After the National League for Democracy (NLD) took office in 2016, Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi have since visited India successively. In return, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Myanmar Tuesday for a three-day state visit.
Modi’s in-return visit came after the successful BRICS summit in Xiamen and was also India’s first state visit to the country since Modi attended the East Asia Summit in Myanmar in 2014.
For Modi, the visit accords with India’s ”Act East” policy and took the security needs of the Indian-Myanmese border into consideration, a shared boundary line of 1,600 kilometers.
For Myanmar, further development of relations with India, on the one hand, reflects its pragmatic foreign policy; on the other hand, it shows Myanmar’s determination to transform and openly develop.
During Modi’s visit, Htin Kyaw and Suu Kyi held meetings and bilateral talks with Modi. The scope of the talks between the two sides was vast and comprehensive.
The discussions not only included economic and social aspects such as human resources, tourism, culture and education, but also addressed top level concerns such as the construction of government functions, maritime security and police training.
According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the visit, the two countries signed 11 memoranda of understanding, including cooperation in cultural exchanges, news media, information technology, medicine and health, coastal monitoring systems and others.
Modi’s visit came at a turbulent time for Myanmar’s Rakhine State and amid a wave of Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing the region to escape ethnic violence, thus the current crisis in Rakhine State inevitably became a focus of the talks between the two sides.
On top of border concerns, the present situation of Rakhine and the peace process within Myanmar have also received significant concern from India.
Just as Modi has said, India and Myanmar share similar security interests when it comes to Rakhine.
In addition to Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries, India has been deeply affected by the influx of Rohingya refugees. It has been reported that since the refugee crisis broke out in 2015, about 40,000 Rohingya people have fled to India in order to take refuge.
The Modi administration has so far held a tough stance toward Rohingya refugees, and has even threatened to deport all Rohingya people out of India’s territory. What’s more, in terms of the situation in Rakhine, Modi essentially holds the same views as the NLD government led by Suu Kyi; both believe that development is key to solving the problem.
Modi’s stance on the situation in Rakhine won gratitude from Suu Kyi, but she is being criticized for her response by the Western world. Nonetheless, Modi’s visit could help the two countries strengthen cooperation in dealing with the crisis as well as the security of their shared border, which shows the pragmatic characteristics of the new Myanmar government’s foreign policy.
Since the NLD took office, Myanmar has been committed to developing its economy and pushing forward its national reconciliation and peace process in the aftermath of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference.
In terms of external development, Myanmar relies on ASEAN and other Southeast Asian countries to actively seek pragmatic cooperation with its surrounding big powers like China and India and the main force of regional economic development. Furthermore, Myanmar keeps its relationship with big powers at a distance suitable to its national interests.
Myanmar’s development direction of insisting on openness and transformation has proved right, while in the process, however, there has inevitably been some challenges, such as turbulence in the north of the country, the Rohingya refugee crisis and so on.
The development of India-Myanmar relations has mixed meanings for China. On the one hand, since India has no advantage in its borders with China, it hopes to contend with China through the “Act East” strategy in two directions, including via the Malacca Strait-South China Sea on the sea and via Myanmar on land.
On the other hand, China and India have maintained a healthy competitive relationship in Southeast Asia. The development of India-Myanmar relations, especially in regard to regional security, will provide fertile ground for security along the Bangladesh-China-Myanmar-India Economic Corridor.
Taking these factors into consideration, China should have strategic awareness of the development of India-Myanmar relations and also needs to craft elaborate countermeasures.