India’s assistance to Myanmar in defence and other sectors is in line with its commitment to build capacities in neighbouring countries

In March 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook visits to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka—all very significant Indian Ocean countries with potential to work as bulwark against threat to peace in the region. Sensing the aggressive posturing of China and its ambition to dominate the region by using military and economic muscles, the Prime Minister who is known for his sharp strategic thinking, unveiled Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).

Since then India has been actively working with its SAGAR doctrine, but a new twist to it was given when New Delhi decided to ramp up defence cooperation with Myanmar by signing MoU with this East Asian country in July 2019.

More than 15 months have passed since the two countries signed defence cooperation agreement, the Myanmar Navy is about to get a Kilo-Class submarine, INS Sindhuvir from India. “This will be the first submarine of the Myanmar Navy. And this is in accordance with our vision of SAGAR. Also, this will be in line with our commitment to build capacities and self-reliance in all our neighbouring countries,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in response to a question.

INS Sindhuvir is a Russian-made diesel-electric submarine which has recently undergone modernization in Visakhapatnam. However, announcement about the submarine to be handed over to the Myanmar Navy came days after Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla landed in Naypyitaw on a two-day visit and held talks with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

Last year, India supplied indigenously built torpedoes to Myanmar as part of defence deal. But then October 4-5 visit of the Army Chief and the Foreign Secretary took place when India and China are engaged in a bitter standoff on the Line of Control since early May. Experts say, while providing torpedoes and submarine to Myanmar, India is competing with China for influence in the region.

Sharing a 1,640-km border with Myanmar, India considers its relations with the East Asian country vital for security and strategic reasons.

During the visit of the Army Chief and the Foreign Secretary, the two countries had agreed to further strengthen their partnership in connectivity projects, capacity building, power and energy, deepen economic and trade ties, facilitate people to people and cultural exchanges, and broad-base their defence exchanges across all the three services.

Both sides had also discussed progress in the ongoing Indian-assisted infrastructure projects such as the Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project.

They had exchanged views on an early initiation of work on fresh initiatives such as the upgradation of Yamethin Women's Police Academy, Basic Technical Training School and measures to provide long term sustainability to projects such as the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology.

They agreed to work towards operationalization of Sittwe Port in the Rakhine State in the first quarter of 2021.

Both sides had noted the considerable progress made under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP) and proposed finalizing projects under Phase - III of the Programme, including setting up of a skills training center.

During the visit, the Project Agreement on the upgrading of agricultural mechanization under the RSDP was also signed. The Foreign Secretary conveyed India’s support for ensuring safe, sustainable and speedy return of displaced persons to the Rakhine State.

The two sides had discussed maintenance of security and stability in their border areas and reiterated their mutual commitment not to allow their respective territories to be used for activities inimical to each other.

The Indian side expressed their appreciation to Myanmar for handing over 22 cadres of Indian Insurgent Groups to India.

India announced a grant of USD 2 million for the construction of the border haat bridge at Byanyu/Sarsichauk in Chin State that will provide increased economic connectivity between Mizoram and Myanmar.

A quota of 1.5 lakh tonnes of Urad (Vigna mungo) for import from Myanmar till 31 March 2021 was also announced. The Centre of Excellence in Software Development and Training in Myitkyina, was virtually inaugurated.

The Foreign Secretary also inaugurated the Embassy Liaison Office in Nay Pyi Taw along with U Soe Han, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar.

The Myanmar side expressed appreciation for Indian assistance in the preservation of cultural heritage, including the repair and conservation of Bagan pagodas that had been damaged in the 2016 earthquake.

The two sides had also discussed plans to install a bust of Lokmanya Tilak in Mandalay to commemorate his 100th death anniversary as it was during his incarceration in Mandalay jail that Lokmanya Tilak wrote Gita Rahasya, an exposition of the Bhagvadgita.

Other areas of cooperation in culture discussed included translation of Indian epics into the Burmese language.

The Foreign Secretary congratulated Myanmar for successfully holding the Fourth meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference and assured India’s continued support in sharing experiences in constitutionalism and federalism to assist Myanmar in its democratic transition.

In the last few years, both countries have made commendable strides in bilateral ties and explored new avenues of cooperation including fresh investments in oil and gas and power, infrastructure and pharmaceuticals.

Both sides have been in discussion to establish a High Capacity High Voltage Grid Interconnection between the Indian power grid and the Myanmar grid. Discussions on the low voltage radial interconnections between North-Eastern states and Myanmar have also progressed.

The cooperation in the maritime domain and disaster management has been enhanced. Both countries have also continued to cooperate in various regional and multilateral fora.

Initiatives like the successful implementation of the Land Border Crossing Agreement and ongoing discussions at the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Motor Vehicles Agreement, have been moving forward. And India does so to counter the influence of China in the region.