Chinese influence on Myanmar – UPSC GS2

Myanmar’s roadmap to full democracy will suffer from the status quo on account of its flawed domestic internal politics, over dependency on China and poor relations with the West and Islamic world.
Challenges in Myanmar’s Transition to Full Democracy:
  • Hybrid civil-military power-sharing system complicates decision making.
    • Elderly politicians (Suu Kyi) with no second-tier leadership diminishes political power.
    • Excessive military interference: Military has to protect the constitution, according to which 25% of seats in the central, state and regional legislatures are reserved for the military.
    • Making a constitutional change is difficult: which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses.
  • Poor international image: due to allegations of genocide against Rohingya, sub-par economic performance, failed peace talks with ethnic groups, nationalistic Buddhist resurgence and pandemic.
  • Rise of new anti-state insurgency: like Rakhine Rohingya Salvation Army after government crackdown.
  • Dependence on China: in areas of domestic politics, development and economy and peace talks with ethnic groups.
    • China-Myanmar Economic Corridor CMEC: will ensure China’s access to the Bay of Bengal by linking China’s Yunan province with the strategic deep seaport of Kyaukphyu in Rakhine province.
    • Chinese Debt: China holds 40% of Myanmar’s $5-10 billion debt.
    • Comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement with new 2+2 first dialogue arrangement.
    • India’s assistance (in grants is $1.4 billion and line of credit of $1.5 billion) is minuscule compared to China’s $3.5 billion (but mainly as loans).
Key Elements of India- Myanmar Bilateral Relationship
  • Infrastructural connectivity projects: are challenged by insurgencies.
    • India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral requires a loop line through Mizoram to bypass insurgencies in Nagaland and Manipur.
    • Multi-modal Kaladan project has been disrupted by the Arakan Army (aided by China).
  • Investment in energy security: India has offered to build a $6-billion petroleum refinery.
  • Debt service relief: has been provided by India to Myanmar’s cumulative liability of $10 billion.
  • Increased Defence and security cooperation: with the supply of small arms, tanks, artillery, offshore patrol vessels, (a kilo-class submarine was gifted recently).
    • India dispatched its first-ever joint civil-military delegation to Myanmar.
  • People-to-people relations: through two-million Indian diaspora as an asset and links of Buddhism; India must increase investment in education and agricultural sectors of Myanmar.
  • Alternative to China: In 2011, Senior General Than Shwe had turned to India for reducing dependence on China.
Conclusion: While China will remain a spoke in India’s Act East policy, it also has the potential to turn India’s two-front dilemma into two-and-a-half fronts; hence India must strengthen its defence diplomacy.

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