After Suu Kyi’s visit, Chinese state media focuses on Myanmar-India ties

Aung San Suu Kyi holding a Mahatma Gandhi bust presented to her during a visit to India in 2012. FILE PHOTO: R.V. MOORTHY  

Soon after the return from China of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Chinese state media is focusing on Myanmar’s ties with India, pointing out that Naypyidaw is likely to strike a “balance” in its relationship with major powers.

An op-ed in the state-run Global Times noted that by choosing China as her first foreign destination for a visit outside the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Ms. Suu Kyi has signalled that China was seemingly “more significant than India in Myanmar's diplomacy.”

Yet, the article written by Liu Zongyi of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies acknowledged that “Ms. Suu Kyi has chosen China for her first overseas trip outside ASEAN probably not because she is emotionally close to Beijing, but out of Myanmar's domestic politics and national interests”. It added: “She will lead the country to seek a balance among major powers.”

The Xinhua news agency also simultaneously reported on External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s one-day visit to Myanmar — curiously timed with Ms. Suu Kyi’s arrival from China. It said that Ms. Swaraj’s visit focuses on “bilateral trade ties, cooperation in transport, health and energy sectors.” It pointed out that Ms. Swaraj arrived more than two months after National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had visited Myanmar as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special envoy.

However, when contacted by The Hindu, Dr. Liu said that he did not see a “direct connection” between the Ms. Swaraj’s visit to Myanmar and Ms. Suu Kyi’s visit to China. “India wants to solve some issues, such as cross-border militants. Besides there are multilater and regional issues such as the upcoming meeting of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC),” he observed.

The Global Times op-ed underscored that in comparison to China, India’s soft-power connections with Myanmar were stronger. “Compared with China, India has advantages in developing relations with Myanmar. They share a lot in culture, religion and democratic values, and their high-level officials have had close relationship for a very long time.

“For instance, Ms. Suu Kyi's mother used to be Myanmar's Ambassador to India. Ms. Suu Kyi spent her adolescence in the country and graduated from University of Delhi. Apart from that, many other democratic activists have been supported and protected by India.”

The article highlighted five key aspects of Indo-Myanmar engagement. First in geopolitical terms, New Delhi saw Myanmar as a buffer state with China, and “therefore cannot be controlled by major powers like China”.

Second, Myanmar is a crucial link to Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor, and has worked jointly with China on oil and natural gas pipelines and port construction. “India is thus worried that Myanmar may become a convenient corridor for China to come and go in the Indian Ocean, which can hence threaten India's national security and its peculiar interests in the waters.”

Third, India saw Myanmar as a gateway for India's Look East Policy towards both East Asia and Southeast Asia. “Connectivity between the two is therefore crucial to a stronger economic, political and cultural relationship between India and ASEAN.”

The op-ed observed Myanmar is central to Northeast India’s security as “a large number of cross-border ethnic groups and rebels from Northeast India have military bases in Myanmar.”

Finally, Myanmar is on India’s energy security radar on account of its “abundant oil and natural gas” reserves.

Nevertheless, the daily stressed that pragmatism, fused with a strong sense of self-esteem is likely to persuade Ms. Suu Kyi to strike a “balance among powers like the US, Japan, China and India and maximise the country's interests, without completely tilting to any side.”

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 9:00:34 AM |

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