Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and Chief of Army staff General MM Naravane travelled to Nay Pi Taw and discussed bilateral issues with Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday.
The visit gains significance for several reasons – it comes at a time when India and China are engaged in a stand-off at the LAC and Myanmar army on the other hand has been pointing a finger at China for arming the insurgent groups on its soil. This has in turn resulted in some Indian north east insurgent groups also getting support from the move.
Secondly, despite being vary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Myanmar became hugely dependent on China as it faced global isolation in 2017 over the persecution of the Rohingyas in Rakhine state. This makes Myanmar another of India’s neighbours that could possibly be manipulated by China is it falls into Beijing’s debt trap as China contiues to push some strategic projects along the China Myanmar Economic Project. Thirdly, this meeting is coming just weeks ahead of the Parliamentary elections in Myanmar where it is expected that Aung San Suu Kyi will again be back at the helm, though possibly with a curtailed mandate.
In relation to the first aspect, the Indian press release after the visit said that the two sides 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 also expressed its “appreciation to Myanmar for handing over of 22 cadres of Indian Insurgent Groups to India", said the release. In May this year, Myanmar handed over these insurgents who were flown in a special plane and handed over to authorities in Assam and Manipur.
On the border area development, In August 2020, the Ambassador of India to Myanmar handed over a cheque of USD 5 million to Lt-Gen Ye Aung, Minister for Border Affairs, Government of Myanmar for the 3rd year projects.
Meanwhile, to counter China’s possible economic influence certain other announcements were also significant. India has 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.
India is also looking at operationalizing the Sittwe Port by the first quarter of next year. In the virtual Foreign Office Consultations between India and Myanmar on 1st October foreign secretary Harsh Shringla also said, “With respect to the 69 bridges on the Trilateral Highway, I am happy to inform you that we will soon be moving forward with the tendering process."
The issue of the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees also came up. FS conveyed India’s support for ensuring safe, sustainable and speedy return of displaced persons to the Rakhine State. India also entered into a trilateral cooperation with Japan on the Rakhine State under which it will create soft infrastructure for 15 schools.
Significantly, in FS Shringla’s visit and meetings in Bangladesh a few weeks ago the issue of the repatriation of Rohingyas was taken up there as well considering that Cox’s Bazar is harbouring the maximum number of the Rohingyas who fled persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.