"According to our Indian interlocutors, India intends to seize every opportunity to counter growing Chinese influence in Burma, even if this requires cozying up to the SPDC."
12088 11/14/2003 5:18 03 RANGOON 1452 Embassy Rangoon CONFIDENTIAL 03NEWDELHI6235 "This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available." "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RANGOON 001452
STATE ALSO FOR EAP/BCLTV; TREASURY FOR OASIA JEFF NEIL; USPACOM FOR FPA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/13/2013 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, BM, IN, Human Rights
SUBJECT: INDIAN VP VISIT TO BURMA: DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS TAKE A BACK SEAT
REF: A. NEW DELHI 6235
B. RANGOON 1117 C. RANGOON 889
Classified By: COM Carmen Martinez for Reasons 1.5 (B,D)
1. (C) Summary: Indian Vice President Shekhawat's November 2-5 visit to Burma was the most senior mission by an Indian leader in 16 years and the latest in a string of high-profile visits from India and other neighboring countries. The Burmese regime pulled out all the stops for the visit, though concrete results were limited. However, from a public relations perspective, the SPDC scored a major victory and demonstrated its ability to draw in regional leaders who are keen to pursue bilateral objectives, but willing to overlook Burma's deplorable political situation. Notably absent from Shekhawat's proceedings was a human rights agenda and anything more than a passing reference to democratization. End Summary.
A ""Special Place"" for Burma
2. (C) On November 5 Indian Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat concluded a 4-day visit to Burma that included stops in Rangoon, Mandalay, and Bagan. The visit, the highest-level mission by an Indian leader in 16 years, received extensive and laudatory official press coverage. The Vice President met with numerous SPDC officials, including Chairman Senior General Than Shwe and Shekhawat's counterpart and host, SPDC Vice Chairman Vice-Senior General Maung Aye. The official government newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, gave daily coverage to Shekhawat's schedule and published a lengthy joint statement on the visit.
3. (U) Vice President Shekhawat announced publicly that Burma has a ""special place"" in India's ""Look East"" policy and that India is seeking to double bilateral trade to $1 billion in the next three years. However, concrete results of the trip were limited to a $57 million ""credit line"" to upgrade a rail link between Rangoon and Mandalay; a bilateral agreement on visa exemptions for official and diplomatic passports; and an unspecified MOU between the Burmese Ministry of Education and India's Ministry of Human Resource Development. In late October, prior to the visit, the two sides also signed an agreement extending a $25 million credit line to Burma for importing Indian capital goods and ""consultancy"" services. A glossy 50-page magazine issued by the Indian Embassy in commemoration of the Shekhawat visit extolled ""age old ties, new age relations"" between the two countries.
Concern Over China Outweighs All
4. (C) Indian Embassy officials characterized the trip primarily as a ""goodwill visit,"" and acknowledged that India might face criticism from the West for sending such a high-level official to exchange pleasantries with Burma's totalitarian regime, particularly in the wake of a massive crackdown on the democratic opposition. However, our Indian contacts were quick to point out that India had numerous bilateral objectives that outweighed any trepidation about international reaction. India, they said, had experienced decades of frosty relations with Burma, exacerbated by a thorny insurgency along the border between Manipur and Chin States. The current warming between New Delhi and Rangoon created an opportunity to seek progress in resolving mutual border concerns and to secure Burma's support for India's aspirations to join the UN Security Council. Most importantly, according to our Indian interlocutors, India intends to seize every opportunity to counter growing Chinese influence in Burma, even if this requires cozying up to the SPDC.
5. (C) Contrary to the GOI's assertions that Shekhawat underscored the importance of democratization during his trip to Burma (ref A), our GOB contacts indicate that the Indians raised few political issues and ""nothing that was objectionable"" to the SPDC. The regime gave Shekhawat a standard presentation on its seven-point road map for democracy, a plan notable for its glaring omission of Burma's pro-democracy parties and a timeline for a transition to a democratic government. In the November 5 joint statement, the Indian Vice-President ""expressed support for the national reconciliation process and progress in the transition to democracy,"" a position that echoed the recent endorsement by ASEAN of Burma's road map.
Comment: A Missed Opportunity
6. (C) Vice President Shekhawat's visit was a domestic public relations success for the Burmese regime and reflects an emerging SPDC strategy to host senior-level leaders and regional meetings to increase its legitimacy and bolster its international image. The Indian Embassy here will likely maintain a veneer of support for democratization, but will actively pursue trade promotion and other exchanges to counterbalance what India perceives as unchecked (by the U.S.) Chinese influence in Burma. Ironically, Shekhawat's visit coincided with that of UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Pinheiro and the Indians thus missed an easy opportunity to address serious democracy and human rights issues with the SPDC. Indian Embassy officials told us that Shekhawat put no pressure on the regime behind the scenes and his symbolic unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the University of Rangoon received scant press coverage. Meanwhile, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, inspired by the non-violence tactics of Gandhi, remains under house arrest on University Boulevard, less than a mile from the University of Rangoon and the new statue. End Comment.