India-Myanmar relations are rooted in shared historical, ethnic, cultural, and religious ties. India and Myanmar relations have stood the test of time. The geographical proximity of the two countries has also helped develop and sustain cordial relations and facilitated people-to-people contact. Read here to learn more.
While India needs to maintain good relations with Myanmar to achieve several strategic objectives, the ties between the two countries have been clouded by regional challenges.
India shares a long land border of over 1600 Km with Myanmar as well as a maritime boundary in the Bay of Bengal.
Four north-eastern states viz. Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram share a boundary with Myanmar.
Both countries share a heritage of religious, linguistic, and ethnic ties.
India and Myanmar have complex connections that date back many years.
- They were close throughout both countries’ anti-colonial campaigns against British control, and they have been much more complicated since the 1950s.
- New Delhi’s Look East (and later Act East) strategy, which focused on military support, developmental assistance, and regional connectivity, was introduced in the 1990s.
- In return, it asked Myanmar for assistance with security-related problems on Indian soil.
India combines pragmatic factors with idealistic values in its foreign policy. Though its leaders tend to emphasize intellectual and moral principles, realpolitik is a major influence on policy.
Myanmar is the only ASEAN country adjoining India and, therefore, the gateway to Southeast East Asia with which we are seeking greater economic integration through India’s ‘Look East’ and now ‘Act East’ Policy.
Historically, there were extensive trade and cultural exchanges between the regions that now constitute India and Myanmar. Trade routes connected ancient kingdoms, facilitating the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultural influences.
The spread of Indian civilization, known as Indianization, played a significant role in shaping the culture, religion, and political institutions of Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar.
India-Myanmar Political relations
Both India and Myanmar gained independence from British rule in the late 1940s. India was one of the first countries to recognize Myanmar’s independence in 1948.
The national struggles of India and other colonial nations took place at the same time.
- Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India and minister of external affairs, had close ties with the founding elites of various Asian and African nations.
- Up until 1935, Burma was a component of the British Indian Empire. Nehru had a close relationship with Aung San, the man who founded modern Burma.
India and Burma had strong ties in the first ten years following their respective independence, and in 1951 they signed a Treaty of Friendship pledging “everlasting peace and unalterable friendship” between them. They both were members of the Non-Aligned Movement as well.
The 1962 military coup led by General U Ne Win that marked the end of constitutional democracy in the country also damaged ties with India.
The inward orientation of the junta, repression of minorities, and expulsion of foreigners, including ethnic Indians, created a rift between them.
- India supported Aung San’s family, especially his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, in their fight for democracy, and granted political asylum to former Prime Minister U Nu when he was exiled by the Ne Win regime.
India-Myanmar Economic relations
India is Burma’s 4th largest trading partner after Thailand, China, and Singapore, and second largest export market after Thailand, absorbing 25 percent of its total exports.
- Myanmar’s major exports to India are agricultural products like beans, pulses, and maize and forest products such as teak and hardwoods.
- Its imports from India include chemical products, pharmaceuticals, electrical appliances, and transport equipment.
India and Myanmar share a land border, and several border trade points are facilitating the exchange of goods.
Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project: India has invested in infrastructure projects like the Kaladan project, aiming to improve connectivity between the northeastern states of India and the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar.
India-Myanmar Regional/sub-regional cooperation
ASEAN: Myanmar became a member of ASEAN in July 1997. As the only ASEAN country that shares a land border with India, Myanmar is a bridge between India and ASEAN.
BIMSTEC: Myanmar became a member of BIMSTEC in December 1997. Myanmar is a signatory to the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement. Myanmar is the leading country in the energy sector. Myanmar trades mostly with Thailand and India in the BIMSTEC region.
Mekong Ganga Cooperation: Myanmar has been a member of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) since its inception in November 2000. MGC is an initiative by six countries – India and five ASEAN countries namely, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam – for cooperation in the fields of tourism, education, culture, transport, and communication. The chairmanship of MGC is assumed by member countries in alphabetical order.
SAARC: Myanmar was given the status of observer in SAARC in August 2008.
India and Myanmar share close cultural ties and a sense of deep kinship given India’s Buddhist heritage.
- Building on this shared heritage India is undertaking some key initiatives: Restoration of the Ananda Temple in Bagan and GOI donation of a 16-foot replica of the Sarnath Buddha Statue which has been installed at the premises of Shwe Dagon pagoda in Yangon.
Current status of relations
From the 1950s onward, relations between China and Myanmar have been a concern for India.
At present, the Free Movement Regime (FMR) agreement with Myanmar is under reconsideration to stop border residents from moving into each other’s country without any paperwork.
- The Union government thinks that the FMR is being misused by the insurgents to flee to Myanmar after carrying out attacks on the Indian side.
- It also argued that ending FMR will prevent the influx of illegal migrants from Myanmar and demolish the drug trafficking and gold smuggling networks in the region.
India-Myanmar relations continue to navigate a complex regional landscape, with diplomatic ties guided by mutual interests, historical connections, and the pursuit of shared objectives.
Border-related challenges and concerns, including the Rohingya refugee crisis, have been part of the bilateral discourse.
The strategic location of Myanmar provides economic opportunities for India, especially in the context of connectivity projects and trade.
As both countries look to strengthen cooperation in various domains, the relationship remains dynamic, influenced by regional developments and global geopolitical shifts.
-Article by Swathi Satish