India,Myanmar trade ties on upswing

Himalayan News Service

Yangon, June 8:

The once-thriving ties between India and Myanmar, linked to each other culturally and historically, are firmly back on track with a more business-centric approach after decades of denial and vacillation.

The result of this deepening multi-faceted engagement is there for all to see. Bilateral trade is on an upswing. In 2004, the two-way trade was estimated at $480 million and the two governments plan to increase it to $1 billion by 2006.

Realpolitik has guided India’s shift from Nehruvian idealism to a more business-centric approach in its dealings with Myanmar, which is emerging from self-imposed isolation and keen to pursue market reforms. India is also fast catching up with China, which has entrenched its influence, strategically and economically, in Myanmar, which borders India’s insurgency-ridden northeastern states.

“A great deal of change is taking place here. It’s a complex country passing through a phase of transition, from tradition to modernity and from military rule to their own form of democracy,” India’s ambassador to Myanmar Rajiv Bhatia told a group of visiting Indian journalists here.

India has stepped up participation in infrastructure projects that were so far dominated by the Chinese, and is currently engaged in some 15 developmental projects including roads, ports, power, telecom and railways.

The proposed India-Myanmar gas pipeline is another crucial project, which promises to network the two countries closer in their common pursuit of prosperity. Some Western powers may accuse India of mollycoddling the ruling military junta, but India has chosen to follow the policy of non-interference in Myanmar, also known as Brahmadesh — the sacred land of Lord Brahma — and Suvarnabhumi — the golden land —in Indian mythology.

“I must reassure my Myanmar friends that we are not in the business of exporting democracy to other countries,” says Bhatia, underscoring the new note of realism in India’s engagement with the Myanmarese junta. The visit of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) chairman Senior General Than Shwe to India in October 2004 imparted fresh momentum to bilateral relations. K Natwar Singh, Indian external affairs minister, sought to cement energy dialogue with Myanmar when he visited here earlier this year. This new approach has already started yielding results with Myanmar unequivocally backing India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC). “We have very cordial relations. Myanmar wants India to become a permanent member of the UNSC,” Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan, information minister said.

India’s insistence on democracy and its support for National League for Democracy led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi resulted in a chill in bilateral relations since General Ne Win came to power in 1962. The coup d’etat in 1988 and the influx of refugees into Indian northeast states forced India to rethink its relationship with Myanmar.

The construction of the Tamu-Kalemyo-Kalewa road, called the India-Myanamar road of friendship, which links Moreh in Manipur to central Myanmar was taken up during this period.