New Delhi: India on Tuesday promised Myanmar millions of dollars in line of credit as it seeks firmer ties with its visiting military chief to offset China’s influence in the strategic Bay of Bengal region.
Myanmar’s Senior General Than Shwe met Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and would sign several pacts, including one to prevent arms smuggling across their 1,650-km (1,000-mile) border, officials said.
India’s EXIM bank extended a $60 million line of credit to Myanmar on Tuesday for financing railway projects. India, a major importer of fuel, is also pushing for cooperation in the gas sector and could promise a $1 billion investment to boost output.
One of the first countries to condemn Myanmar for its repression of pro-democracy activists, New Delhi has since the early 1990s put aside such criticism for fear of pushing its neighbour into China’s fold and losing access to its oil and gas.
New Delhi also looks to Myanmar to help curb separatist insurgencies in its northeast region, whose rebels sometimes take refuge across the frontier. Both sides are also working together to control a flourishing cross-border narcotics trade.
“India’s national interest lies in a strong and stable Myanmar that observes strict neutrality between India and China and cooperates with India in the common fight against the insurgencies raging in the border areas of both the countries,” said Gurmeet Kanwal, director of Centre for Land Warfare Studies.
But for Than Shwe the visit could be more than just building strong trade, investment and security ties with India.
Myanmar is facing mounting global condemnation over its decision to bar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other current or former political prisoners from participating in elections the junta says it wants to hold later this year.
Than Shwe’s 5-day visit to the world’s biggest democracy could help legitimize Myanmar’s planned elections at a time when it has few friends in the world, though India is unlikely to directly recognize it, analysts said.
But the visit has already met with protests from pro-democracy groups in India. Suu Kyi, whose mother was Myanmar’s ambassador to India in the 1960s, has devoted admirers in New Delhi, where she went to school and university.
Pro-democracy activists protested the Myanmarese general’s arrival at the weekend with small peaceful meetings in New Delhi.