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Myanmar President’s India Visit: A Balancing Act With China  

Htin Kyaw’s visit to India is probably to find some kind of a balance in ties between India and China.

Published
India
4 min read
Myanmar President’s India Visit: A Balancing Act With China  

With Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw arriving on a four-day visit to India from Saturday on the heels of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s day-long visit to that country on Monday, Yangon is seeking to find some kind of a balance in its ties between two large neighbors, India and China.

This will be the first presidential visit from Myanmar after Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed power in March this year.

Suu Kyi, who spent a considerable part of her early life in India and was educated at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, however chose to make Beijing her first port of call after she became the country’s State Counsellor and foreign minister. She was in Beijing last week.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj forging a bond with Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: Twitter/ <a href="https://twitter.com/MEAIndia">@MEAIndia</a>)
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj forging a bond with Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: Twitter/ @MEAIndia)

After the NLD assumed power, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Myanmar as a special envoy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 16 June, and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman earlier led a high-level business delegation to the eastern neighbour for the India-Myanmar Business Conclave on May 18-20.

Last month, Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh held a meeting with Suu Kyi on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Laos.



Minister of state VK Singh with Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: Twitter/ <a href="https://twitter.com/MEAIndia">@MEAIndia</a>)
Minister of state VK Singh with Aung San Suu Kyi. (Photo: Twitter/ @MEAIndia)
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According to Rajiv Bhatia, a former Indian ambassador to Myanmar, two factors have to be watched during President Htin’s upcoming visit.

One is the agenda and outcome of the visit, the other is Myanmar’s balancing of ties with China, India, Japan and Asean.
Rajiv Bhatia

According to K Yhome, Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank and the author of Myanmar: Can the Generals Resist Change?, Suu Kyi’s visit was aimed at balancing ties with the new government trying to reduce its dependence on China.

They (Myanmar) are also trying to engage with more important powers like the US.
K Yhome


Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (Photo: AP)<br>
Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi (Photo: AP)

Suu Kyi is scheduled to visit Washington next month at the invitation of US President Barack Obama who had met her during his visit to Myanmar in 2014 for that year’s Asean summit.

But at the same time, Yhome said that India figured prominently in the regional geopolitical dynamics of the eastern neighbour.

President Htin’s visit is a regional geopolitical calculation of the Myanmar government.
Yhome

According to Khin Zaw Win, Director of the Tampadipa Institute that works on policy advocacy and capacity building in Myanmar, New Delhi has been slow in engaging with Nay Pyi Taw, the country’s administrative capital, in the wake of the new dispensation.

India should act fast in implementing these projects according to its Act East Policy while keeping in mind the benefits for the people of Myanmar. You must ensure that you do not make the same mistakes as in the case of Chinese-funded projects.
Khin Zaw Win

He said Chinese projects, like the $3.6-billion Myitsone Dam at the source of the Irrawady river, were started without proper consultations, resulting in a lot of people getting displaced.

Major Indian infrastructure projects underway are the trilateral highway connecting Moreh in Manipur with Mae Sot in Thailand through Myanmar, the Kaladan multi-modal transport project connecting Mizoram with Myanmar’s Sittwe port and the Rih-Tedim road in Myanmar across Mizoram.

It is unfortunate that the infrastructure projects have been delayed for long, but since the Modi government came to power, there has been a renewed push to implement these projects.
Yhome
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According to Bhatia, security along the international border between India’s Northeast and Myanmar is also an important issue for New Delhi.

During Sushma Swaraj’s visit this week, both sides agreed to make efforts to ensure peace and security along the long, shared border. The Myanmar leadership assured Swaraj that activities of anti-India insurgent groups targeting the Northeast would not be countenanced from its territory.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj returning to Delhi after her visit to Myanmar. (Photo: Twitter/ <a href="https://twitter.com/MEAIndia">@MEAIndia</a>)
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj returning to Delhi after her visit to Myanmar. (Photo: Twitter/ @MEAIndia)
Now we have to see if their (Myanmar’s) action matches their words
Bhatia

India and Myanmar have old historical, ethnic, social and religious ties, besides sharing a long land border and maritime boundary. It is also seen as a gateway to the Asean nations and beyond.

Many Indian companies have invested in Myanmar’s energy sector and also set up plants there, especially in the automobile industry. Its natural resources and large reserves of oil and gas are of great interest to China as well, which sees it as a strategic window on India and has invested in big infrastructure projects.

(Published in arrangement with IANS.)

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