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China-Myanmar Relations from Indian Perspective

Myanmar and India have a close relationship, with a shared land border of more than 1600 Km and a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar shares an international boundary with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram. The border between Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar stretches for 520 kilometres, while the border between Nagaland and Myanmar is 215 kilometres long.

The two countries also have a common history of religious, linguistic, and ethnic ties. This is further reinforced by the fact that four North-Eastern Indian states - Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram - share an international border with Myanmar. Additionally, Myanmar is home to a significant population of Indian origin, estimated to be around 1.5-2 million.

Moreover, Myanmar serves as a gateway to South East Asia and the ASEAN region, aligning with India's 'Look East' and 'Act East' policies aimed at enhancing economic integration. It also provides an alternative access route to India's Northeast region. The bilateral relations between the two countries are further strengthened by the potential for business opportunities arising from Myanmar's opening economy, including the supply of pulses and the possibility of energy supply from offshore blocks.

Challenges in China-Myanmar Relations:

The longstanding relationship between China and Myanmar, which has strong ties in history, economy, and strategy, is currently encountering major obstacles. The stability of this relationship is threatened by ethnic tensions along their shared border, particularly in regions such as Kachin and Shan, which also disrupt trade. Myanmar's efforts towards achieving peace are hindered by allegations of Chinese support for ethnic armed groups, raising concerns for security.

Moreover, Chinese investment ventures have been met with controversy, with criticisms over negative environmental effects, societal impacts, and the sustainability of debt. The lack of transparency and consultation in these projects has sparked resentment, highlighting the need for greater accountability and adherence to international standards for sustainable development.

The tensions between local communities and the Myanmar government, caused by land acquisition and displacement related to Chinese-backed projects, have resulted in protests due to inadequate compensation, forced relocation, and land confiscation. The country must find a balance between the interests of foreign investors, particularly China, and the rights of its citizens. This highlights the need for inclusive development planning to foster social harmony and stability.

Additionally, the involvement of other regional powers such as India, Japan, and the United States adds complexity to the bilateral relationship with China. As China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) intersects with competition for strategic assets, especially in energy and maritime routes, regional tensions are heightened.

While economic collaboration, including projects like the Kyaukphyu Deep-Sea Port and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, holds potential, concerns about debt sustainability and environmental impact must also be considered. The historical border disputes and military cooperation also play a significant role in shaping the relationship. Furthermore, Myanmar's transition towards democracy presents new challenges. Successfully addressing human rights concerns and navigating these complex issues requires diplomacy and a mutual commitment as the China-Myanmar relationship evolves in the midst of shifting geopolitical currents.

Impact of China-Myanmar Relations on India:

The evolving relationship between China and Myanmar holds multifaceted implications for India, influencing strategic, economic, and geopolitical dynamics in the region. China's substantial investments in Myanmar's infrastructure, such as the Kyaukphyu Deep-Sea Port and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, raise strategic concerns for India. The development of these projects could potentially enhance China's maritime presence and economic influence in the Bay of Bengal, impacting India's strategic positioning and maritime security.

Moreover, China's military cooperation with Myanmar, involving arms sales and collaborative efforts, adds another layer of complexity for India. The strengthening ties between China and Myanmar in the defence sector raise security apprehensions, compelling India to reassess its own defence strategies and preparedness in response to a potentially bolstered Sino-Myanmar alliance.

On the economic front, increased Chinese influence in Myanmar could affect India's trade and connectivity initiatives in the region. India has been actively involved in projects like the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, aiming to enhance connectivity with Myanmar and Southeast Asia. The growing Chinese footprint in Myanmar may pose challenges to India's economic endeavours, necessitating a strategic recalibration to protect its economic interests in the region.

Furthermore, the diplomatic landscape in South Asia is shaped by the relationships between major players like China, India, and Myanmar. China's expanding influence in Myanmar could impact India's efforts to foster regional cooperation and maintain a balance of power in its immediate neighbourhood. India may need to employ nuanced diplomatic strategies to navigate these shifting dynamics, ensuring that its interests are safeguarded while maintaining stability in the region.

In conclusion, the China-Myanmar relationship significantly influences India's strategic, economic, and diplomatic calculus. As these ties continue to evolve, India must carefully navigate the complex geopolitical landscape to secure its interests and maintain a stable regional equilibrium.

Future of Democracy in Myanmar:

The future of democracy in Myanmar is uncertain and subject to various internal and external factors. Myanmar has experienced a complex political transition over the years, marked by periods of military rule and attempts at democratic governance. The country's political landscape has been characterized by both progress and setbacks.

The military coup in February 2021, which ousted the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, dealt a severe blow to Myanmar's democratic aspirations. The subsequent crackdown on protests and dissent has raised concerns about the military's commitment to democratic principles. The international community, including key players like the United States and regional actors, has condemned the coup and called for a return to civilian rule.

The trajectory of democracy in Myanmar will depend on a range of factors, including the domestic political dynamics, the resilience of pro-democracy movements, and the international response. Efforts to restore democratic governance may face challenges, given the entrenched role of the military in Myanmar's political landscape.

International pressure and diplomatic initiatives can play a crucial role in shaping the future of democracy in Myanmar. Continued engagement with regional organizations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and diplomatic efforts by key nations can influence Myanmar's political direction. The willingness of the military junta to engage in dialogue and compromise with democratic forces will also be pivotal in determining the country's political future.

In summary, the future of democracy in Myanmar is uncertain, with a complex interplay of internal and external factors. The resilience of pro-democracy movements, international diplomatic efforts, and the willingness of Myanmar's military to embrace democratic principles will all play crucial roles in shaping the country's political trajectory in the years to come.

Further, Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya minority has been the focus of intense global scrutiny and censure. The government's actions, marked by systematic discrimination, violence, and mass displacement, have sparked one of the direst humanitarian crises in the world.

India's position in Myanmar's Foreign Policy:

Myanmar's perception of India in its foreign policy is characterized by a nuanced relationship shaped by historical ties, cultural affinities, and strategic considerations. India has traditionally been viewed favourably by Myanmar due to shared cultural, historical, and religious connections. The people-to-people links, along with India's support for Myanmar's independence movement, contribute to a positive sentiment. Myanmar often sees India as a democratic and stable neighbour, fostering diplomatic cooperation in various international forums.

However, Myanmar's foreign policy approach towards India is also influenced by strategic considerations, particularly in balancing relations with other major powers in the region. While India remains an important partner, Myanmar seeks a diversified foreign policy to navigate geopolitical complexities effectively. Recent shifts in Myanmar's political landscape and its engagement with China bring an added dimension to its perception of India, requiring India to engage diplomatically to maintain and strengthen its historical ties with Myanmar while addressing contemporary challenges and opportunities.

Fencing of India-Myanmar International Border:

The complex matter of fencing the border between India and Myanmar entails careful consideration of security, sovereignty, and cross-border interactions. Spanning approximately 1,643 kilometres, the border is characterized by a diverse landscape, including dense forests, rivers, and mountainous regions.

India has expressed concerns regarding various issues along the border, such as illegal migration, smuggling of arms, narcotics, and other contraband, as well as insurgent activities. To address these security challenges and improve border management, the idea of erecting border fencing has been proposed.

However, implementing border fencing presents numerous obstacles. The challenging terrain and thick vegetation make it difficult to construct and maintain fences along certain stretches of the border. Additionally, there are valid concerns about the displacement of local communities and the potential impact on cross-border trade and cultural exchanges, particularly among indigenous groups that traditionally move across the border for livelihood activities.

Furthermore, the issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity is of utmost importance to both India and Myanmar, who strive to safeguard their borders while maintaining friendly relations and cooperation on various fronts. Any border infrastructure must adhere to international norms and agreements while addressing security concerns in a balanced manner.

Efforts to address the issue of border security between India and Myanmar require a comprehensive approach that takes into account the concerns and interests of both countries, as well as the needs of local communities and the broader regional context. Instead of solely relying on physical barriers like fencing, a sustainable solution may lie in dialogue, cooperation, and joint border management initiatives.

The Indian Union Home Minister has announced in a 06.02.2024 post on 'X' that the government has made the decision to build a barrier spanning the entire 1,643-kilometer Indo-Myanmar border. Additionally, to enhance monitoring capabilities, a patrol path will be constructed along the border.

In summary, the dynamic between China, Myanmar, and India is characterized by a fragile equilibrium of cooperation, rivalry, and intermittent conflict. While China's historical ties and economic interests drive its involvement with Myanmar, India's efforts to enhance its strategic influence in the region have led to heightened competition between the two major Asian powers.

At the same time, Myanmar aims to utilize its geostrategic position to reap benefits from China's Belt and Road Initiative and India's Act East Policy, while also safeguarding its sovereignty and national interests. Despite conflicting interests and occasional strains, all three nations have shown a willingness to engage in dialogue and joint efforts on various fronts, suggesting the potential for pragmatic collaboration amidst complex geopolitical circumstances. However, the fencing of India-Myanmar border may prove to be other irritant in mutual relations if the matter is not handled adeptly.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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