NAY PYI TAW, Jan. 11 — China will stand firm with Myanmar to jointly fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, push for economic recovery and build the China-Myanmar community with a shared future, visiting Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said here Monday.
Wang made the remarks during a meeting with Myanmar President U Win Myint.
Noting that he is the first foreign minister to visit Myanmar after the Southeast Asian country’s general elections, Wang said his visit is aimed at demonstrating China’s anticipation and support for the successful formation of Myanmar’s new government as well as Myanmar’s efforts to realize prosperity and long-term stability.
Through close consultations, China and Myanmar have agreed in principle on the action plan of building the China-Myanmar community with a shared future following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s historic state visit to Myanmar last year, Wang noted.
China decided to provide an emergency aid of COVID-19 vaccines to Myanmar to support its fight against the pandemic, and is willing to carry out further vaccine cooperation with Myanmar, said Wang.
Wang believed that the “Paukphaw” (fraternal) friendship between the two countries will be further carried forward and the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership will be further deepened after the testing of the pandemic.
Wang said China supports Myanmar’s new government in revitalizing its economy, improving people’s well-being, and accelerating industrialization, hoping that the two sides would effectively implement the agreement on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor with a concerted effort.
Wang said the two countries can extend activities of the China-Myanmar Year of Culture and Tourism to 2021 and promote people-to-people exchanges between the two sides.
China supports the Myanmar government’s efforts in pursuing national reconciliation and will continue to provide assistance within its capacity, he said.
Wang noted that this year Myanmar will assume the roles of the country coordinator of China-ASEAN relations, co-chair of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation and co-chair of consultations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
Wang said China would like to enhance coordination and cooperation with Myanmar to upgrade China-ASEAN relations, accelerate the development of the Lancang-Mekong economic zone, push for the early implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
For his part, President U Win Myint said the Chinese foreign minister was the first to visit Myanmar soon after the new government led by the National League for Democracy was formed in 2016 and took the lead to visit Myanmar again this time during the pandemic, showing China attaches great importance to the relations with Myanmar.
He said Myanmar is committed to working with China to jointly build the Myanmar-China community with a shared future sharing weal and woe, expressing appreciation to China for its support in combating the pandemic and pushing forward the national reconciliation in Myanmar.
The president said Myanmar firmly adheres to the one-China principle and will continue to support China’s position on issues related to Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, adding that Myanmar is willing to play an active role in advancing China-ASEAN relations and Lancang-Mekong Cooperation.
Myanmar has ordered 30 million coronavirus vaccines from India that are expected to be delivered by the end of February.
Zaw Htay, the President Office director-general said that Myanmar chose the vaccine because it can be stored in a temperature between 2 to 8 degrees centigrade that is suitable as per the country’s temperature.
Earlier, Myanmar’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi had announced that her country will get the COVID-19 vaccine from India and that a contract has been signed regarding it.
Myanmar has reported 129,483 coronavirus cases with a death toll of 2,812. The country’s government has been communicating with neighbouring countries to acquire COVID-19 vaccines.
Last year the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief MM Naravane had jointly visited the country. The visit saw high-level assurances from India that Myanmar will be a priority when it comes to the vaccine.
India gifted 3000 vials of Anti Covid Remdesivir to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi as a “symbol” of India‘s commitment to helping Myanmar mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
Myanmar has signed MoU with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. Over the weekend, India’s drug regulator gave approval for its use.
Unlike China’s ‘iron brother’ Pakistan, which has rolled out the red carpet for its BRI projects, Southeast Asian nation Myanmar is set to clip the wings of the dragon.
China may be aiming to conquer the world with its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) undermining local sentiments in certain host countries, but the dragon is not invincible it seems. Myanmar is one country where citizens are resisting aggressive and intrusive policies Beijing is known for.
A global infrastructure strategy, BRI reflects President Xi Jinping’s dream of taking China to the ‘numero uno’ spot in the world. It envisages road, rail, and port projects in six economic corridors spread across Southeast Asia, South Asia, Middle East, Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe.
No wonder, the Communist regime has already incorporated the BRI in the country’s Constitution as China plans to invest $1.5 trillion in the next decade.
According to global financial services group Nomura, more than 80 countries are likely to benefit from the BRI project. At the same time, it “will have enormous economic, geopolitical and investment implications for China”, Nomura warns.
What is then that Myanmar is not happy about? The Southeast Asian nation is not in favor of China having a monopoly in key infrastructure projects in the country. One such example is the Yangon Mega City Project under BRI. In July last year, Naypyitaw had allowed other foreign partners besides China Communication and Construction Company to join the project in order to cut Beijing to size.
The Chinese firm was accused of corruption in as many as 10 Asian and African countries where it is undertaking infrastructure development projects, The Economic Times reported.
The Yangon Mega City Project is part of the China-Myanmar Economic (CMEC) aimed at connecting China’s southwestern Yunnan province with Mandalay, Yangon, and Kyaukphyu in Myanmar.
Another hurdle before China’s BRI comes from the rebel-infested Kachin state where China plans to build the Myitkyina Economic Development Zone (MEDZ) along the World War-II Ledo Road that originates in Assam. As experts have pointed out, China’s ultimate aim may be to bring India under the purview of its BRI.
However, the project to be undertaken in collaboration with the Kachin state government is mired in allegations of land grab and lack of transparency, as reported by The Irrawaddy.
It said ethnic landowners within the project site expressed concerns over “possible land confiscations”. Even local politicians feigned ignorance about the details of the project proposed on 4,700 acres of land.
The report sounded an alarm over China-backed projects in Myanmar, ahead of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the country this month.
“It has long been the view in Naypyitaw that Myanmar should be pragmatic in dealing with China,” and goes on to say that “Myanmar should be the one proposing projects to China, rather than the other way around”.
The editorial minces no words in flagging concerns that “the BRI and CMEC projects will give China increased control over Myanmar’s wealth along the economic corridor—such a strategy allows China to exert economic control without ever having to resort to military coercion”.
Such an expression is rooted in the public anger over China-initiated mega projects in Myanmar that seem to have undermined people’s grievances and environmental concerns.
Now, contrast this with what Pakistan has been doing all along vis-à-vis the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, also part of the BRI. In 2018, then-Pakistan PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi hailed this as a “game-changer” for his country.
Then, Pakistan has allowed fencing of the port city of Gwadar in Balochistan despite objections from the local population who fear it will turn the town into a “Chinese colony”, restricting their free movement. A part of the CPEC, the deep seaport is built and operated by China.
Reputational risk casts shadow over beer joint ventures in emerging market
Japanese beverage maker Kirin Holdings on Wednesday announced that its audit of the financial and governance structures of its business partner in Myanmar failed to produce results due to a lack of information from its counterpart.
Kirin commissioned Deloitte Tohmatsu Financial Advisory to conduct an independent assessment of its partner, Myanma Economic Holdings, in June. “Unfortunately, the assessment was inconclusive as a result of Deloitte being unable to access sufficient information required to make a definitive determination,” Kirin said in a statement.
MEHL is one of two big military-linked conglomerates in the Southeast Asian country, along with Myanmar Economic Corporation. It operates a wide range of businesses, ranging from finance, to agriculture, to mining. Kirin has two joint-venture companies with MEHL, Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery, holding a 51% stake in each.
MEHL has close ties to the military, which has been accused of massacring Muslim minority Rohingyas and destroying their villages. Critics say MEHL offers a conduit for finance that bypasses formal civilian government channels. The purpose of Kirin’s assessment was to determine where proceeds from the joint-venture businesses end up.
A U.N. fact-finding mission published a report in 2019 listing dozens of foreign companies linked to the military-related conglomerates, including Kirin, and warned that the relationship “poses a high risk of contributing to, or being linked to, violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.”
The failure of the investigation to clear up doubts surrounding MEHL could expose Kirin to even greater reputational risk.
“[W]e remain committed to urgently finding a solution that is consistent with our approach,” the drinks maker said in the statement. “A further update on our plans will be provided by the end of April 2021,” it added. Following the announcement, a Kirin representative told Nikkei Asia that the company will seek options for a transparent system to ensure that none of the proceeds from the joint ventures are used for military purposes.
Kirin decided in November to suspend all dividend payments from Myanmar Brewery and Mandalay Brewery to shareholders in Kirin and MEHL “in view of a significant lack of visibility regarding the future business environment.” On Thursday, Kirin stated that the suspension will continue.
“It is wholly unacceptable for any proceeds from our Myanmar joint ventures to be used for military purposes, which is the fundamental condition of the joint-venture agreement,” the Japanese company said. “Kirin takes its responsibilities in Myanmar seriously, and will continue to take the necessary action to ensure its business activities in the country adhere to the highest standards,” it added.
According to a Kirin disclosure, Myanmar Brewery had 32.6 billion yen ($316 million) in sales and 12.9 billion yen in what Kirin calls normalized operating profit for the year ended December 2019. That amounted to 6.8% of the group’s total normalized operating profit.
Myanmar Brewery is the dominant beer maker in Myanmar and is widely known in the country for its flagship Myanmar Beer brand.
The Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business recently reported after meeting with the management of directors of MEHL that at present most of the company’s profit comes from Myanmar Brewery. The Yangon-based civic organization said MEHL’s financial statement for the fiscal year 2018/2019 “appears to show income from operating activities and other income totaling approximately $110 million.”
According to the U.N. mission and the civic group, MEHL has a body called the “patrons group” that oversees the board. It is headed by the Myanmar military’s commander in chief, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. The same explanation is given in a document obtained by Nikkei Asia from a source close to MEHL.
The conglomerate’s shareholders include a number of military organs, such as “regional commands, divisions, battalions and troops,” apart from individual shareholders, who are all serving or retired military personnel, according to international human rights group Amnesty International.
In her New Year’s address to the nation, Myanmar’s state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that her country will get the COVID-19 vaccine from India and that a contract has been signed regarding it.
“The purchase contract for buying the first batch of the vaccines from India has already been signed. As soon as the authorities concerned in India have issued permission to use this vaccine, we have made arrangements for the import of these vaccines into Myanmar,”
Last year the Indian foreign secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief MM Naravane had jointly visited the country. The visit saw high-level assurances from India that Myanmar will be a priority when it comes to the vaccine. Shringla also handed over 3000 vials of Remdesivir as a symbol of India‘s commitment to helping Myanmar mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
Myanmar has signed MoU with the Serum Institute of India for Covishield. Over the weekend, India’s drug regulator gave approval for its use.
The state counsellor highlighted that the first priority group to get the vaccine will be medical professionals and medical personnel which will take place in February.
“There is a lot of competition as all the countries of the world are trying to get this vaccine. However, we believe that the vaccination programme could be carried out all over the country step-by-step,” San Suu Kyi added.
“During the period when the vaccines are still not available, I wish to appeal to the people to abide by the health rules and regulations and give support to our efforts to beat COVID-19. Please be vigilant; please be patient. Please brace yourself by visioning the future. We are all in this together,” she added.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, India reaffirmed its position as the pharma capital of the world by sending medicines like HCQ, paracetamol to more than 150 countries.
New Delhi also organised training to build capacity. In fact, for the neighbourhood, India has organized two training modules in which about 90 health experts and scientists have participated.
As the government green lighted two vaccines, other countries are hoping to get the jabs from India soon. Myanmar’s state councillor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in her New Year’s address, said they had started the process to get the vaccines from India.
“I think what the people wish to know is regarding the vaccination programme for Covid-19 and when this programme would start. The purchase contract for buying the first batch of the vaccines from India has already been signed. As soon as the authorities concerned in India have issued permission to use this vaccine, we have made arrangements for the import of these vaccines into Myanmar. In accordance with this programme, we will be vaccinating the first priority group, which comprises medical professionals and medical personnel in February,” she said.
India has promised vaccines to Bangladesh as a “priority” partner, Nepal and other neighbouring countries. The government will allow exports after India’s own demands are met. Vaccine candidates by AstraZeneca and Bharat Biotech have been approved for emergency use .
After her landslide victory in November’s elections, Aung San Suu Kyi and her government are destined to become part of a regional ‘tug-of-war’ for influence centered around China’s growing sway in the country. Tokyo is leading the charge to wean Myanmar away from Beijing. But New Delhi is also hoping to exert influence in the ‘Great Game’ centered on Myanmar, especially in the light of the deterioration in Sino-Indian relations over the past year. With the imminent changing of the guard in Washington — with a more outward looking Joe Biden administration taking over — the United States of America can also be expected to re-enter the fray.
Fresh from its overwhelming victory in last month’s elections, Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, now faces enormous challenges — rebooting the country’s flagging economy, worsened by the pandemic and the international recession, and pressing on with its economic reform programme; tackling Myanmar’s pressing need for constitutional reform, and regenerating efforts to finally end decades of civil war. Invigorated by its electoral success, the NLD has clearly indicated the policies and priorities it intends to pursue in the next five years, building on the solid foundation laid down in the past five years with renewed energy and political commitment.
Most analysts and diplomats believe that the government’s key policy directions will not change substantially; instead they will be deepened, strengthened, and concertedly implemented in the coming months. There is already a new sense of urgency in government circles in Naypyidaw and feverish activity in the administration as it prepares its strategy and vision for the incoming government’s first 100 days. One of those policies that are expected to experience nuanced change is foreign policy, especially in relation to Myanmar’s neighbours.
Five years on, the regional and international architecture have also changed significantly, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic likely to have a lasting effect on foreign relations — especially trade — in the coming decade. It will necessitate the Myanmar government to re-evaluate its policy priorities and its relationships. Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has not been short of suitors. The outcome is likely to be a significantly new, nuanced approach to its foreign relations.
In the lead up to Myanmar’s elections last month, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity — largely behind the scenes — as the region’s major powers all sought to curry favour with the country’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as with the powerful army commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing. There was a parade of important visitors through the capital, Naypyidaw, as politicians and senior diplomats from the region’s key nations, especially China, India and Japan, engaged in a quiet battle for greater influence in Myanmar post-election. Other important Asian players, notably South Korea and Thailand, also launched equally significant initiatives.
As the State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, prepares for the next five years in office, her government is restructuring its foreign policy priorities around its key concerns: maintaining its neutrality and independent international stance while encouraging support for Myanmar’s economic recovery plans, including boosting international trade and foreign investment, diversifying its informal alliances and security arrangements, and ensuring that the country is not overly dependent on any one nation for support and protection.
In the past five years, Aung San Suu Kyi has pursued a foreign policy strategy that put the country’s key emphasis on its relations with the region and its top powers. This was in response to some degree to the growing Western criticism of the government’s handling of the violence in Rakhine and the mass exodus of nearly a million Muslim refugees — or Rohingya as they call themselves — to neighbouring Bangladesh. Myanmar was anxious to secure greater support from its Asian ‘friends’, especially at international forums like the United Nations. This effectively meant distancing itself from the West, especially Europe and the US. This has led the country to lean heavily on China and, to a lesser degree, on the regional bloc, Asean, for support and as a source of investment and trade. Of course, deep down, Myanmar’s fast developing dependence on China has irked the country’s diplomats, including its top diplomat, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the foreign minister. There is a clear recognition in government circles that Myanmar’s relationship with China needs to be significantly calibrated. Myanmar will use the opportunity of its massive political mandate and the changing post-Covid international environment to adjust its policy orientation and begin to look westwards to balance its reliance on China — strengthening ties with India and encouraging warmer relations with the US, in particular.
Going forward, Myanmar wants to broaden its network of alliances and strong bilateral relationships, while remaining loyal to the country’s traditional ideological principles in foreign policy: non-alignment, neutrality, independence and universal friendship. But the international reality and the legacy of the country’s isolation during its period under military rule have meant that China remains its key partner — an ever-present, ever-dependable and uncritical supporter. Aung San Suu Kyi has had to struggle with this conundrum ever since assuming power after the 2015 elections: how to relax Myanmar’s dependence on Beijing without offending its giant northern neighbour. For a while, Aung San Suu Kyi dabbled with the notion of eliciting collaborative support from an ‘Asian triumvirate’ of China, Japan and South Korea, especially in terms of investment and trade. But she seemed oblivious to the obstacles that the political realities and rivalries in North Asia posed to this vision. It now seems that Myanmar has become much more responsive to Delhi’s recent overtures for strengthened ties between the two countries.
India has stepped up its courtship of Myanmar in the light of Delhi’s deteriorating relations with Beijing. The visit to Myanmar by India’s foreign secretary, Harsh Shringla, who was accompanied by the Indian army chief, M.M. Naravane, a month before the elections clearly reflects India’s interest in weaning Myanmar away from Beijing, or at least helping counter Beijing’s influence in Myanmar. Ostensibly, this was a visit to review and consolidate cooperation on security and development issues. A coastal shipping agreement with Myanmar was signed during a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi. More importantly, it has opened the door to greater cooperation on a wide range of issues, including military matters, according to Myanmar diplomats. The importance of this strategic initiative cannot be underestimated: the fact that India’s top diplomat and top military man made a joint visit to Myanmar is highly significant, according to Asian diplomats, and was counter to the usual protocol. That it was timed just before the elections was no coincidence. It is something that their Myanmar counterparts appreciated only too well.
There have also been behind-the-scene discussions on how Japan and India could cooperate on strategic, security and development initiatives that could help balance China’s penetration into Myanmar. The resuscitation of the Quad, involving diplomats from Australia, India, Japan, and the US sharing their vision and concerns of a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy, has galvanized cooperation among these four countries to counter China’s aggressive and belligerent posturing in the region. “It’s a valuable venue for sharing information and intelligence, coordinating approaches and generally promoting mutual understanding,” according to an Asian diplomat involved with these meetings. The idea was conceived by Tokyo several years ago, but has only got off the ground in the last 12 months as relations in the region with Beijing took a turn for the worst.
India and Japan have cooperated successfully on infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, including the building of a port at Matabari to counter the Chinese-built port at Payra. This model of cooperation can provide a framework for similar initiatives in Myanmar, according to Indian and Japanese diplomats. While Japan is prepared to bankroll many of these potential projects, it is particularly keen to maintain a ‘low-key’ presence.
While Myanmar has responded enthusiastically to India’s overtures, it may be even more enthusiastic about Indo-Japanese cooperation. What is certain is that Myanmar’s foreign policy will undergo changes in the coming months, including a distinct tilt westwards, as it broadens its strategic approach and tries to veer away from its unhealthy reliance on Beijing. The main focus of Myanmar’s foreign policy will be on strengthening its economic and security ties with regional partners — especially India, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore — while continuing to maintain good relations with China.
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.
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:
The highway’s Imphal-Moreh portion on the Indian side, however, is expected to be completed only by 2023.
It will be linking Moreh (India) -Bagan (Myanmar) -Mae Sot (Thailand)
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.
The transnational highway connectivity was envisaged to enable trade from India to the other ASEAN nations.
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:
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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
The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) highways project is aimed at opening the gate to ASEAN through the land.
The project will boost trade and commerce in the ASEAN–India Free Trade Area, as well as with the rest of Southeast Asia.
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.
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.
The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots.
Myanmar on Friday (December 25) officially inducted submarine handed over by India in the month of October. INS Sindhuvir was commissioned as UMS Minye Theinkhathu and inducted on the 73rd anniversary of the Myanmar Navy. During the commissioning ceremony, Indian ambassador to Myanmar Saurabh Kumar was also present along with top brass of Myanmar’s Navy.
The kilo class submarine has a displacement of 3000 tonnes, a diving depth of 300 meters and top speed at 20 knots. UMS Minye Theinkhathu is named after an ancient warrior and can operate for 45 days. It is equipped with 40 km range wire-guided torpedoes and 3M-54 Klub anti-ship cruise missiles. Myanmar has built a submarine base for it in a highly classified location.
Kilo class submarines are operated by Indian, Chinese, Russian and Iranian Naval forces and were designed by the Rubin Central Maritime Design Bureau, St Petersburg.
Myanmar, which is seen to be the springboard of India’s Act East policy and the third strategic frontier, held its third election last month, attracting considerable attention in New Delhi. Elections held under the military-drafted constitution of 2008 which is regarded as the roadmap to full democracy returned National League of Democracy’s (NLD) Aung San Suu Kyi to power with a landslide victory despite incumbency, sub-par economic performance, the Rohingya crisis, failed peace talks with ethnic groups, nationalistic Buddhist resurgence and the Covid pandemic.
Myanmar has a unique hybrid civil-military power-sharing system in which the Senior General calls the shots. The clash of two power centres complicates decision-making.
The National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) is the apex body controlling the three services and police. The military calls itself the guardian of the nation justifying interference in domestic politics as it has to protect the constitution, according to which 25 per cent of the seats in the central, state and regional legislatures are reserved for it. Making a constitutional change which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses is very difficult, if not impossible. Internal, defence and border affairs ministries are reserved for the junta. De facto, the military controls politics, security, economy, wealth and the Buddhist clergy.
Relations between the NLD and the military have been worsening, though Suu Kyi defended the military at the International Court of Justice against allegations of genocide against the Rohingya, thereby tarnishing her international image but boosting her domestic standing. The military faces calibrated challenges from two dozen active and dormant insurgencies.
Suu Kyi is a canny politician in a party led by elderly politicians with no second-tier leadership. The NLD has not been able to stand up to the military. The Rohingya crackdown by the army in 2017 has led to the rise of the Rakhine Rohingya Salvation Army, a new anti-state insurgency.
In April 2021, the military supremo is likely to change after a decade, but Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said he will stay on in another civilian or military post. He has been hobnobbing with opposition parties and expressed a wish to become vice-president. If this happens, it will be the first time a C-in-C will occupy a government post which is number five in the pecking order. He is a political general, openly critical of government institutions for lack of discipline and efficiency.
Sharing a 2,100-km border, China is the Big Brother in Myanmar involved in domestic politics, development and economy, peace talks with ethnic groups and enjoying deep ties with both the NLD and the military, which is not entirely happy with Beijing’s enlarging footprint. China has said it will support Myanmar in safeguarding its legitimate rights, interests and national dignity.
Beijing’s flagship project under the BRI is the 1,700-km China-Myanmar Economic Corridor CMEC (38 projects of which nine approved) which packs infrastructure projects linking China’s Yunan province with the strategic deep sea port of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine province, which India had once eyed, that will provide access to the Bay of Bengal. Yunan, in fact, is integrated with North Myanmar up to Mandalay. The $100-billion CMEC which includes building the $8-million Yangon New City may outmatch the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the long run.
Myanmar is heavily indebted to China, which accounts for 70 per cent of the FDI in the energy sector alone. China holds 40 per cent of Myanmar’s $5-10 billion debt. Both countries have a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Agreement with the new 2+2 first ever dialogue arrangement.
Still, the seeds of mistrust have grown, prompting the military to accuse China of supplying military equipment to rebel groups, including the Arakan Army in Rakhine and Chin states. In 2011, Senior General Than Shwe had turned to India for reducing dependence on China, which it finds necessary but irksome.
In October, India showed rare prescience in dispatching its first ever joint civil-military delegation led by Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and included the Army Chief, General Naravane, to Myanmar, signalling its nuanced recognition of the civil-military power-sharing mechanism.
Connectivity through Myanmar, the centrepiece of India’s Act East policy, is hobbled by insurgencies in both countries and tardy decision-making. The India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral is moving at a snail’s pace and requires a loop line through Mizoram to bypass insurgencies in Nagaland and Manipur. The multi-modal Kaladan project, from Sittwe port to Mizoram through Rakhine and China, has been disrupted by the Arakan Army, reportedly aided by China after it failed to block the project, including Sittwe.
The Imphal-Mandalay bus service started in April 2020 will pick up after the pandemic. India has offered to build a $6-billion petroleum refinery as investment in energy security even as it has completed 140 infra projects. India’s assistance, which is mainly in grants is $1.4 billion (and line of credit of $1.5 billion) is minuscule compared to China’s $3.5 billion, but mainly as loans. India has provided debt service relief of Myanmar’s cumulative liability of $10 billion.
Though Myanmar’s military equipment is 80 per cent Chinese, defence and security cooperation has increased significantly. Besides supplying small arms, tanks, artillery, offshore patrol vessels, a kilo-class submarine was gifted recently.
With a two-million Indian diaspora as an asset, people-to-people relations and links of Buddhism need to be boosted. While playing catch-up with China is a bridge too far, increasing investment in education and agricultural sectors will be useful.
Like Pakistan, Myanmar is stuck with its generals, some of whom are being investigated for alleged genocide and will come under sanctions and, ultimately, be tried in international courts. Consequently, Myanmar’s relations with the West and the Islamic world have plummeted. There is little chance of the democracy deepening, the military submitting to civilian control and peace with ethnic insurgencies. Myanmar will suffer from status quo.
While China will remain a spoke in India’s Act East policy, it also has the potential to turn India’s two-front dilemma into two-and-a-half fronts. Defence diplomacy is India’s best card for now.