Contemporary issues INDIA – MYANMAR


Economic Relations

  • Bilateral trade between the two countries has, for long, remained at around $2 billion.
  • It is the only Southeast Asian country that has a separate bureaucratic division (shared with Bangladesh) in India’s External Affairs Ministry, testifying to the continued importance of Myanmar to India’s current foreign policy.
  • Indian businesses could invest in the power, steel, automobiles and even textile sectors in Myanmar.

Infrastructure Projects

  • The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport (KMMTT), to connect the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with the Sittwe deep-water port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state by sea.
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  • Sittwe port:
    • As part of its policy for the Indian Ocean called Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), central to which is “port-led development,” India developed the Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
    • This port, which sits on the Bay of Bengal, serves as a critical node of the KMMTT initiative to connect southwestern Myanmar to northeastern India by creating a multi-modal trinary of sea, river and road transport corridor to boost interconnectivity.
    • India’s long-term strategic goal is to create a Special Economic Zone surrounding the Sittwe port.
    • The Sittwe port is meant to be India’s answer to the Chinese-fronted Kyaukpyu port, which is intended to cement China’s geostrategic footprint in Maynmar
  • Repair of 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa Road.
  • Construction of the 120-km Kalewa-Yargyi corridor d. Rhi-Tiddim road in the Chin state bordering Mizoram.
  • Unfortunately, the projects have not been completed in time. As a result, India has not got due credit.

Defence Relations

  • Operation Sunshine 1 and 2: The Indian and Myanmar armies have carried out two joint military operations, Operation Sunshine 1 and 2, to fight militants along the borders of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which borders the north-eastern Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram.
  • IMBAX: joint military exercises with the Myanmar Army
  • Military purchases
  • Myanmar bought India’s first locally produced anti-submarine torpedo, called TAL Shyena, a diesel-electric Kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhuvir.
  • Myanmar has acquired rocket launchers, night vision systems, radar and engineering equipment, including $37.9 million worth of torpedoes, from India.
  • Training Myanmar Officers: Over 200 Myanmar military officers have been trained in the medical, air force and navy fields in India.

Cultural Relations:

“Buddhist Circuit” initiative, which seeks to double foreign tourist arrivals and revenue by connecting ancient Buddhist heritage sites across different states in India, should resonate with Buddhist-majority Myanmar.


  • Under Look East Policy, two institutional Projects were initiated by India – BIMSTEC, Mekong Ganga. India is active participant of ADMM plus. Through these regional groupings, India and Myanmar are involved in several projects like tourism, culture, language.
  • Capacity building has been accorded priority, with several new institutions set up for agricultural education, information technology and industrial training that have benefited Myanmar youth immensely.
  • Myanmar Institute of Information Technology set up in Mandalay with the collaboration of IIIT Bangalore has been a success with all its graduates finding ready employment.
  • The Advanced Centre for Agriculture Research and Education set up in collaboration with India’s ICAR is a fine example of pooling research efforts on pulses and oilseeds.
  • India has also proposed to build a petroleum refinery in Myanmar. This is an indication of Myanmar’s growing significance in India.
  • With the expansion of training facilities and supply of defence equipment needed by the Myanmar military, India has consistently strengthened defence ties.


  • In Northern Myanmar China has de facto control over Kachin state bordering India’s Arunachal Pradesh.
  • A China sponsored link between Myanmar and Bangladesh would bring China on India’s doorstep and complete encirclement of India from east.
  • Myanmar was never comfortable in dealing with China and looked to ASEAN and Indian to counterbalance Chinese influence and growing domestic opposition. Myanmar government scrapped Chinese hydro power project over Myistone River.


  • The location of Myanmar at tri-junction of East Asia, South-East Asia and South Asia has vital geostrategic significance for China and India.
  • Myanmar has the potential to become convenient transit route for India’s growing trade relation with South-East Asia and also to develop Mekong Ganga Sub region.
  • Indian policymakers have begun to position Myanmar in Act East Policy framework and its collaboration with ASEAN countries.
  • Strategic – Myanmar has offered to India access to surveillance facility at Coco Island.

Concerns / Challenges

  • The Indian government is concerned about Rohingya immigrants in the country. Around 40,000 Rohingyas are said to be staying illegally in India. Negotiations on the deportation of Rohingya to Myanmar are a point of contention.
  • For India, the balancing act between Bangladesh and Myanmar remains one of the keys to its overall approach to the Rohingya issue.
  • Economic cooperation has developed, but it still stays at a sub-optimal level.
  • A significant part of India’s Kaladan multimodal project (KMMTTP) passes through the Rakhine state. There is delay in the completion of the project.
  • Lack of basic infrastructure and low trading volume at the Indian border.
  • Beijing is investing in projects to improve the Sittwe–Kunming route.
  • Momentum of the Belt and Road Initiative may end India’s Act East Policy like Obama’s pivot to Asia.
  • Both sides share a long maritime boundary and land border, which has led to concerns around transnational issues like safe haven for Naga insurgents, Drug trafficking (Myanmar is part of Golden Triangle), smuggling of light arms, counterfeit currencies, etc.


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Way Forward:

  • Strengthening existing cooperation in areas of security and counter-terrorism, trade and investment, infrastructure and energy, and culture
  • Boosting cooperation in areas like training and capacity-building of Myanmar’s military.
  • Implementing the recommendations of Kofi Annan Advisory Commission report on Rohingya refugee issue.
  • India can help in improving the socio-economic conditions in the Rakhine state and also create employment opportunities.
  • The two countries must start negotiating for the smooth movement of goods and vehicles.
  • With Myanmar’s government emphasizing higher education and vocational training, more Indian assisted institutions can be setup in the country.
  • Border trade need to become more formalized with single-window clearances and easier currency arrangements.
  • The border Haats can energize exchange of local produce.
  • Cross-border bus services can promote people-to-people connectivity.
  • Cross-border trade in services can be boosted in sectors like medicine, diagnostics, education and training for which there is a large market.
  • All this will mean that the Northeast will gain from the Act East policy.
  • To build an economic and security relationship that prevent Myanmar from slipping into the orbit of China.
  • Ensure the Myanmar military’s cooperation in preventing North-eastern militants, most notably Naga insurgents, from using Myanmar as a safe haven.
  • Support the country’s transition into a full-fledged federal democracy.
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