinced interest in shaping the new dynamics in the Bay of Bengal as part of its pivot to Asia. The likely location of the seventh fleet in Chittagong underscores this sentiment with an aim to contain China in the Bay of Bengal. Simultaneously while US has not yet lifted sanctions it has liberalised its outlook and soon the west would engage Myanmar to meet their strategic needs in Asia-Pacific. It has also promised to look into the aspects of military cooperation with Myanmar in the Shangri- La Dialogue.
China, which has engaged Myanmar for the last five decades has a head start over the world in exploiting the geographical location, economy and military relations with the Tatmadaw. As per Thant Myint U, the author of “Where China meets India- Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia”,
”Now and for the immediate future, the influence comes overwhelmingly from China — because of its high-speed growth, because of its trade across its rugged land border with Myanmar, because of its demand for that country’s raw materials and for commodities that can come in by sea to Myanmar’s ports. China has roughly America’s geographic scale and layout, with a dry and mountainous interior.” “What China is lacking is its California,” Thant points out, “another coast that would provide its remote interior provinces with an outlet to the sea.”
In our earlier post Looking East: The Gateway to South East Asia we had argued that India needs to put the connectivity issue at top of their agenda to ensure seamlessness in its Look East policy. The various accords signed during the PMs visit beg a sound delivery model seeped in the spirit of developing people to people contacts, as highlighted by Ms Suu Kyi. People to people contacts depend on sound connectivity more by rail and road than air. India has to harmonise its North Eastern states policy with the Myanmar policy to ensure these interests are aligned. Before India connects with Myanmar, it has to connect with Bangladesh and its own North Eastern states. The Road to Moreh explains this dichotomy.
India needs to combine application of its Look East policy in all dimensions of economic, social and strategic perspectives. Until recently border connectivity development philosophy of India operated from the paradigms of fear of China and insurgents rather than a policy of hope. Now that Indian policy making has altered this myopic view in favour of development of infrastructure in border areas, connectivity with Bangladesh and with in North Eastern States must be taken up on priority to augment the Look East policy. Going back first on Teesta water accord and now the border enclaves has eroded Indian credibility in Bangladesh for partisan political interests. This is a direct affront to the credibility of the nation in pursuing its foreign policy.
On the connectivity of minds front, India has to invest heavily in secondary education and skilling to make Myanmarese self-reliant in jobs. One Kendriya Vidyalaya is too little. As ASSK articulated in Thailand, “Hopelessness is more dangerous than joblessness”. India’s connectivity thus has to transcend physical connectivity to mental and moral connectivity with the people of Myanmar and raise hope for a better future.