Category Archives: Infrastructure

India Myanmar Thailand Trilateral (IMT) Highway: Location, significance, benefits and other details

The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway starts from India and goes to Thailand via Myanmar. Recently Bangladesh has shown its willingness to join the tripartite highway.

mIMT tripartite Highway

Why in News?

The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway starts from India and goes to Thailand via Myanmar. It is at the centre of transport diplomacy among ASEAN countries. Recently Bangladesh has shown its willingness to join the tripartite highway. 

About the IMT Trilateral Highway:

  1. The highway’s Imphal-Moreh portion on the Indian side, however, is expected to be completed only by 2023.
  2. It will be linking Moreh (India) -Bagan (Myanmar) -Mae Sot (Thailand)  
  3. This highway is expected to help greatly in the transport connectivity which is almost 3660 km long cross border highway network and is currently under construction, expected to be completed by 2021.
  4. The transnational highway connectivity was envisaged to enable trade from India to the other ASEAN nations.
  5. It was decided to extend the Trilateral Highway to Lao PDR and Cambodia to deepen the India-ASEAN Relations at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit 2012.

Bangladesh’s desire to join:

  1. Bangladesh is interested in joining the IMT Trilateral Highway to enhance the connectivity with South East Asia. It wants to open new chapters in trans border corridors in the Indo Pacific Region. 
  2. Recently India Bangladesh Virtual Summit was held where the latter expressed its willingness to join the IMT Highway. Sheikh Hasina the Bangladesh PM wished Narendra Modi to help Bangladesh in its efforts.
  3. Also to commemorate the significance of the road from Mujib Nagar to Nodia on Bangladesh-India border during the Liberation War, Bangladesh proposed to name it as “Shadhinota Shorok”.
  4. Bangladesh wishes to join it now as BCIM, Bangladesh China India Myanmar corridor has made little progress. Also, India skipped the Belt and Road Forum which led to exclusion of BCIM Corridor from the list of projects covered by BRI.
  5. Bangladesh also wants to trade with Nepal through India. It wants to use Indian roadways to get its trucks into Nepal.

Benefits of the project

  1. The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highways project is aimed at opening the gate to ASEAN through the land. 
  2. The project will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia.
  3. Since India has been working towards increasing its engagements with South East Asia under its `Act East Policy’ the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region.

India’s efforts under the project:

India has undertaken the construction of two sections of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar. These are the 120.74 km Kalewa-Yagyi road section and 69 bridges along with the approach road on the 149.70 km Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section.

India requested for one Land Port without a negative list, starting with Agartala-Akhaura and for transportation of goods from Chattogram port to the North East of India. India also proposed that its trucks use the Feni Bridge, once it is complete.

Way Forward:

Recently India and Bangladesh have expanded their transport and connectivity routes. Sonamura Daudkandi Inland Waterway Route, Feni Bridge from Sabroom to Ramgarh and Haldibari Chilahati rail route are its examples. Leaving India aside now it is upto Thailand and Myanmar to accept Bangladesh to join IMT Highway. 

Credit: www.jagranjosh.com

Mitsubishi Corp. wins $663m train car contract in Myanmar

Japanese trading house Mitsubishi Corp. will deliver new train cars that will shorten journeys on the Yangon Circular Railway and between Yangon and Mandalay. (Photo courtesy of the company)

Japan firm to deliver 246 cars for Yangon Circular and Mandalay routes

Mitsubishi Corp. has signed two contracts with Myanmar’s state-run railway, Myanma Railways, to deliver new rolling stock, the Japanese trading house said Tuesday.

The total cost of the two projects is approximately 69 billion yen ($663 million), which will be covered by an international yen loan agreement between the governments of Japan and Myanmar. The projects are part of the Japanese government’s railway infrastructure export drive.

Mitsubishi will deliver 66 cars for the Yangon Circular Railway, which runs in a loop in Myanmar’s largest city, and 180 cars for the Yangon-Mandalay Railway, which connects Yangon, Naypyitaw and Mandalay.

The new cars will shorten travel time on the 46-km Yangon Circular Railway from about 170 minutes to 110 minutes, and on the 620-km Yangon-Mandalay Railway from about 15 hours to around eight hours.

Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, Spain’s leading rail car manufacturer, better known as CAF, will manufacture the train cars using Japanese equipment for part of its electrical systems and deliver the cars from 2023 to 2025.

Myanmar has been overhauling its national rail system, neglected during decades of military rule, starting with two major arteries pivotal to economic revitalization.

Work started in February 2018 to upgrade the Yangon Circular Railway. In addition to cutting travel time, the overhaul aims to boost service frequency by 40%.

The project has fueled development along the line in anticipation of a jump in commuters.

The redevelopment will extend to government-owned tracts surrounding Yangon Central Railway Station, the main stop on the loop. Along with a new domed transport hub next to the existing station, the site will house high-rise office buildings and shopping spaces. 

The country also envisions establishing urban subcenters along the Yangon Circular Railway. 

Meanwhile the improvement of the 60-year-old line between Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, would be a boon to the northern Mandalay region, home to the country’s main producers of agricultural products and natural resources. The line also runs through Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.

Credit: asia.nikkei.com

Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) Built to Study Brahmaputra’s Ecosystem

Aligned to India’s Act East Policy, the North-eastern region of India, is reckoned as an expressway to South-East Asia. Weighed with this significance and potentiality, advancement in the region through scientific technology and innovation is the need of the hour.

Scientific research of Brahmaputra’s ecosystem through India’s first floating laboratory on boat –B4, is one of the three biotechnological missions undertaken by the Ministry of Science and Technology, in the North-eastern region of India.

Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) is equipped to study and analyse the change in climate, the anthropogenic components, other topographical features such as soil, water, and the flora and fauna of the region.

“No major river for this size had been studied in this particular region. In future, such projects would be connected with other similar projects in the country,” said Dr.Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Science and Technology and Environment.

With the initial investment of Rs.50 crores dedicated to the project, B4’s operation would commence in later December. The early phase of research on this boat would be covering the region from Pasighat, Dibrugarh, Neemati, Tejpur and Guwahati in Assam.

Brahmaputra Biodiversity Biology Boat (B4) is a two-storied barge, enabling scientists to govern thorough research of the factors impacting the river, and discovering valid means of mitigation as well. The second floor of the floating laboratory boat would be for educational purpose, making the local community cognizant of the current condition and characteristics of the ecosystem from a scientific perspective.

The officials and the scientists from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have planned to connect the B4 barge with other small and mobile lab boats along the tributaries of the Brahmaputra. Apart from this, links with local research institutions and national laboratories have also been arranged to facilitate the research procedure of B4 by feeding it with adequate data.

Media Fosters Closer Ties Between Myanmar and India

India-Mayanmar Friendship Road

Viewing the integrative and comprehensive role that media plays in bringing the two countries closer, a two- day media interactive programme was conducted at Sangai Hall of Hotel Imphal in the capital of Manipur. The conclave was attended by high profiled dignitaries and media representatives of India and Myanmar in the quest to interact, engage and innovate ways to further the bilateral relations between India and Myanmar in a manner more amicable and cooperative.

The inaugural session was addressed by the Chief Minister of Manipur Mr. Biren Singh wherein he lauded his government’s initiative in introducing a bus service between Manipur in India to Mandalay in Myanmar in order to facilitate ease in people to people connectivity and smooth exchange of ideas and information. Further, Mr.Biren expressed “The External Affairs ministry has also been urged to take up necessary steps for visa issues by the respective embassies of the two countries.”

The notion behind the organisation of a media interaction programme between India and Myanmar was rooted in Mr. Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Myanmar wherein the idea was proposed by him. The conclave has been reckoned seminal in advancing the bilateral relations of both the neighbouring countries wherein the role of Media as an effective and a powerful tool in delivering good governance to the people has been given central importance to.

The cooperation and participation of Press Council of India and Myanmar Press Council at the event highlighted and corroborated the significance of media in democracy in building and sustaining relationships between people of both the nations, at the same time comprehending the political and economic climate of each other in an easier and more accessible manner.

The thrust of the conclave resided on exploring Media’s role in promoting ‘India’s Act East Policy’, ‘Capacity building of media personnel in Myanmar and India’ and ‘Media’s role in promoting connectivity and trade between Myanmar and India.’

China-Myanmar Corridor to Expediate Connectivity

Myanmar and China are on the threshold of forging closer ties as they progress further on the mutually beneficial path of development and advanced bilateral cooperation with one another.

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s agreement to China-Myanmar economic corridor ‘s construction as proposed by the Chinese counterparts reflect the strengthening and reaffirming of relations between the two countries whose friendship has stood the test of time.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reckons China’s proposal of China-Myanmar Economic Corridor as a vital step in fast-tracking the strategic and economic cooperation between Myanmar and China.

The corridor connecting Kumming (south-west China), Mandalay (Myanmar), Kolkata (India), and Dhaka and Chittagong (Bangladesh) is designed and planned to enhance and boost the connectivity between these four countries.

Myanmar holds a strategic geographical position with its close proximity to South-East Asia and China. Thus, Myanmar’s centrality in China’s Belt and Road Initiative is colossal. With the implementation of China-Myanmar corridor, China’s accessibility to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar would get expedited, and the route more convenient contributing to increased connectivity between both the countries. This in effect, would bolster development plans and needs of Myanmar, specifically its transport arrangements, electrical requirements and other infrastructural set-up. The corridor would also help Myanmar in becoming an important destination for China’s industries, leading to more jobs and better living standards eventually.

Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping asserted Chinese efforts in supporting and solving regional conflicts in Myanmar and its constructive role in ensuring stability and peace in the country plagued by political fumes. The three-pillar giant cooperation pattern of the corridor was well received and appreciated by the State Counsellor as ‘well-matched with Myanmar’s national development plan’.

Japan to Aid North-East India’s Infrastructural Interests

PM Modi and Mr Shinzo Abe
Prime Minister of Japan and India – Mr. Shinzo Abe and Mr. Narendra Modi respectively

Japanese involvement in India’s keystone infrastructural projects has significantly contributed in supplementing India’s growth stories. Its efforts and interest remain relentless and persistent as it embarks upon developing and boosting infrastructural prospects in the North – East of India while leveraging on the North-eastern pool of resources and its proximity to the South-East Asian countries.

With India being weighed as the gateway to the South East region, and also actively interested in pursuing its Act East policy, Japan’s interest in providing its technical know-how, expertise and experience in the realm of connectivity based infrastructure: roads, railways, electricity, disaster management, forest resource management and so on, is loud and clear.

Against this backdrop, the Coordination Forum for Development of North – East has been set up by India and Japan to expedite infrastructural development in the North Eastern part of India, after the Ministry of Development of NorthEastern Region (DONER) recognizes the priority areas that require immediate attention and operations.

The India – Japan Cooperation Forum for Development of NorthEast included officials from external affairs, finance, road transport, power as important participants, along with Japan Embassy’s ambassador, Mr. Kenji Hiramatsu and DONER Minister, Mr. Jitendra Singh, who inaugurated the forum.

The relationship between Japan and India has strategically gained significance and both the countries look forward to an engaging people-to-people and cultural exchange platform to seek, supplement and strengthen developmental opportunities while maintaining and building historic relations.

As per the International Community, Japan and India have the potential to be mutually-giving partners, with the surfeit of North-Eastern manpower available to boost Japan’s economy and Japan’s intrinsic and engaging interest in developing the NorthEastern part of India.

North-East’s Largest ISBT Ready to be Operational

Arunachal Pradesh

Another milestone has been clocked in the North-Eastern region of India: development of largest and most comprehensive Inter-State Bus Terminal (ISBT) in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Its operations are slated to begin by mid-August post its official inauguration by the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh Mr. Pema Khandu.

Spaciously structured to deliver multiple amenities, the ISBT in the Lekhi village, Naharlagun has been constructed by the Department of Urban Development (UD) at a cost of Rs.2039 lakhs.

Translating this project into a holistic model of convenience and easy accessibility, this space is laden with special facilities such as private areas for breastfeeding mothers, special attention has also been paid to differently-abled people. Apart from this, segmented sections catering to taxis, private and government bus services have also been taken care of in an organized manner, along with neatly spaced out areas allotted for the parking of inter and intercity vehicles.

With the area spread of 86460 square feet, this inter-state bus terminal is being regarded as the largest ISBT in the Rainbow States of India.

Assistant Urban Programme Officer Mr. Yumlam Alam said,” We have constructed 5 rooms fitted with modern facilities which will function as tourist lodge. Besides, a dormitory room along with the office for tourist information officer has been constructed. Also, there will be restaurants, food courts, two ATM counters, newspaper/magazine shops, separate toilet facilities for ladies and gentlemen.”

The inauguration of ISBT would be a retreat from congested traffic ailments and aid in sculpting efficient transport services in the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Myanmar could Lead Maritime Trade of Asia

Myanmar could Lead Maritime Trade of Asia

Myanmar has launched itself on the global podium, carving an aggressive and assertive entrepreneurial spirit. Its resoluteness to connect and attract foreign investment prospects to revive its strained economic model is a quite palpable post its political transition.

The Port and the Shipping Industry is being rendered as the immediate and the most significant means to integrate Myanmar with the global economy, leveraging its strategic geographical placement in between the most populous and the second most populous country in the world; India and China.

Mr. Kyaw Myo, Deputy Minister Transport and Communications, remarked at the 15th ASEAN Ports and Shipping Conference 2017, “The development of ports and shipping industry would be a driving force for Myanmar’s integration into the global economy. Myanmar’s transport infrastructure had reached the low end of the Asian benchmark due to our poorly targeted investment for many years. Now, it is time to improve our transport infrastructure effectively and systematically with regional and international cooperation.”

The boom in the transport infrastructure, its revision and the revamping of guidelines are imperative primary moves to bring about improved connectivity – intra and inter-region, which would facilitate domestic growth, and advance integrative international possibilities. Apart from strengthening and developing infrastructure, it’s enabling and empowering prospects of job creation, easier access to regions, promotion of economic trade and prosperous growth potential, the facelift of transport framework has been rendered as an important segment in accelerating Myanmar’s economy.

In the recently conducted –15th ASEAN Ports and Shipping Conference 2017, discussions pertaining to the essential role played by maritime trade to revitalize Myanmar’s economy permeated the entire conference session. The need for an efficient and well-planned connectivity mapping the regions internally is essential for foreign companies to reach effortlessly and seek new market gains and collaborations. This is being embraced as the cornerstone development in affirming Myanmar as the new and captivating hub of Southeast Asia trade.

Carving out a mutually beneficial relationship with domestic and foreign ports, while engaging in port development activities, greater stress has also been laid on peripheral facets such as security challenges, environmental impact and navigation accessibility.

The Managing Director of Myanmar Port Authority – Mr. Ni Aung exclaimed, “As a member state, we participate in ASEAN initiatives for the acceleration of economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community by improving all aspects of transportation, specifically port development.”

The Yangon port, being the chief port of seaborne trade has been controlling 95% of the maritime export and import exchanges. Moreover, with nine ports handling seaborne and coastal trade, and with the construction of advanced terminals and multiple facilities in the areas of Yangon and Thilawa, the maritime cargo traffic has effectively enhanced.

Endowed with the capacity to accommodate as many as 36 vessels at the same time, the Yangon ports are being significantly harnessed to trade directly with 10 of the major trading economies like Malaysia, Iran, India, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Thailand.

“Maritime transportation has been able to serve more than 85% of the nation’s trade,” said Mr. Myo Nyein Aye, deputy manager of MPA.

This indeed has been the gamechanger in boosting Myanmar’s economic landscape, fabricating and fueling an investment-friendly environment in building and developing ports. Relentless involvement of the private sector companies and aid from international finance institutions are deemed to further the prospects. As part of the current consultations on driving commerce in the country, employment of six new inland water port terminals has been ambitiously considered, with dependence on Myanmar’s new Investment Law for funds. The new ports include four on the Ayeyarwady River and two on the Chindwin River.

These ports will ensure rapid connectivity to more and bigger markets, and provide door to door system facility while experiencing reduced transportation costs and enlarged shipping capacity. In other words, these ports have been and will be the potential economy-transformers for Myanmar, generating jobs, accentuating regional development with improvement in living standards and bridging the gaps between the haves and have-nots.

Steering its course to growth, development and integration with the global economy, Myanmar’s sea and river ports have an absolute advantage of establishing Myanmar as the hub of trade in Asia.

UK Interested in Boosting Myanmar’s Transport Infrastructure

Mr. Andrew McNaughton - UK's Prime Minister
Mr. Andrew McNaughton – UK Prime Minister’s Business Ambassador for Infrastructure

Myanmar has transitioned into a land buzzing with business opportunities, with economic avenues expanding and exhorting the attention of global companies. The latest entrant to revise and revamp the infrastructural paradigm of Myanmar is the United Kingdom. The UK has expressed interest in supporting the large-scale infrastructural requirements of Myanmar, specifically its transportation unit; railway networks, airports and rapid transit system.

This welcoming news was brought to light after UK‘s Prime Minister‘s Business Ambassador for Infrastructure – Mr. Andrew McNaughton, visited Myanmar to explore opportunities at the infrastructural front for UK’s Department of International Trade (DIT) and UK companies.

According to Mr. McNaughton “The immediate opportunity for the UK to provide support would be in transport and in particular, mass transportation rail projects and the airport development program.”

Leveraging its strength, experience, expertise and Myanmar’s immediate need for infrastructural investments, UK business companies are enthusiastic about effectuating their economic and commercial interests, at the same time, acknowledging the potential urbanization process and infrastructural development that Myanmar will significantly be impacted with.

Myanmar is looking forward to capitalizing on sources to generate financial assistance to meet its infrastructural needs. For this purpose, a robust logistics sector with a sound legal and regulatory framework is an essential and a necessary requirement to be able to build internationally aligned market structures and attract capital investments thereof.

On this, Mr. McNaughton remarked, “The establishment of a market structure requires significant development of regulations and legal structures to be able to establish an environment to contract with international organizations. UK legal, financial and support services companies have extensive experience of working with governments around the world to establish such structures.”

He also lauded British technical and technological know-how which could assist preciously in Myanmar’s railway and airport projects.

In railways, he measured and estimated upgradation of long, intercity lines connecting the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, and revamping the Yangon mass rapid transit. This arrangement aims to decongest the traffic and also boost the growth of the city to 10 million by 2040. The plans also involve the introduction of two new metro lines and development of two airports namely: Mandalay International Airport and the new Hanthawaddy International Airport in Yangon. The mid-term objective is to grow cross border international trade as well as support regional airport program.

Thus, infrastructural scope in Myanmar is colossal and plays a planetary role in the urbanization process and in boosting the economy of Myanmar. As per business experts, refinement of transportation infrastructure is the fundamental requisite in attracting inward investments, retention of human capital and in escalating trade possibilities, leading to sustainable prospects and future-oriented growth.

Remarking upon ‘more opportunities and a few challenges’ in the MyanmarUK potential alliance, Mr. McNaughton exclaimed, “As an outcome of the Brexit process, the UK government and individual businesses are seeking to establish long term relationships beyond the European Community. This is being done without having to consider the views of 26 other member states. This creates agility and a momentum that can only be an advantage to the region.”

PM Modi Visits Myanmar: A Gateway to Southeast Asia

Suu Kyi & PM Narendra Modi

The recent visit by the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to Myanmar underlined Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy and highlighted the significance that India attaches to fostering good relations with Myanmar. With Myanmar set to walk on the path of development and liberalisation, on the back of the first democratically elected government in 2016, PM Modi’s first official bilateral visit sought to place India as the leading partner of Myanmar and give a much-needed impetus to the relations between
the two countries.

India and Myanmar have long shared historical, ethnic, cultural and religious ties. The geographical proximity (India shares a long land border of over 1600 km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal) has helped develop cordial relations and people-to-people contact. Ever since the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship in 1951, there has been a steady rise in the level of engagement and cooperation between them, especially in areas of infrastructure development, trade, security, energy, health, transportation and culture, to name a few.

India realises the importance of Myanmar, not only as a gateway to South-East Asia but as a crucial partner in the fight to end insurgency in India’s north-east. Myanmar is also a crucial member of the ASEAN bloc and it is in India’s interest to have a strong and prosperous Myanmar. Myanmar, too, recognises the potential of this relationship with India and received the Indian Prime Minister with great gusto. The bilateral meeting, though marked by serious hurdles in the form of the Rohingya crisis, turned out to be mutually beneficial, as eight Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and three agreements were signed by the two sides, covering important areas of security, infrastructure health, energy, capacity building and culture.

Map depicting India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway
Map depicting India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway

India realises the importance of Myanmar, not only as a gateway to South-East Asia but as a crucial partner in the fight to end insurgency in India’s north-east. Myanmar is also a crucial member of the ASEAN bloc and it is in India’s interest to have a strong and prosperous Myanmar. Myanmar, too, recognises the potential of this relationship with India and received the Indian Prime Minister with great gusto. The bilateral meeting, though marked by serious hurdles in the form of the Rohingya crisis, turned out to be mutually beneficial, as eight Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) and three agreements were signed by the two sides, covering important areas of security, infrastructure health, energy, capacity building and culture.

Infrastructure

PM Modi reiterated India’s commitment to support Myanmar in building infrastructure and developing human resources capacity. Some of the projects, which directly involve India are:

  • The Trilateral Highway (India, Myanmar and Thailand), which will link India to the ASEAN bloc
  • The Kaladan Multi-modal and Transport and Transit Project, which aims to link Kolkata to Sittwe in Myanmar and from Myanmar’s Kaladan river to India’s north-east
  • Development of Industrial Training Centres at Monywa and Thaton, following the successful completion of centres at Pakokku and Myingyan
  • Myanmar is a key component of India’s strategy to bridge South and South-East Asia through Bimstec, the Bay of Bengal Inititative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation
  • Upgradation of Yagyi-Kalewa road for Rs 177 crore
  • Upgradation of the Women’s Police Training Centre at Yamethin
  • Upgradation of Yangon Childrens’ Hospital and Sittwe General Hospital
  • Construction of Monywa General Hospital
  • Operationalizing the Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education set up at the Yezin Agricultural University
    and the Rice Bio Park set up at the Department of Agricultural Research
  • Commitment to construct a new hospital in Nay Pyi Taw

Kaladan Multimodel Project
Kaladan Multimodel Project

Along with these, several other projects have been agreed upon by both the countries in IT, health, entrepreneurship, language training and small border area development projects in Chin and Naga areas of Myanmar. India has also extended $750 million in soft lines of credit for other infrastructure projects.

Investment

India’s trade with Myanmar grew by 6 per cent from US $2.05 billion in 2015-16 to US $2.18 billion in 2016-17. Both countries sought to work closely with each other to realise the tremendous potential, especially given the favourable environment for investment offered by the new democratically elected regime in Myanmar.

In their joint statement, the two countries acknowledged the importance of pulses in the bilateral trade basket. India imports around a million tonnes of pulses, $1 billion in value, from Myanmar. It is vital to Myanmar’s farmers, therefore Myanmar requested India to lift all restrictions imposed on imports from Myanmar. Myanmar has also welcomed India’s participation in its energy sector and invited Indian companies to take part in tenders for petrochemicals and petroleum products, marketing infrastructure and setting up of LPG terminals. The agreement between Numaligarh Refinery of India and Parami Energy Group of Myanmar on supply of diesel to Myanmar across the land border will give people of north Myanmar cheaper and more reliable access to petroleum products. In the energy sector too, India offered its technical and project specific assistance, for instance, it offered to conduct a solar radiation resource assessment in Myanmar, it shared its experiences in power trade and discussed ways to cooperate in the field of energy efficiency between the two countries.

India’s increasing investments in Myanmar also assume importance, in the light of Chinese interest in Myanmar. China has, in recent times, increased its presence in Myanmar and is even pushing for a special economic zone at KyaukPhyu among other projects.

Cultural Engagement

Given the close cultural and religious ties the people of the two countries share, culture is bound to be an important thrust area, as was highlighted in the visit of PM Modi. The two sides signed the Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) for the period 2017-20 and expressed confidence that this would promote cultural exchanges between Myanmar and the North-Eastern states of India. PM Modi also visited Bagan, where the Archaeological Survey of India has restored the Ananda Temple and is involved in the restoration and conservation of 92 pagodas and structures damaged by the 2016 earthquake.

Religion forms a big part of the cultural heritage of the two countries. Bodh Gaya in India remains a place of pilgrimage for the people of Myanmar. Myanmar welcomed India’s efforts in preserving the stone inscriptions and temples of King Mindon and King Bagyidaw of Myanmar in Bodh Gaya.

Another gesture that was praised and welcomed by both the Government and the people of Myanmar, was India’s decision to grant special pardon to 40 Myanmar nationals undergoing imprisonment for various crimes in India.

Former Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on his visit to Myanmar in 2012, observed that “India and Myanmar are natural partners, linked by geography and history.” With PM Modi’s emphasis on developing relations with India’s neighbours, both countries are likely to work in unison to ensure enhanced people to people contact and a healthy environment for development.

Security

The 1643 km long land border that the two countries share and the belligerent posturing by China necessitates close cooperation between India and Myanmar, vis-à-vis security and defence. This formed an important facet of the discussions held among the leaders of the two sides. Terrorism and extremist-inspired violence remain a cause of concern, to counter which, both countries have affirmed their intent to work together. The two sides condemned terrorist attacks on Amarnath Yatra and the Rakhine State, and jointly called for the quick adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism by the UN General Assembly.

Mr. Modi’s government recently inked a US $37.9 million-worth lightweight torpedo with Myanmar. India has also begun supplying arms and communication equipment to the Armed Forces of Myanmar, to secure the sensitive border. The two sides also signed an MoU to strengthen maritime security cooperation, even in non-traditional security domains, such as “humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which are critical for safeguarding the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.”

Indian army is engaged in providing training to the Myanmar army to prepare them for UN peace keeping duties, a step considered essential to redeem their global image.

Myanmar, on its part, reaffirmed “its respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India” and upheld the policy of “not allowing any insurgent group to utilise Myanmar’s soil to undertake hostile acts against the Indian Government.”

The Rohingya Crisis

Even as India and Myanmar look to scale up their engagement, the two countries need to quickly tackle the crisis of Rohingya Muslims before it escalates into a dangerous catastrophe. PM Modi expressed his concern over the extremist violence in Rakhine and offered to fast track development projects in the troubles province of Rakhine.

At a time when State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has come under pressure over the Rohingya crisis, PM Modi’s strong stand on the issue and support of the Myanmar government, resonated well with Myanmar. PM Modi’s government has itself taken a strong stand on the influx of about 40,000 Rohingyas over the years, threatening to deport them, as it views them as a big security threat.

The recent crisis, triggered by coordinated attacks by Rohingya militants on 25-26 August, under a recently formed Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (now designated as “terrorists”) against government and security outposts in northern Rakhine, left 110 dead, including militants, security personnel and civilians. In response, state security forces launched ‘clearance operations’ to neutralise militants and recapture seized weapons and territory. If reports are to be believed, around 270,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, triggering a massive humanitarian crisis in the Subcontinent.

The international community has come down heavily on the Myanmar government, in what they view as ‘ethical cleansing’ and crimes against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi has defended her handling of the crisis and said that those attacked were Jihadists and that the military action was necessary to ensure security against the extremist elements.

PM Modi reiterated India’s commitment to stand by Myanmar’s efforts to find long-lasting peace and tackling the latest surge of violence.

The transition of Myanmar into a democratic state with a democratically elected government provides an ideal opportunity to India to engage with its neighbour in a mutually beneficial arrangement. It provides fresh impetus to PM Modi’s ‘Act East’ Policy and offers a counter-narrative to China’s increasingly bullish position in the Subcontinent. Myanmar, too, stands to gain immensely through this partnership, based on the spirit of cooperation, trust and rooted in shared historical, cultural, religious and ethnic ties. The visit by PM Modi has only reaffirmed this and it bodes well for the future of India-Myanmar relations.

By Arun Arora