Introduction: India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. As the land of Lord Buddha, India is a country of pilgrimage for the people of Myanmar. The geographical proximity of the two countries has helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to-people contact. India and Myanmar share a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
- Historical, Ethnic, and Cultural Ties: India and Myanmar share deep historical, ethnic, cultural, and religious connections.
- India is a pilgrimage destination for many people in Myanmar, and the geographical proximity has facilitated cordial relations and people-to-people contact.
- The Treaty of Friendship signed in 1951 further solidified their relationship.
- India's Interests: India recognizes the importance of maintaining a good working relationship with the Myanmar government for its diplomatic and strategic initiatives. This is particularly crucial in light of China's attempts to use Myanmar as a geopolitical base against India.
- Geographical Location: Myanmar's strategic location makes it a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. India and Myanmar have engaged in cooperation to counteract drug trafficking and insurgent groups along their shared border.
- Naval Cooperation: India has extended cooperation to Myanmar in the maritime domain. The handover of INS Sindhuvir, a submarine, to the Myanmar Navy demonstrates the deepening ties between the two countries.
- Regional Cooperation: India and Myanmar are members of BIMSTEC, SAARC, and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, which have facilitated closer ties and increased influence among Southeast Asian nations.
- Infrastructure Projects: Several infrastructure projects, such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Network, and the planned Special Economic Zone at the Sittwe deep-water port, have strengthened economic cooperation.
- Humanitarian Assistance: India has provided timely and effective assistance to Myanmar during natural disasters, demonstrating its commitment to supporting its neighbor.
India-Myanmar Trade Relations
- A bilateral Trade Agreement was signed in 1970.
- Bilateral trade has been growing steadily to reach US$ 2178.44 million (2016-17), of which Indian exports amounted to US$ 1111.19 million and India's imports to US$ 1067.25 million.
- India is the fifth largest trading partner of Myanmar but trade remains below potential.
- Agriculture dominates trade, particularly supply of beans & pulses to India ($ 809 million, 2016-17) and timber ($ 156 million).
- India is presently the tenth largest investor
- Myanmar is an important partner in our energy relations with other countries.
China factor in India’s ties
- Chinese Influence: China has its own designs for Myanmar and seeks to use it as part of its "string of pearls" strategy against India. China has provided significant funding for infrastructure projects in Myanmar, creating a potential debt trap for the country.
- Political Interference: China has also exerted political influence, as seen in its support for the military coup in Myanmar. This raises concerns about China's control over Myanmar's political machinery.
- Trade Dependence: Myanmar's trade with China far outweighs its trade with India. China has become Myanmar's largest trading partner, while India's bilateral trade with Myanmar remains comparatively lower. This trade dependence on China could further strengthen China's influence in Myanmar.
Impact of the Coup
- India's Relationship: The military coup in Myanmar has not significantly changed India's relationship with the country. India has built ties with the Tatmadaw (Myanmar's military) over the years, and the handing over of the submarine to Myanmar demonstrates the deepening engagement.
- China's Influence: China has been the largest supplier of weapons to Myanmar, but recent tensions between the Tatmadaw and China, including accusations of support for insurgent groups, have created an opportunity for India to strengthen its position.
Road to Democracy in Myanmar
- India's Dual Policy: India has historically pursued a dual policy of engaging with the Myanmar military while advocating for democratic reforms. This approach recognizes the Tatmadaw's role in maintaining stability in Myanmar.
- Democratic Realist Policy: India's policy in Myanmar is guided by the centrality of democracy. While India supports democratic reforms, it also acknowledges the need for pragmatic adjustments to engage with the military.
- Preserving Trust: India needs to maintain trust with the Myanmar military while continuing to pressure for the restoration of democratic order. High-level engagement and communication are essential to ensure that India's core concerns are respected.
- International Coordination: India must coordinate its position internationally and develop a common platform to encourage Myanmar's return to democracy. The support of ASEAN and Japan is crucial in this regard.
- Democratic Realist Policy: India's democratic realist policy should guide its actions in Myanmar, taking into account the changing geopolitical dynamics and the rise of China. Pragmatic adjustments will be necessary to pursue India's interests while advocating for democratic values.
While India strives for democratic reforms, it also recognizes the need to engage with the military to maintain stability and protect its own interests. The evolving dynamics in Myanmar and the region will require India to navigate carefully and balance its democratic ideals with pragmatic considerations.