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Venu Srivastava asked: What is the spillover effect of the military coup in Myanmar on India’s Act East Policy?

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  • Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Myanmar is the lynchpin of India’s Act East Policy— it was from Naypyitaw that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had launched the policy in 2014. The Tatmadaw’s coup on February 01, 2021, and the establishment of a new State Administrative Council (SAC), leading to a countrywide Civil Disobedience Movement, poses a serious policy challenge to New Delhi

    India’s initial response (“deep concern”) was moderate and it upped the ante as the death toll mounted (now over 700). Developments in geo-strategically important Myanmar impact India in myriad ways: First, as the only ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member country with which India has a land border, Myanmar borders four North Eastern states: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram — covering 1,643-km and critical to countering insurgency. The refugee influx and the disruptive role of the Arakan Army on the Myanmar side of the border is another concern.

    Second, two of India’s critical connectivity projects nearing completion—the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the Trilateral Highway Project—could suffer delays as a consequence. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway will provide connectivity from Moreh (Manipur) to Mae Sot (Tak Province, Thailand). The Kaladan Project would link Mizoram to the Bay of Bengal. This would also delay plans to extend the Trilateral Highway to Vietnam.

    Third, the growing international isolation of the Myanmar Army could once again push the country into dependence on China. When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar in January 2020, 33 important agreements were signed. Earlier, the two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) in 2018. The 1,700-km corridor is meant to connect Kunming to Myanmar’s economic hubs, first to Mandalay and then east to Yangon and west to Kyaukphyu. A framework agreement on Kyaukphyu was also signed in November 2018. Another agreement signed in 2018 related to the New Yangon City project.

    As a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) this year, India can play an important role along with partner countries like Vietnam in building international opinion. Vietnam is also a UNSC non-permanent member this year. If a supportive international environment is built up through the UN and the ASEAN, the military in Myanmar could be encouraged to follow the democratic road map.

    Posted on April 22, 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.