"China, which shares a 2,000-km border with Myanmar, has a strong economic presence in that country with major investment, including in pipelines, railways, hydropower projects and in mines. It views Myanmar as its gateway to the Indian Ocean."
By Ranjana Narayan

New Delhi, June 25 - Myanmar is likely to receive a lot of attention from India's new government, in the form of cross-border bus services linking it to the landlocked northeast and better air connectivity, as New Delhi seeks to ramp up ties with its strategically important eastern neighbour that is seen as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Myanmar shares a 1,643-km land border with India, touching the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. It is thus strategically positioned as the gateway for India to other Southeast Asian nations

A bus service from Imphal (Manipur) to Mandalay (Myanmar) has been under discussion for some time. It is set to start in around two months, a senior official, requesting anonymity, told IANS.

The bus service would provide a breakthrough in people-to-people connectivity between India and Myanmar, said the official.

India is also planning to scale up its air services connectivity with Myanmar. Presently Air India runs a tri-weekly service to Yangon from Kolkata. India and Myanmar had inked an agreement for enhanced air connectivity during the 2012 visit of former prime minister Manmohan Singh to capital Nay Pyi Taw.

We are examining the feasibility of allowing private Indian players to fly to Myanmar, like Jet Airways, the official added.

The Buddhist circuit could also become an important link in the air connectivity, with services from Yangon to New Delhi and then on to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, Buddhism's holiest site where Gautam Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.

The service could link Delhi, Bodh Gaya, Mumbai and Yangon. A tri-weekly flight service is under active consideration, the official told IANS.

India is involved in important connectivity projects with Myanmar, including the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, building and upgrading 71 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road and construction of Kalewa-Yargyi section of the Trilateral Highway which envisages a seamless link between India, Myanmar and Thailand by 2016.

The India-Myanmar border trade is also picking up. Two border trade points are operational at present -- at Moreh in Manipur and Tamu in Sagaing region in northwest Myanmar, and Zowkhatar (Mizoram) and Rhi in Chin state in Myanmar. A third border trade point is proposed to be opened at Avakhung in Phek district of Nagaland with Pansat/Somra in Myanmar.

The border trade between India and Myanmar touched $36.2 million in 2012-13. Bilateral trade stands at $1.9 billion.

This year Myanmar is chair of the 10-member ASEAN for the first time after joining the regional grouping 17 years ago. The country, which was earlier ruled by the military junta, undertook democratic reforms in 2011 and opened up to the world under President Thein Sein.

In his final overseas engagement, former prime minister Manmohan Singh attended the seven-member Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Nay Pyi Taw in March.

On May 8, India and Myanmar had inked an MoU on border cooperation to provide a framework for security cooperation and intelligence exchange between the security agencies of both countries. It provides for coordinated patrols and exchanging information and intelligence in the fight against insurgency, arms and drugs smuggling, and human and wildlife trafficking between the two countries.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is to attend the East Asia Summit/ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in the first week of August in Nay Pyi Taw, which would precede the ASEAN summit. India was also part of the June 9 Senior Officials' Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Yangon.

China, which shares a 2,000-km border with Myanmar, has a strong economic presence in that country with major investment, including in pipelines, railways, hydropower projects and in mines. It views Myanmar as its gateway to the Indian Ocean.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])


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