News Excerpt
India and Myanmar exchanged 10 MoUs/agreements in March 2020 with a focus on the socio-economic development of the southeast Asian nation as Prime MinisterNarendra Modi held wide-ranging talks with Myanmar PresidentU Win Myint.

●    The focus of many agreements was on development projects under India’s assistance, particularly in theconflict-torn Rakhine state.
●    The agreements included an MoU on ‘Cooperation for Prevention of Trafficking in Persons; Rescue, Recovery, Repatriation and Reintegration of Victims of Trafficking’.
●    An agreement regarding Indian Grant Assistance for Implementation of Quick Impact Projects (QIP) was also signed between the two sides.
●    Three agreements for development projects in the conflict-torn Rakhine state were also signed. The Rakhine state has witnessed a lot of violence in the past and scores of Rohingyas had fled the state facing persecution.
●    Both sides reiterated their mutual respect for the already- demarcated portion of the boundary between the two countries and affirmed their commitments to settle pending issues through the existing bilateral mechanisms, such as the Joint Boundary Working Group Meeting.
●    The two sides emphasized the centrality of connectivity in their relationship and reaffirmed their commitments to expedite the completion of the various India-funded projects presently underway in Myanmar.
●    India reiterated its commitment towards the construction of the modern Integrated Check Post as Phase-I at Tamu, Myanmar. The two sides committed to the early conclusion of discussions on the pending bilateral Motor Vehicles Agreement to facilitate cross border movement of vehicles.

Why Myanmar Should Matter to India?
    Myanmar is the only country that sits at the intersection of India’s “Neighborhood First” policy and “Act East” policy. Myanmar is an essential element in India’s practice of regional diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, and serves as a land bridge to connect South Asia and Southeast Asia.
    Myanmar is geopolitically significant to India as it is the only Southeast Asian countrythat shares a land border with northeastern India. It also shares a 725-km maritime boundary with India in the Bay of Bengal.
    Myanmar is an important member of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), a regional organization that is committed to fostering bilateral or regional cooperation among Bay of Bengal countries.
    Myanmar is the only Southeast Asian country that has a separate bureaucratic division (shared with Bangladesh) in India’sExternal Affairs Ministry, testifying to the continued importance of Myanmar to India’s foreign policy.
    India sees Myanmar as being vital to fulfilling its ambition to become a$5 trillion economy by 2024. But with a total bilateral trade of$2 billion, India’s economic engagement with Myanmar lags behindChina, behooving Modi’s government to scale up India-Myanmar economic ties.
    India regards Myanmar as a gateway to link up to the rest of Southeast Asia, and thus has invested in ASEAN-wide infrastructural projects that are able to boost trade in theASEAN-India Free Trade Area.
    Many Infrastructure projects are underway, such as theIndia-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway andKaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT), which aims to connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with the Sittwe deep-water port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state by sea.
    India has built on the cultural affinities shared with Myanmar by assisting in restoration work at Anand temple in Bagan. This gives India an enormous goodwill.
    Myanmar has rich reserves of oil and natural gas. Since India imports nearly 80% of its fuel, Myanmar is important for India.

Challenges and Concerns
    Slow pace of implementation of Infrastructure Projects such as India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT).
    Rohingya Influx: India hosts close to 40,000 Rohingya Muslims who are persecuted in Myanmar and sought refuge in India in order to escape religious persecution.
    Lack of basic infrastructure and low trading volume at the Indian border.
    Growing Chinese influence Such as Belt and Road Initiative and Chinese investments in various infrastructure projects including port projects such as Kyaukpyu port.
    Issues related to Insurgency and smuggling of arms, drugs and fake currencies.

India and Myanmar must boost their security cooperation at the border to boost trade ties. Envisioning the potential in India-Myanmar relations has to be prioritized by both countries, and bilateral commitments translated to practical outcomes and take bilateral relationship to the next level of deepening engagement on a sustainable basis.

Look East Policy,Act East Policy,ASEAN,RCEP, Kaladan Multimodal project