May 29 – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks and signed a slew of agreements with Myanmar’s President Thein Sein on Monday. Singh’s visit marked the first time an Indian leader has traveled to the strategically located country in 25 years.
A total of 12 agreements have been signed so far during Singh’s landmark visit, according to the foreign ministries of both countries, highlighted by a US$500 million line of credit offered to Myanmar. Singh will also be meeting with the India-educated, pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi today, and is expected to extend an invitation to her to visit India.
However, despite the success of the trip up to this point, India’s diplomatic maneuvering in the Myanmar has proved to be a geopolitically fragile issue, due to India’s rivalry with China in the country.
When Singh’s trip to Myanmar was first announced, China’s state-run Global Times quickly responded that India had been “edged out” of Myanmar, and was desperately trying to re-establish its influence in the country. Beijing’s own influence in Myanmar, however, has been diminished since the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi in the country’s recent elections.
The Chinese government, though, has backed away from any direct criticism of Singh’s meetings in Myanmar.
“Both India and Myanmar are China’s friendly neighbours. China is happy to see the development relations between them,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Weimin said at a media briefing yesterday. “We hope such development of friendly relations is conducive to the stability and prosperity of the whole region.”
With the International Monetary Fund estimating that Myanmar’s gas revenues will rise to US$4 billion in 2013, Myanmar presents itself as a valuable partner for the two countries who have grown to rely heavily on imported energy. If China decides to similarly re-connect with Myanmar’s newly restructured government, Sino-Indian competition in the region may drastically intensify.
In addition to India’s line of credit to Myanmar, agreements signed on Monday also included accords on air services, the development of border regions, investment in agricultural research, and most importantly, India’s acquisition of a 77.5 percent interest in an onshore block. At a time when India is seeking to diversify its energy sources due to U.S. pressure to cut ties with Iran, this new agreement could help to bolster India’s energy security.
Singh’s visit and the subsequent agreements have established a re-awakening of India-Myanmar ties after years of fragile relations. Currently, both countries aim to double their annual trade by 2015, which is currently worth US$1.2 billion.
In a joint statement by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Myanmar President Thein Sein, the two leaders said that “the prime minister of India reiterated India’s readiness to extend all necessary assistance in accelerating the country’s democratic transition and developing the capacity of democratic institutions.”