Xi Jinping bolsters relationship with Myanmar, what does this mean for India?

WION Web Team New Delhi, India Jan 18, 2020, 01.27 PM(IST)

Jinping in Myanmar Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

  • Chinese president Xi Jinping is currently visiting Myanmar on a two-day tour
  • Xi is visiting to celebrate 70 years of China-Myanmar ties
  • India faces a challenge from China, not just in Myanmar, but across South Asia

Chinese president Xi Jinping is currently visiting Myanmar on a two-day tour.

Earlier today, he got a lavish welcome in Nay-Pyi-Daw, the country's capital. 

Xi is visiting to celebrate 70 years of China-Myanmar ties, and to set-up investment in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine.

The state witnessed violence against the Rohingya Muslims a few years ago, triggering one of the biggest crises in South Asia.

Myanmar came into the limelight for human rights abuses against the Muslim minority.

Most Western nations accuse Myanmar's government of tacitly supporting the military in what they say was a genocide.

The military had launched a campaign against the Rohingyas owing to which many of them were killed and raped. More than 900 thousand fled to Bangladesh.

As a result, foreign investment has dried up in the country. After facing global scorn and isolation, Aung San Suu Kyi has turned to China for help. Jinping has obliged by promising to pump billions into Myanmar.

Ahead of President Xi's arrival, a minister from Myanmar said that he would sign agreements to build a special economic zone, as well as a port - along the Bay of Bengal.

Together, both countries are building the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. And it's all happening under the belt and road initiative - a debt trap for developing countries.

Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping, Myanmar President Win Myint and Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attend a cermony marking the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Myanmar and China in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, January 17, 2020 | Reuters

India should be worried about China's moves. It could give Beijing a backdoor entry into the Indian Ocean, and thereby control over critical shopping routes in India's neighbourhood. 

The crown jewel of China's deals with Myanmar is the Kyau-Kphyu special economic zone.

This is a 1.5 billion dollar deal, that involves a highway and oil and gas pipelines, infrastructure that will allow Beijing to tap into the rich energy reserves of Myanmar.

This Special Economic Zone will connect China's Yunnan province to Myanmar's financial centre Yangon and the Rakhine state.

By far, China is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar.

India faces a challenge from China, not just in Myanmar, but across South Asia.

More Chinese investments are being pushed in the Indian subcontinent.

And they all are part of the Belt and Road initiative.

Just before Xi Jinping left for Mynamar, Chinese state mouthpiece The Global Times carried a piece on the website that reads "will India miss the chance offered by Myanmar"?

This article argues that India and China should join hands for development projects in Myanmar.

China's plans to invest in Myanmar pose a challenge to India's security in the subcontinent.

The most worrying project is a seaport in the Bay of Bengal in Kyaukpyu, western coast of Myanmar. 

Beijing already has two ports in the region: Sri Lanka has given the Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease.

In Pakistan, China is building the Gwadar Port.

All this infrastructure fuels President Xi Jinping's ambitions to put China at the centre of global trade.

Image: n this handout photograph taken and released by the Indian Press Information Bureau on November 3, 2019, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) interacts with Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (L), on the sidelines of the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bangkok | Reuters

Ports in the Indian subcontinent are of great value, for they allow Beijing to exercise control over key shipping routes.

A port in Myanmar adds to China's leverage.  Once completed, the port in Kyaukpyu will give China a direct link to oil supplies from West Asia.

However, India also heavily invests in Myanmar. According to a document by the Ministry of External Affairs, India is the 11th largest investor in Myanmar.

26 Indian enterprises have invested nearly 744 million dollars with the most investments in the oil and gas sector.

India and Myanmar's bilateral trade is valued at two billion dollars.

However, India has made overtures. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the oath of office for the second time, only two South-East Asian countries were invited for the swearing-in ceremony: Myanmar is one of them.

The importance of Myanmar for India cannot be overstated. It's the only country that sits at the intersection of India's “Neighborhood First” and “Act East” policy.

Also read: Myanmar, China ink deals to accelerate Belt and Road as Xi courts an isolated Suu Kyi