The Road to Moreh
Indo Myanmar relations in the recent times have been viewed in the Indian strategic circles as a function of Myanmar’s geography to marginalise Chinese influence and trade to get oil and gas. There then is the constituency for better relations resting on opening the land route to South East Asia and countering the ill effects of Chinese use of Myanmar, both at sea and land.
It is a known geographical fact that Myanmar is the only country that , at least theoretically, provides a land bridge to India in its quest to “act east”. All other land frontiers are virtually sealed with Pakistan and China sitting across its Western and Northern frontiers, land locking it in all directions. Purely from this geographical consideration India reversed its earlier policy of isolation of Myanmar in favour of engaging with the Junta.
A lot has happened since and Myanmar appears to be moving towards democracy with Chinese characteristics. Our earlier posts here, here and here have laboured on the need for India to Act East through Myanmar to safeguard its interests in the region vis a vis China. But can you reach out to those heights which China obviously rests on after a head start of over 30 years? Appears impossible. The debate over competition cum cooperation with China shall continue.
As per the latest book, ‘ Where China Meets India’ by Thant Mint U, “Neither India nor the countries of south-eastern Asia have so far been able to compare with what China has been offering and able to deliver. India is no further from Mandalay or even Maymyo than China, but contemporary Indian influences are practically non-existent … Will India ever become the ‘balancer’ of China in the region? … From a distance, China’s and India’s stated desires to find new links to and across Burma seem straight forward, [and] the question is only of their relative prowess. But here [in Myanmar] it was clear that it wasn’t all about Beijing and Delhi, and that Burmese fears and desires will also be a major factor in determining the future.”
It further states that “What China is lacking is its California, another coast that would provide its remote interior provinces with an outlet to the sea.”
What about India’s case for an access to South East Asia?
Apart from attempting to double its trade with Myanmar to $3 Billion by 2015, Indian initiatives to speed up the infrastructure projects at a time when the West has become sympathetic to the Burmese cause and China attempting an overreach to keep Myanmar in its orbit, are slow and tardy. The Kaladan multi modal transport corridor is still years away from completion while the ONGC Videsh has made little head way in oil exploration. The overall engagement of India lacks credibility, speed and commitment. Currently, two items — pulses and wood products — account for 97.5 per cent of Myanmar’s total exports to India. Similarly, buffalo meat and pharmaceuticals accounted for 45 per cent of India’s total exports to Myanmar.
India needs to take a deep breadth and a leap of faith in taking unilateral proactive initiatives to engage Myanmar in the field of infrastructure development both on land and at sea, oil and gas exploration, minerals, agriculture and above all in Human Resource Development – education and IT based services.The last would go a long way in building bridges by adopting a soft approach – something that India enjoys in Myanmar and China lacks.
Enough has been argued in the earlier posts on this strength of Indian civil and military diplomacy to engage Myanmar politically, economically and socially lest we have another China owned Myanmar situation on our East resembling our status with Pakistan on the West. Suu Kyi in her speeches post release has also called for a path of reconciliation rather than confrontation to see phased return of democracy to Myanmar, their style. India would do well to take lead from Syu Kyi’s statements and invest heavily into a meaningful relationship through its efforts in the field of Public Diplomacy.
The absolute apathy on the infrastructure front is evident in the conditions of India’s road to Moreh. To reach out to Myanmar this road has become the ultimate symbol of India’s commitment – potholed, neglected and delinquent.
If India is to engage earnestly with Myanmar it must build the road to Moreh – the gateway to South East Asia would then begin to open!
- India, Myanmar to double bilateral trade to $3 b (thehindu.com)
- Time to Act “Myanmar” : Clinton Visit (southasianidea.com)
- The great game in Myanmar (thehindu.com)
- Hague Urges Freer Myanmar in Highest-Level U.K. Visit Since 1955 – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- China fights back in Myanmar (globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com)
- Between China And India Lies Myanmar’s Future (npr.org)