Eye On China, India Speeds Up Infra Projects In Myanmar

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New Delhi: Having missed several deadlines, and with China taking big strides, India is trying hard to speed up its infrastructure commitments in Myanmar.

India’s tardiness in project implementation has marred its reputation, even though India has extended over $1.75 billion in grants and credit to Myanmar.

Indian envoy to Myanmar Vikram Misri said India had completed building the Sittwe power and the inland water terminal in Paletwa. Speaking to a local publication, Global Light of Myanmar this week he said, “We have just awarded the contract for the final stage which is the road to be built from Paletwa to a point called Zorinpui which is on the border with Mizoram. I think the creation of this transport corridor, once it is fully functioning, has the potential to transform the economic landscape in the states through which it goes, Rakhine and Chin.” Construction is expected to start in October, with a Rs 1,600-crore contract awarded for building 109-km road connecting Paletwa river terminal to Zorinpui in Mizoram.

India is also building the trilateral highway, or India-Myanmar-Thailand highway, which was originally targeted for 2014, but will now only be complete by 2020. Misri said projects there are underway. “We are repairing 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kalay road and also constructing the Kalaywa-Yagyi section of the highway. In Chin State which borders Mizoram in India, we are constructing a road that will connect Rhi on the border to the town of Tiddim.”

India-Myanmar relations saw some official attention recently, when foreign secretary S Jaishankar went to Naypyidaw for foreign office consultations on May 27, but by and large this eastern neighbour has not seen the kind of high-voltage attention lavished on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Yet Myanmar is crucial to India’s Act East policy, particularly as India tries to balance out China’s massive presence in the country.

Ironically, India is helped by Myanmar’s own growing discomfort with China. China’s Belt & Road (OBOR) project has seen an almost $10 billion investment in a port Kyaukphyu and a special economic zone, which, China has promised, will generate thousands of jobs.

Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and effectively the head of the civilian government, allowed the Chinese investment as Beijing-Yangon relations have improved under her watch, perhaps more than India. But there remains a popular distrust of China, which is largely absent vis-a-vis India.

Part of the problem is also security-related issues. India still worries about some of the insurgent groups that take sanctuary across the Myanmar border, though in recent years, the two security systems have worked quietly to combat them.

India has also raised alarm over the fact that a number of Rohingyas have found their way to Jammu & Kashmir, although that is more a failure on India’s part. However, India reckons the road projects, including a couple of new ones in Kachin and Rakhine states would help the people of these largely poor areas, find some extra means of economic activity.