Soft Power Diplomacy: New Template of India-Myanmar Relations

 By Alakh Ranjan
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Soft Power Diplomacy: New Template of India-Myanmar Relations

By Alakh Ranjan

India-Myanmar relationship has gained importance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy. PM Modi during 2014 ASEAN summit unveiled the ‘Act East’ policy in Naypyidaw.[1] The move from ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’ and the announcement of it in Myanmar was a strategic move by India. It showed the importance South-East Asia in general and Myanmar in Indian foreign policy. Since then, India has increased engagement with Myanmar.

Post 2014, there has been regular visits from both sides. State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited India in 2016[2], which was followed by the visit of PM Modi to Myanmar in 2017[3].  President Ram Nath Kovind visited Myanmar in 2018[4] and now Myanmar’s President U Win Myint is on a four-day visit to India[5]. These regular state visits have helped in building the trust between both the nations, especially between India and the ruling National League of Democracy’s government.

A closer look into all these visits will show that there has been an upswing on soft power diplomacy, especially cultural and economic diplomacy between both the countries. The leaders of both the countries have been visiting ancient religious places to rejuvenate the cultural linkages. During his visit to Myanmar, he visited famous Buddhist shrines in the ancient city of Bagan. President U Win Myint started his visit with Akshardham Temple and will end his visit with Bodh Gaya. Both the countries have been trying to give a major push to cultural linkages to enhance people to people relations.

The major hindrance in both cultural and economic diplomacy is connectivity. The connectivity between both the countries is abysmal. PM Modi’s has recognised this fact and has been working to improve connectivity in the region. The recent Joint Statement mentions that both the countries are committed to early conclusions of the Motor Vehicle Agreement which will facilitate cross border movement of vehicles, which in turn will help trade and tourism. There has been a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between private operators of both the countries to start the Coordinated Bus service between Mandalay and Imphal by April 7, 2020[6]. Both sides have also agreed to work together to launch the RuPay card[7] in Myanmar as it will help enhancing tourism and business from India.

Economic diplomacy is an area where Myanmar is looking to diversify its ties beyond China. India completely understands this and has been working to expand the relations in this area. In past five years India has almost tripled its aid to Myanmar from ₹117 crores in 2015-16[8] to₹300 crores in 2020-21[9]. Despite increasing the aid, according to EXIM bank report Myanmar received a total US$ 59 billion as FDI during January 2003 to March 2018[10], in that India’s investment share was just US$ 3.1billion[11]. Despite its limited financial resources, India is investing strategically under the framework of High Impact Community Development Projects and Quick Impact Projects under Mekong-Ganga framework. The US$ 3.1 billion Indian investments generated 1,563 jobs[12].

India has focussed on reconstruction efforts in Rakhine province. India has built and hard over 250 prefabricated houses in the province[13]. During the present visit both the countries signed a total 10 MOUs.[14] Out of the 10 MOUs four MOUs were related to Rakhine. The MOUs covers road construction, storage house, water supply system, distribution of solar electricity and pre-school construction in the Rakhine.

The India is investing in Rakhine as it occupies a unique location to India. The Sittwe port which is part of Kaladan multimodal project lies in the Rakhine and this port will aid in the trade between India and Myanmar. This port will open up trade route for the states of NER which will boost to development of industries in these states.  Indian companies have onshore and offshore oil and gas investments in the Rakhine that makes the province crucial for our energy security needs. India needs a stable and peaceful Rakhine for its economic and energy security needs.

The soft power diplomacy will play a major role in India-Myanmar ties. will act as the crucial pillars in the engagements between the two countries. The visit of the President clearly shows that the following three pillars; economy, culture and people to people contact will be the focus areas over which the relationship between the two countries will be built on. As soft power will play a essential role, media will be a pivotal in building strong India-Myanmar relations. In this context the coverage given to the current visit in Indian media has been almost absent. The media needs to understand its role. The government should also be more proactive in the usage of media for foreign policy gains as the media coverage given to a state visit is closely followed in the visiting country.

References:

[1]Manish Chand, “Act East: India’s ASEAN Journey”, In Focus Article- Ministry of External Affairs, India, 10 November, 2014, Available on the internet at:https://mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?24216/Act+East+Indias+ASEAN+Journey, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[2]Press Release, Ministry of External Affairs, India, 12 October 2016, Available on the internet at: https://mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?24216/Act+East+Indias+ASEAN+Journey, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[3]Press Release, Ministry of External Affairs, India, 29 August, 2017, Available on the internet at: https://mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/28896/visit+of+prime+minister+to+china+and+myanmar+september+37+2017, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[4]Press Release, Ministry of External Affairs, India, 4 December, 2018, Available on the internet at:https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/30674/State_Visit_of_President_to_Myanmar_December_1014_2014, Accessed on 26 February, 2020

[5]Press Release, Ministry of External Affairs, India, 21 February, 2020, Available on the internet at: https://www.mea.gov.in/press-releases.htm?dtl/32407/visit+of+president+of+myanmar+to+india, Accessed on 23 February, 2020

[6]Joint Statement, Bilateral Document, Ministry of External Affairs, India, 27 February, 2020, Available on the internet at:https://www.mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/32435/indiamyanmar+joint+statement+during+the+state+visit+of+the+president+of+myanmar+to+india+february+2629+2020, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[7]Ibid

[8]Government of India, Expenditure Budget, Union Budget of India 2017-18, , Demand No 28, Ministry of External Budget, Available on the internet at:https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/budget2017-2018/ub2017-18/eb/sbe28.pdf, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[9]Government of India, Expenditure Budget, Union Budget of India 2020-21, Demand No 26, Ministry of External Budget, Available on the internet at:https://www.indiabudget.gov.in/doc/eb/sbe26.pdf, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[10]EXIM Bank, Working Paper No 38, Export-Import Bank of India June 2018 Report on: Act East: Enhancing India’s Trade with Bangladesh and Myanmar Across Border, pp. 52, Available on the internet at: https://www.eximbankindia.in/Assets/Dynamic/PDF/Publication-Resources/ResearchPapers/97file.pdf, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[11]Ibid

[12]EXIM Bank, Working Paper No 77, Export-Import Bank of India June 2018 Report on: Act East: Enhancing India’s Trade with Bangladesh and Myanmar Across Border, pp. 52, Available on the internet at:https://www.eximbankindia.in/Assets/Dynamic/PDF/Publication-Resources/ResearchPapers/97file.pdf, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[13]Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, “India to handover 200 houses in Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Tuesday”, Economics Times, 8 July 2019, Available on the internet at:https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-to-handover-200-houses-in-myanmars-rakhine-state-on-tuesday/articleshow/70133310.cms?from=mdr, Accessed on 27 February, 2020

[14]MoUs Exchanged during the State Visit of President of Myanmar, Available on the internet at:https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/news_updates/mous-exchanged-during-the-state-visit-of-president-of-myanmar/, Accessed on 27 February, 2020