The new Myanmar offers us fresh opportunities
Political developments in our neighbourhood cannot be overlooked and the centuries-old shared frontiers cannot be transformed into a distant neighbour ignoring the civilisational ties and the realpolitik with the emerging rivalry in the Indo-Pacific regionUpdated: Nov 01, 2018 17:21 IST
In the years following democratic transition and change, Myanmar’s reconciliation and bridge building with the West adequately challenged China’s interest by disrupting the balance of power in the region. It opened a new platform for other countries to make overtures towards Myanmar widely considered as one of the most underexplored markets in Asia.
Encouraged by the relaxation of sanctions and the establishment of the quasi civilian regime after the November 2010 elections, there have been large scale investments from different quarters. In the aftermath of the end of longstanding isolation, Myanmar’s newfound bonhomie with the West is a source of phenomenal advantages. It has undergone a near complete realignment of its relationship with the United States and Western Europe as sanctions were eased when the quasi civilian regime assumed charge in 2011. In terms of strategy, especially in the larger Asia-Pacific, it is considered that Myanmar’s stability in the region would add strength and legitimacy to the rebalancing approach of the United States. Its policy towards Myanmar is part of a larger policy in the region to support a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The revitalisation of relations between Myanmar and the United States has also cast a positive shadow on Japan’s policy toward Myanmar, leading to an enhanced Japanese presence in terms of aid as also a rise in the investment of Japanese companies. The joining of forces by Japan and Thailand in Myanmar on the now revitalised Dawei mega project coupled with India’s seeking of Japanese investment to develop the overland infrastructure in the Northeast is likely to pose a challenge to the Chinese overshadowing presence in the region. In addition, the plans of developing the Dawei-Chennai corridor is likely to be perceived as forming some sort of an India-Myanmar-Thailand-Japan quadrilateral partnership against the overarching role of any dominant power in the region.
Myanmar also cannot be ignored because of the rising ‘majority-minority’ divide and the recent upsurge of the Buddhist nationalism in the country. In the wake of the alleged violence and repression (since 2012) in the Rakhine state, several thousand Rohingyas have been killed and displaced as a result of the communal clash between the Rakhine Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists.
Myanmar matters to us also because of the strong Indian connections found in the country. The historical and cultural linkages between India and Myanmar abound in our mythologies and contemporary literature. The amazing zeal of the early Buddhists from India having laid the foundation for this inexhaustible association between the two countries is eternal. The migration of Indians to Myanmar during the colonial era and their role in the commercial sphere contributed to commercial relations between the two British colonies.
Indian migration to Myanmar continued in several waves and they have been a major force influencing the internal political dynamics of the country till the advent of the military rule in the 1960s which ultimately sounded the death knell to a large section of the Indian population in Myanmar. The Burmanisation policy of General Ne Win and his “Burmese road to Socialism” nationalised all small businesses, banks and warehouses, denied trading licenses to aliens, and prohibited non-Burmese from taking government jobs.
It is in this context that political developments in our neighbourhood cannot be overlooked and the centuries-old shared frontiers cannot be transformed into a distant neighbour ignoring the civilisational ties and the exigencies of realpolitik in the contemporary times amid the emerging rivalry in the Indo-Pacific region.
Sonu Trivedi is a fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and assistant professor at University of Delhi
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Nov 01, 2018 17:20 IST