With China’s hands full with a raft of infrastructure projects in Myanmar, a realisation seems to be dawning on New Delhi to accelerate efforts to underline Indian presence in the military-ruled state.
Alarmed by China darting across Myanmar modernising ports, tapping into the country’s energy resources and building roads, bridges and rail; India is increasingly thinking in terms of addressing the imbalance and raising its stakes in a country with which it shares a land border of 1,640 km.
That the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has been asked to study the possibility of taking up a second road project in Myanmar serves to illustrate that the government has an actual plan in mind to stand alongside China and challenge its domination there.
Spearheading efforts to expand the Indian footprint, the BRO has just wrapped up a survey of the proposed 150-km road link from Rhi to Tiddim across the Mizoram border. To be sure, China remains unrivalled in Myanmar going by the sheer number of its projects - it has contracted hundreds of works in a variety of sectors ranging from energy to hydropower to engineering and other fields to raise its economic profile in southeast Asia.
India is only getting started and it is certainly no coincidence that it has been jolted into action by China’s ever rising influence in Myanmar, which shares a long border with China in the north contiguous to the disputed Sino-Indian border.
Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju told Hindustan Times, "We need to be much more active in our region. China is expanding its presence all over the globe."
India’s existing infrastructure projects in Myanmar include the 160-km India-Myanmar friendship road from Tamu to Kalemyo to Kalewa built by the BRO in 2001 for Rs 94 crore. India will maintain the road till mid-2009, spending another Rs 55 crore.
BRO director General Lieutenant General KS Rao told HT that the organisation was increasing its manpower and going in for mechanisation in a big way to take up more projects within and outside the country.
India has offered help to Myanmar, its largest neighbour on the eastern flank, for improving its rail infrastructure and connecting it to links on the Indian side.
The Sagar Samriddhi venture, a deep-sea project to explore oil and gas reserves in the Bay of Bengal and the Shwe gas pipeline are among the key Indian projects aimed at tapping the energy resources of Myanmar.
General Rao said, "As of now, there’s only one point between Moreh in Manipur and Tamu in Myanmar to facilitate border trade. The Rhi-Tiddim road could help open more cross border trade points on the Mizoram side."