Myanmar moving closer to India as it opens up

Myanmar`s govt and opposition agreed that the country needs to move closer to India as it travels down the path of political and economic reforms.

Nay Pyi Taw: There appears to be a consensus across Myanmar`s government headed by President Thein Sein and opposition Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy that the country needs to move closer to India as it travels down the path of political and economic reforms.

Government officials and a leader of NLD, when contacted in Myanmar`s capital Nay Pyi Taw built by China and in Yangon, said "now that we are on the path of political reforms, we need greater interaction with India, one of the world`s biggest democracy where the political system has its own checks and balances."

There is appreciation in Myanmar that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his first visit to this country, has struck a balance in its approach between the two sides, said the officials and the NLD leader requesting anonymity because they are not authorised to speak on record.

They point out that Singh had, during his speeches at different fora, commended President Sein, a former military general, for initiating dramatic political reforms including release of political prisoners, easing of media censorship and allowing NLD to contest and win parliament by-elections.

At the same time, the Prime Minister paid rich compliments to democracy icon Suu Kyi for her struggle and determination for ushering in democracy and hoped she would play a defining role in Myanmar`s movement towards fuller democratic order. He also described as an "old friend of India".

Myanmarese officials and a NLD leader interpret Singh`s remarks as a message that both sides in Myanmar should work together in a spirit of give and take to take forward the political reforms.
The NLD leader said what Suu Kyi now wants is to "anchor the political reforms and take them forward".

He declined to answer when asked if this meant making more compromises with the nominally-civilian government after she had climbed down on the wording of the oath-taking by NLD lawmakers earlier this month on the issue of "respecting" the 2008 constitution that guarantees a decisive role of the army in law-making.

The officials and NLD make it clear better that relations with India does not mean Myanmar is moving out of China`s deep embrace built over two decades and it is just a question of leveraging the advantages by having good relations with its two giant neighbours.

China forayed into Myanmar two decades back and entrenched itself in Myanmarese economy in a big way investing in its energy and infrastructure sectors in a big way but some of the projects like a dam and a grid taking electricity to China has also created deep resentment among the people of Myanmar.

Last year, Myanmar government had suspended work on 3.2 billion dollar dam project and just ten days ago one of the posters at street protests in Mandalay, Myanmar`s second largest town, read "we want our electricity back and not to go to China".

It is in the context of acute power shortage in much of Myanmar, where only an estimated 13 per cent of six crore population has access to electricity that Singh and President Sein had during their meeting wanted early completion of two hydropower projects being executed by India.

India has loosened its purse string announcing 500 million dollar credit line for Myanmar`s infrastructure and agriculture and five million dollars for development of areas in Myanmar close to border with northeastern India.

The two sides also noted with considerable significance Singh`s suggestion for a new regional economic architecture in involving India, China and Myanmar which can play the role of an "economic bridge" between the two major economies and South and South East Asia.

Such an architecture could make the regional economy a hub of trade, investment and communication, Singh said in Yangon on Tuesday during an interaction with a Myanmarese think-tank and business leaders.


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