With the India-China locking horns on the border, the neighbouring countries in the region could play a key role, and both New Delhi and Beijing are vying for their support.
China’s increasing clout in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is already reaping its benefits. With established ports including Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, China can utilise these bases to corner and counter India.
Through heavy investments in countries including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, it is now vying to woo another strategically located Mynamar. However, in this race, India isn’t far behind.
After a “very satisfactory” visit to Bangladesh to bolster bilateral ties, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla along with army chief MM Naravane are on a joint visit to Mynamar. New Delhi has proposed a $6 billion investment to build a petroleum refinery in the Thanlyin region near Yangon, reported TOI
The report said that officials from India and Myanmar discussed issues relating to border security and stability and their mutual commitment to not allow their respective territories to be used for “activities inimical to each other”.
It is seen as a strategic move against China, who already accounts for over 70 per cent of foreign investment in the energy sector in Myanmar, reported TOI. Beijing has been pushing the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) as part of BRI. However, Myanmar has earlier pushed back against Beijing’s plans after the country’s auditor general warned the government of the increasing Chinese debt.
Myanmar’s current national debt stands at about $10 billion, of which $ 4 billion is owed to China, Auditor General Maw Than told a news conference in Naypyidaw, reported ET.
“The truth is the loans from China come at higher interest rates compared to loans from financial institutions like the World Bank or the IMF [International Monetary Fund],” he said. “So, I would like to remind the government ministries to be more restrained in using Chinese loans.” Mynamar is paying almost $500 annually in both principal and interest.
Drawing lessons from China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port that have pushed these countries in the debt trap, Mynamar is now looking towards New Delhi. Apart from that, Naypyidaw has accused China of supporting armed groups in Rakhine State.
Myanmar is now applying caution before handing over projects to Chinese companies. Reportedly, a Swiss company is signed as a third party to scrutinize the Muse-Mandalay Electric Railway built by China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group (CREEG).
The railway project was built under an MoU signed by the Chinese and Myanmar government, worth US$8.9 billion Muse-Mandalay Railway project in 2011.
India and Mynamar are already working on a transit transportation project that passes through the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram. During the current visit, India also announced a grant of $2 million for the bridge at Byanyu/Sarsichauk in Chin State which will connect Mizoram with Mynamar.
India also appreciated Mynamar’s decision to handover 22 Indian insurgents. As a token of solidarity as both the countries are fighting the pandemic, India presented Mynamar with 3000 vials of Remdesivir.