In the last few years, India countered China’s string of pearls strategy by snatching many neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives from Beijing. Now, as per its Act East strategy, India is focusing on Myanmar, which shares a long border with both India as well as China.
Ahead of Myanmar general elections, which are to be held on November 8, the Indian top officials including foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Army chief M M Naravan headed for Myanmar to hold a meet on Sunday with senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor of Myanmar, to ink deal on coastal shipping agreement to activate the Kaladan multi-modal project and cement security ties against the insurgent groups.
Prior to that, the foreign offices of both countries held virtual meetings and decided to operationalize Sittwe port– known as Chabahar of the east– by the first quarter of 2021.
“India’s assistance to Myanmar is around USD 1.4 billion. Despite the challenges caused by the COVID pandemic, we are working towards operationalising the Sittwe Port by the first quarter of next year,” said Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla during his opening remarks.
Regarding other infrastructure projects, Harsh Shringla said: “With respect to the 69 bridges on the Trilateral Highway, I am happy to inform you that we will soon be moving forward with the tendering process… I am also happy to note that some agreements such as Project Agreement for the establishment of modern Integrated Check Post at Tamu, MoU for the construction of 50 basic schools and the Project Agreement for the upgrading of agricultural mechanization sub-station will be signed shortly between our two sides. I would like to convey our support for the construction of Bwaynu Bridge and we hope this would be of benefit to the local community.”
China helps various separatist groups in Myanmar in the border states and is trying to destabilize internal stability of the country, while, on the other hand, India is helping Myanmar armed forces to fight separatist groups. India is also helping the country to solve the Rohingya and Rakhine state problem, as these are among the major internal security issues of the country. Apart from these, India is assisting the country with developmental projects, just like it did in Afghanistan.
The relations with China, one of Myanmar’s closest allies for years, changed drastically since the last few years. Over the years, Myanmar’s lawmakers and army personnel have publicly disdained how China is striving to keep the country unstable by engaging and funding the Burmese terrorist organisations.
China has a longstanding relationship with Rakhine based terrorist organisation, Arakan Army and according to reports, China has now intensified its funding and delivery of arms to the Arakan Army with the explicit intention to harm Indian projects in Myanmar and continue to gain leverage over the latter.
It is being reported that 95% of the terrorist outfit’s funding comes from China with the latter even providing 50 Chinese surface-to-air missiles. Myanmar recently also discovered a Chinese consignment allegedly for the Arakan Army which consisted of 500 assault rifles, 30 machine guns and 70,000 rounds of ammunition which doesn’t bode well for the stability of Myanmar.
Just like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, under the Belt and Road Initiative, China is also building the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, which will open into the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar was initially on board with the project but of late has developed cold feet as there are growing concerns in Myanmar that the country will fall into the infamous Chinese debt-trap.
China is coercing Myanmar to not derail the projects by using ethnic terrorist groups like the Arakan rebels, who over the years, have made it a habit to hamper Indian projects but instantly drop arms when it comes to Chinese projects.
So, India has come all-out in support of Myanmar and is helping the country to fight the rebel groups through training of its armed forces and police. Also, it is helping the government in solving the other internal security issues as well as financing major development projects in the country. The latest visit by the Army chief and foreign secretary is a message to China that India stands with Yangon, militarily and diplomatically. Myanmar is the latest country to slip out of Chinese hands after Sri Lanka and Maldives.