By C. S. Kuppuswamy
Consequent to the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Myanmar in May 2012 and the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi to India in November 2012, the Indo-Myanmar relations has been on an upswing and gaining momentum by the day. The major events, visits and developments since May 2012 have been reviewed in the succeeding paragraphs.
Exchange of visits
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Myanmar from 27 to 29 May, 2012, 25 years after the last prime ministerial visit to that country. The visit was significant in many respects, particularly in asserting India’s role in the region. The major agreements that India and Myanmar signed during this visit pertained to:
- Increasing the air connectivity between the countries
- Setting up border area markets
- Strengthening border security mechanism
- Setting up a joint trade and investment forum
- Developing border trade areas
- Upgrading 71 bridges on the Tamu Kalewa friendship road
- Operationalising the Imphal-Mandalay bus service at the earliest
- Setting up an Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education in Myanmar
Myanmar Commander-in-Chief, Defence Services, General Min Aung Hlaing visited India from 01-08 August 2012. Despite the custom of extending the privilege to only heads of state, he was given the honour of calling on the Indian President. In addition to discussions with the Defence minister and Service chiefs, he visited the Eastern Command in Kolkata, Eastern Naval Command at Vishakapatnam and some of the Defence and Research Laboratories in Bangalore.
Myanmar and Indian entrepreneurs met at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce in Yangon on 28 October, 2012 to promote bilateral trade and investment.
Aung San Suu Kyi visited India from 13 to 18 November, 2012 (A detailed report is in Paper No. 5301).
Chief of Air staff, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne visited Myanmar from November 26 to 30, 2012 in his capacity as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Bilateral defence co-operation between the armed forces of both sides including the areas of military education and training was discussed (Yahoo news 18 December 2012.
External Affairs minister, Salman Kurshid visited Myanmar from December 14 to 16, 2012. He met his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin, President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi.
President Thein Sein is now in India from 20 to 22 December, 2012 for attending the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit. During the visit he will have bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He is expected to visit Ratnagiri to pay his respects at the tomb of the last Myanmar King Thibaw, who was in exile in this city till death.
May 2012: Tata Motors have signed a distribution agreement on May 26, 2012 with Apex Greatest Industrial Co. Ltd (AGI) for supplying its passenger commercial vehicles in Myanmar. AGI will be distributing the Tata trucks which will be assembled in Magwe as also the cars imported from India (Moneycontrol – June 13, 2012)
A production sharing contract was signed with India’s Jubilant Energy and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise for the PSC-1 oil and gas block on May 28, 2012 (The PSC-1 block is located about 125 km north west of Yangon in Ayeyarwady Region).
July 2012: JK Paper has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Myanmar Government to pick up equity and revive the state owned Thar Paung Paper and Pulp Mill.
A 10 member delegation of Myanmar parliamentarians had a weeklong orientation programme in New Delhi organised by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training of the Lok Sabha Secretariat.
August 2012: Dr. Seshadri, India’s Ambassador to Myanmar handed over US $ 200,000 to authorities in Myanmar for assistance to those affected in Rakhine State for rehabilitation. He also reviewed the progress of the Kaladan multi-modal project during his visit to Sittwe in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
October 2012: Myanmar’s national carrier Myanmar Airways International (MAI) will launch a direct service between Mandalay and Gaya in the state of Bihar in India from November 01, 2012 (IANS, October 22, 2012).
December 2012: Apollo group of hospitals have launched telemedicine services in Myanmar by which the people of Myanmar can now get access to quality treatment.
Indian government has allowed overland import of rice from Myanmar which will benefit primarily the North Eastern States (Mizzima News, 18 December 2012).
A media report indicates that India will become the first country to have three missions in Myanmar when it opens a new consulate in Sittwe, the Capital of Rakhine State, an important sea port on the Bay of Bengal.
United Bank of India has commenced operations at its representative office in Yangon (Myanmar). This is the first bank from India to open an office in Myanmar. The announcement for establishing this branch was made during the Prime Minister’s visit to Myanmar.
India extended to Myanmar a grant of $ 1 million for building infrastructure, including schools, in the violence-hit Rakhine State.
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Joint Task Force meeting on the Trilateral Highway Project was held in New Delhi on 10-11 September 2012. The three sides agreed to make all efforts to establish trilateral connectivity by 2016. This was reiterated by PM Manmohan Singh in his inaugural speech at the 10th India-ASEAN Summit at Phnom Penh in Cambodia in November 2012.
India and Myanmar have added a new chapter in their bilateral relations with the first Border Liaison Officers (BLOs) meeting held at Jairampur in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district on 31 October 2012. They have decided to hold such meetings from time to time relating to local security, crime and other border issues (ANI Wed, 31 Oct 2012).
The second edition of the ASEAN-INDIA Car Rally passed through Myanmar on 13-14 December 2012 before entering India.
External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid inaugurated the International Conference on Buddhist Cultural Heritage jointly organised by the Government of India and Myanmar in Yangon on 15 December 2012. He also unveiled the 15 foot replica of the statue of Gautam Buddha in the precincts of Shwedagon Pagoda. The announcement by this gift was made during the Prime Minister’s visit to Myanmar in May 2012.
The Myanmar government has signed an agreement with the NSCN-K paving the way for autonomy to the NSCN-K in three districts: Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun which fall in Sagaing Division. India was not informed before hand of this agreement (Rediff News – May 24, 2012).
The Indian insurgent Groups camping in Myanmar were given a deadline (June 10, 2012) to vacate and move back to India. The deadline passed over without any major effort on the part of the Myanmar army to dislodge these groups.
India has been accused of providing the Myanmar Army with Swedish weaponry used against Kachin rebels in direct violation of European sanctions (Democratic voice of Burma 13, December 2012). However, India has denied this accusation by saying that it had not supplied such weapons to Myanmar.
India has become more pro-active in its relations with Myanmar and the Indian industry has come out of the shell to invest in Myanmar and interact with the Myanmar trade and industrial agencies. India is on the right track by laying emphasis on infrastructure, health and education in its relations with Myanmar.
More awareness of the happenings in Myanmar is seen from the coverage of this country in the Indian media and from the polity especially from the North Eastern States.
Despite frequent visits of service chiefs from both countries, defence co-operation is still minimal and restricted to fields of military education and training.
The recent visit of Aung San Suu Kyi to India and the interaction she has had with the External Affairs Minister in Myanmar in December 2012 must have cleared her misgivings on India’s compulsions in the past relations with the military junta and subsequently with the civil government run by military officers.
In order to reduce its dependency on China, Myanmar has exhibited its keenness to reach out to other nations, particularly to India being a neighbour and an Asian nation, especially with the improvement of Myanmar’s relations with USA.
India’s efforts to have a major stake in that country have become all the more difficult with most world nations opening up to Myanmar.