Modi in Myanmar: Connectivity, security cooperation to dominate talks

NEW DELHI: India will announce big increases in security and development assistance to Myanmar, when Modi engages the leadership in NayPyiDaw on Wednesday, as India struggles to play catch-up with a huge Chinese presence in the country.
Modi met Myanmar President U. Htin Kyaw and will hold official talks with Aung San Suu Kyi on September 6.
Two issues will influence India’s activities in Myanmar — the Rohingya crisis and Chinese dominance in Myanmar, which is most evident in the Kyaukhphu port and gas pipeline running through Myanmar to Kunming. But Myanmar has invited India to play a balancing role and New Delhi now appears to be in a better place to do so.
Myanmar might seem like it is India’s neglected neighbor, but India is actually the second largest provider of development assistance to Myanmar, after Japan. India’s biggest project in Myanmar, the Kaladan multi-modal transport corridor has been insensibly delayed, but officials involved said they have finally been able to complete the first phase. The slow progress on Kaladan and the trilateral highway has overshadowed other projects that India has undertaken in Myanmar, sources said. But India has to also compensate for its own follies, both in the lack of delivery of projects and allowing China the space to expand its activities. But the government wants to infuse fresh energy into this relationship and that will take centerstage in Wednesday’s talks.
The Rohingya issue is more complicated and involves a delicate balancing act for India — India has openly come out condemning the terrorism, but there is a lot more here. Myanmar government has asked India to help, and New Delhi will offer more assistance on this front. India has both a domestic and foreign policy problem on this — within the country some voices have been raised against illegal migration by some Rohingyas. If India has to stop that, sources said, they would have to work with Myanmar to tackle the burgeoning issue upstream. That would include political, security and humanitarian aspects. It would also involve India willy-nilly playing a role between two very strong women leaders of the region — Aung San Suu Kyi and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, who is the recipient of the largest numbers of Rohingya refugees.
Therefore the Indian government will continue to maintain close ties with the Myanmar military leadership as well as Suu Kyi — the discussions are expected to yield agreements on security cooperation, which would include training of army and police.
The bulk of the agreements will be on building connectivity and interdependence, replicating the Indian model perfected most recently in Bangladesh. India will announce some progress in its trilateral highway project, including the 69 bridges it has committed to build. India will focus its projects in western Myanmar, which is “under connected and under developed.” Its also the part that is closer to India, and the government believes India is best placed to work in this region including the trouble-torn Rakhine province.
There will be some discussion on increasing visa-free travel for Indian and Myanmarese citizens, beyond the current relaxation for people living only in the border areas. Any agreement will help to have bus services from Imphal to Mandalay, which has huge potential but has been stuck.
Agriculture and health will be other focus areas — India has upgraded hospitals in Yangon and Sittwe and will take on a new hospital in Monywa.
Modi will fly out to Bagan to oversee the restoration of the pagodas by the ASI, and will explore the possibility of improving tourism prospects there. Skills, capacity development etc, which are India’s strengths will be enhanced in terms of English language centers, entrepreneurship development, etc.

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