Home Magazines Myanmar-India: Bilateral Relations

Myanmar-India: Bilateral Relations

India-Myanmar bilateral relations
India-Myanmar bilateral relations

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and India share a historical and cultural connection that dates back to antiquity, with religious and cultural connections to Buddhism visible in the Burmese script. Myanmar and India established their formal diplomatic relations in 1948 with a very strong bond of ethnic, religious, and cultural links, along with flourishing trade and commerce. In 1951, Myanmar and India signed a ‘Treaty of Friendship’, marking the new bonding in relationships based on common interests. Furthermore, the large population of people of Indian origin living in Myanmar, estimated to be over 2.5 million, fosters unity and connectivity between both nations.

In 2002, the Consulate General of Myanmar was set up in Kolkata, and the Indian Consulate General in Mandalay was reopened. Since 2014, several visits by the head of state or government have taken place, resulting in numerous agreements and a deepening of mutual understanding. In 2011, the mutual high-level visits led to the signing of multiple agreements between the two nations. These include a MoU on setting up the India-Myanmar Industrial Training Center at Myingyan; a MoU for the upgrade of the Yangon Children’s Hospital and Sittwe General Hospital; and a Program of Cooperation in Science and Technology for the period 2012–2015.

Myanmar is a focal country for India, especially since the Indian government’s greater emphasis on the ‘Act East’ policy. On May 11th, 2018, both countries signed a landmark ‘Land Border Crossing Agreement’ to deal with the pending border problems along with issues relating to smuggling and illicit drug trafficking.

Beyond the political and diplomatic relationship, the cultural ties define the Myanmar-India connections. Buddhism is the way of life in Myanmar, and almost 90 percent of the population is a believer. For them, India is a land of pilgrimage. To advance these cultural connections, India is actively assisting in the restoration of Myanmar’s Ananda temple in Bagan. Besides, India is also working on the redevelopment of two temples in Bodh Gaya built by Burmese rulers, which has earned great accolades from the people of Myanmar.

Myanmar and India share an ever-expanding economic and trade partnership.  India stands as Myanmar’s fourth-largest trading partner and is the second-largest export market for Burmese exports. India is also the 11th largest investor in Myanmar, with a total investment of USD 1.736 billion between April 2000 and March 2023, and has made substantial investments in Myanmar’s oil and gas projects. The estimated trade between the two countries now stands at over USD 1.76 billion, mainly due to the surge in exports from Myanmar.

Major items imported from India are cotton yarn, soya bean meal, auto parts, pharmaceuticals, electrical machinery, vehicles including tractors and parts, certain steel items, etc., while Myanmar exports beetle nuts, dried ginger, mung beans, pulses, turmeric roots, resin, medicinal herbs, etc. The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) have institutional cooperation. There are many Indian companies that have set up offices in Myanmar since the formation of the India-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce in 2017. For the convenience of bilateral trade, both Myanmar and India have decided to work together to launch India’s RuPay Card in Myanmar to forge a digital payment gateway.

The Myanmar government has come out with a Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan (2018-2030) (MSDP), following the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It lays down five goals: peace, national reconciliation, and good governance; economic stability; job creation and private sector-led growth; human resources and social development; and the development of natural resources and environmental protection. Progressing on that mission, the development cooperation between Myanmar and India has reached USD 1.4 billion. Several new institutions are being set up for agricultural education, information technology, and industrial training by India in Myanmar. Over 100 projects have been completed by India as part of the Border Development Program in Western Myanmar. In 1994, Myanmar and India signed a border trade agreement, thereby opening two operational border trade points: Moreh-Tamu and Zowkhatar-Rhi. A third border trade point is proposed at Avakhung-Pansat/ Somrai.

As the cataclysmic cyclone hit Myanmar in May 2008, the Indian government sent immediate relief materials. Similarly, during the earthquake in Shan state in March 2011, India was also one of the countries providing humanitarian relief and rehabilitation. During the 2019 BIMSTEC Conclave, Indian PM Narendra Modi announced the initiative of SAGAR, highlighting the motto “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” (Collective Efforts, Inclusive Growth). Three MoUs were signed during the conclave between Ranong Port (the Port Authority of Thailand) and the Port Trusts of Chennai, Visakhapatnam, and Kolkata. Continuing the friendship ties, Myanmar received 1.7 million COVID-19 vaccines from India in early 2021. ASEAN plus six, BIMSTEC, and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation are major frameworks of cooperation and linkages between the two countries.

Connectivity is the main focus of the overall development of the Myanmar-India friendship. On February 13th, 2001, Myanmar and India inaugurated a 250 km. long Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo highway, popularly known as the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Road. On April 9, 2010, the Government of India announced that it was considering a Manipur-Vietnam link via Myanmar. Besides, the Sittwe port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state was developed by India as part of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project. The project is a trinity of sea, river, and road transport corridors to boost connectivity with the Indian state of Kolkata. Sittwe-Kyaukhtu (Kyauk Taw)-Zochachhuah/Hmawngbuchhuah-Sairang covers a distance of 665 kilometres (413 mi) as part of the India-Myanmar Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, while a 90 km Sittwe-Kyaukhtu railway in Myanmar already exists and a 200 km long Kyaukhtu-Zorinpui in Myanmar is planned, along with the 375 km long Zochawchhuah (Zorinpui)-Sairang Railway in India.

In addition, the mega project of linking Myanmar, India, and Thailand through a land route is under way. The India-Thailand-Myanmar four-lane trilateral highway will allow people to directly travel from Kolkata to Bangkok, significantly cutting down travel time and providing a cheaper alternative to expensive air travel. The length of this trilateral highway is over 1360 km. The plan is to extend it to connect Cambodia and Vietnam under the Mekong-Ganga cooperation within the broader framework of the Asian Highway Network, which will create a new economic zone transcending borders and countries.

Thus, both Myanmar and India share a deep friendship. A considerable amount of progress has been made in bilateral relations between both nations since the establishment of diplomatic ties. Both countries share historic, diplomatic, cultural, economic, and trade partnerships. Several infrastructural projects are underway in both countries that would boost connectivity between the two nations. Both Myanmar and India have foreign policies that have the potential to expand across all sectors.