Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing wrapped up an eight-day visit to India, with an eye on bilateral defense cooperation. New Delhi has rolled out the red carpet for Min, welcoming his goodwill trip with a charm offensive.
It is reported that India will provide a variety of arms equipment, patrol border areas jointly with Myanmar, and dispatch warships to make regular calls at Myanmar’s ports. Recently, the strained confrontation between China and India, which led to a prolonged border standoff, has added a tinge of sensitivity to India-Myanmar military interaction.
Myanmar is the only ASEAN member state that has both land and sea borders with India. The two share a land border of 1,643 kilometers. Since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi developed the Look East into the Act East policy, the country has worked incessantly to strengthen relations with ASEAN members in a dynamic, action-oriented way. Myanmar is key in the new outlook, for it serves as a crucial buffer state between China and India and boasts a unique advantage in the framework of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.
Expanding cooperation between China and Myanmar has prompted India to further exchanges with Myanmar’s government heads and military officers. It also offered military assistance to Myanmar in a bid to counter China’s influence.
These maneuvers are part of New Delhi’s Act East policy, which aims to configure a comprehensive cooperation mechanism in politics, economics and security through developing trade relations with the Mekong countries and other states surrounding China, with an overt purpose of containing China in the region.
As an emerging country, India, with its economic, technology and energy development as well as geopolitical advantages, is expanding its presence in Myanmar. That’s why it’s seeking stability in the South Asian Subcontinent and adopting aggressive policy on the Indochina Peninsula.
It is supporting the construction of the Mekong-India Economic Corridor to connect Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and, at the same time, projecting its influence to areas surrounding the South China Sea to expand its strategic space from the Indian Ocean to the West Pacific.
In addition, soft power in the realms of religion, culture and modern democratic politics also constitutes an important resource for New Delhi to develop ties with Nay Pyi Taw. Their cooperation has brought subtle changes to the region.
However, India has yet to formulate a consistent Myanmar policy, unlike China, which has been reinforcing political mutual trust and economic relations with Myanmar. Though India, like China, was one of the few countries that had contact with Myanmar’s military government, it has failed to implement coherent cooperation plans for today’s Myanmar.
For Myanmar which is nestled between China and India, the policy of “no enemies” is the best strategic choice. And, at least for now, it has benefited from Beijing-New Delhi contention in the Indochina region.
Nay Pyi Taw has realized that enhancing ties with New Delhi will help minimize its overreliance on China and meanwhile diversify its economic portfolio. It makes overtures to India out of its urgent need to engage neighboring countries after prolonged isolation. As a large Asian economy with a population of 1.3 billion, India is probably the most desirable candidate.
Considering all these factors, the trilateral interaction among Beijing, New Delhi and Nay Pyi Taw will be an interesting topic for some time in the future because it will be of great geopolitical and economic significance to the region.
Myanmar, by prioritizing development, can integrate in China’s value chain of production and export its products to the huge market. And China needs a favorable environment for its own development, which is the most urgent task for the moment. Meanwhile, China realizes its rise has changed the balance of power in the Indochina Peninsula and that its peripheral states need some time to adapt to the new scenario.
Therefore, Beijing should communicate its intentions to Myanmar and India through dialogue and cooperation. Of course, as a regional power bordering a host of countries, China, wishing to achieve peace and rejuvenation, needs to reconfigure new ties with both nations in terms of development and security.