Myanmar: Than Shwe’s Visit To India

By C. S. Kuppuswamy

Myanmar’s Head of State, Senior General Than Shwe visited India from 25 to 29 July 2010.  This was a religious cum official visit.  He came with a big entourage of ministers, officials and family members.  This was his second visit to India – the first one was in October 2004.

The visit was scantily covered by the local media and there was no press conference or press briefing on this visit, though a detailed joint statement was issued by the Ministry of External Affairs on 27 July, 2010, on the discussions between the two sides.

On arrival in India in the state of Bihar on 25 July, 2010, Than Shwe visited Bodh Gaya and other places of Budhist interest near by.  After visiting Sarnath temple (Varnasi), he arrived in Delhi on 26 July and was received by India’s Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna.  On 27 July, 2010, he was accorded a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhawan and a banquet was hosted by the President in his honour.  On the same day Than Shwe had a meeting with the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh which was followed by delegation level talks.

On 28 July 2010 Gen Than Shwe was in Hyderabad where he visited the L & T Infocity, Bharat Biotech, a leading biotechnology company and the famous Salar Jang Museum.  Before concluding his visit, on 29 July, he visited the Tata Motors Plant in Jamshedpur.  Tata Motors is establishing a plant in Myanmar and is hopeful of starting production of 1000 heavy trucks from this plant from 2011.

The highlights of the Joint Statement issued by the Ministry of External affairs on 27 July which summarises the issues discussed, agreements made and the concessions extended to Myanmar are:

  • The Indian side agreed to consider Myanmar’s request for assistance in the three areas namely: IT development, Industrial development and Infrastructure development in Myanmar.
  • Construction and revamping of the Rhi-Tiddim road at a cost of more than US$ 60 million.
  • Grant of US$ 10 million for procurement of agricultural machinery from India.
  • The two leaders agreed to cooperate in the implementation of the Tamanthi and Shwezaye projects on the Chindwin River Basin in Myanmar.
  • The Myanmar side conveyed their gratitude for India’s line of credit of US$ 64 million in the transmission lines sector to be executed through M/s. PGCIL.
  • The two leaders agreed to upgrade the microwave link between Moreh to Mandalay under a line of credit of US$ 6 million from India.
  • The restoration of the historic Ananda temple in Bagan to be undertaken with the assistance of the Archaeological Survey of India, with the involvement of the Ministry of Culture of Myanmar.

The following agreements signed between India and Myanmar by different ministers/officials of the two sides were also witnessed by Chairman, State Peace and Development Council of Myanmar, Senior General Than Shwe and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

  • Treaty on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters
  • Memorandum of Understanding regarding Indian Grant Assistance for Implementation of Small Development Projects
  • Agreement on Cooperation in the fields of Science and Technology
  • Memorandum of understanding on Information Cooperation
  • Memorandum of understanding for the Conservation and Restoration of the Ananda Temple in Bagan

Media Reports give the impression that Than Shwe came to India to solicit India’s support or the forthcoming elections.  This is far from the truth as the present Myanmar Government will do what it wants to do, no matter what the international reactions would be.

India has a large number of exiles from Myanmar, mostly settled in the North East and in Delhi (waiting to go over to Western nations as refugees).  Members of the All Burma Monks Alliance and All Burma Students League protested against this visit by gathering at Juntar Mantar (a Delhi Park), shouted pro-democracy slogans and dispersed peacefully.

India has also been under pressure from International Federation for Human Rights and some western nations including US, to use its good relations with Burma, to convey to the military junta for changing the course and implementing some democratic reforms.  India has taken a neutral stand till date though it has expressed that it is looking forward to an early national reconciliation.  What the Indian leaders told the visiting dignitary was not known, but the official stand was one of neutrality.

An extract from the joint statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs on 27 July 2010 given below summarises India’s reactions on the forthcoming election in Myanmar.

“The Myanmar side informed the Indian side about developments in Myanmar including the groundwork for elections scheduled towards the end of the year.  The Indian side thanked the Myanmar side for the detailed briefing and emphasized the importance of comprehensively broad-basing the national reconciliation process and democratic changes being introduced in Myanmar.”

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India is accused for its policy on Myanmar being based on realpolitik instead of its age old democratic principles.  India’s earlier stance of supporting the pro-democratic forces in Myanmar had proved to be detrimental to its national and security interests and hence had to adopt a more realistic and pragmatic policy of engaging the military junta.

Most media reports indicate that Myanmar is playing the China card with India and the India card with China.  All one can say at this point is that Myanmar needs India as much as India needs Myanmar.

Media reports also harp on the point that the results achieved in the energy sector or on the insurgency front from Myanmar are not commensurate with the efforts taken from the Indian side.  While this may be true to a certain extent, India (as against China) had also its shortcomings in implementing the projects in Myanmar or in convincing the military junta of its requirements.

The western nations have nothing to lose by adopting a policy of sanctions and repeated censure of the military regime for its human rights abuses.  This policy has only isolated Myanmar from the main stream, much to the benefit of China. In India’s case, Myanmar is its immediate neighbour with a 1640 km land border and a long maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.  Because of the strategic, security and economic concerns, India has to be in an engagement mode with Myanmar.

Just because India is the world’s largest democracy, it is not incumbent on the part of India to exert pressure on the military junta for democratic reforms and release of political prisoners.  Even the other nations of ASEAN and its top dialogue partners US, EU and Japan failed to convey their strong feelings for more transparency and democracy in the recent summit meetings at Hanoi.

It is incorrect to conclude, that by hosting the Senior General Than Shwe’s visit on the eve of the general elections in Myanmar, India has endorsed the elections and the procedure to be adopted for that process.  The election is an internal issue of that country.  India can at best offer some assistance in the procedural aspects and express its desire for an early national reconciliation.

The elections will no doubt to be a flawed one but yet it is better than not doing anything at all.  Any change can only be for the better and it is almost certain that Indian engagement with the new regime will continue in the interest of both the countries.

The visit has also shown India’s potential as a ‘soft power’ that needs to be used more often and in a more focused manner.

SAAG

SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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