Narendra Modi may visit Myanmar to boost ties as China shadow looms
New Delhi: Against the backdrop of China increasing its economic footprint in Myanmar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit the country next month to shore up bilateral ties with one of India’s key neighbours.
This will be Modi’s second visit to Myanmar—his first was in November 2014 to attend the India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit as well as the East Asia Summit.
“Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi would pay a visit to Myanmar in the first week of September. He would address the Indian community in an exclusive event in Yangon,” said a post on the website of the Indian embassy in Myanmar.
India, which shares a 1,640km long border with Myanmar and has been worried about northeastern militant groups taking shelter in that country, has pledged to help Myanmar in areas ranging from agriculture to skill development. New Delhi has also moved to speed up connectivity projects with Myanmar, including the Asian Trilateral Highway linking India and Myanmar to Thailand and beyond to Laos and Cambodia. India’s total development assistance to Myanmar currently is about $2 billion.
The promises were made during Myanmar’s state councillor and freedom icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to India in October as well as a trip by Myanmar’s president Htin Kyaw in August.
Myanmar has seen a surge in Chinese economic presence in recent years.
Beijing has signalled it may abandon the huge $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam hydroelectric project in Myanmar after protests by the people but it has pushed for concessions on other strategic undertakings—including the Bay of Bengal port at Kyauk Pyu, which gives it an alternative route for energy imports from the Middle East, a Reuters report said.
A special economic zone at Kyauk Pyu is expected to cover more than 4,200 acres (17 sq. km). It includes the $7.3 billion deep sea port and a $2.3 billion industrial park, with plans to attract industries such as textiles and oil refining, the report said.
Suu Kyi was also one of the world leaders who attended the China hosted One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative summit in May -- an ambitious Chinese project to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids.
India had declined a Chinese invite to the OBOR summit with New Delhi saying that the project violated India’s sovereignty as it passed through territory disputed with Pakistan, that it lacked transparency and did not take into account ecological and environmental costs. The last was seen as a reference to the Myitsone dam project in Myanmar.
More recently, China has shielded Myanmar from criticism over its alleged maltreatment of the Rohingya Muslims -- an ethnic minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, news reports say.