India’s foreign secretary paid a call on Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing earlier this week in Naypyitaw and discussed the potential for comprehensive bilateral cooperation, even as many foreign governments continue to impose sanctions against the regime.
Vinay Mohan Kwatra’s November 21 visit was the first to Myanmar by a high-ranking Indian government official since the visit of his predecessor Harsh Vardhan Shringla in December last year. Kwatra was appointed foreign secretary of India in May.
Despite international condemnation of the regime, India has been openly cooperating with the military junta, extending diplomatic support and even assistance in organizing a general election that Min Aung Hlaing plans to hold next year.
On Monday, Kwatra and Min Aung Hlaing discussed direct exchange between the kyat and the rupee, further promotion of trade and investment including maritime trade, and increased cooperation on border development, according to junta media.
Kwatra’s visit followed a series of discussions between Indian Ambassador to Myanmar Vinay Kumar and junta ministers about enhancing bilateral cooperation over the past few months—a sign that the senior diplomat came to formalize the agreements reached at the preliminary discussions.
Kumar presented his credentials to Min Aung Hlaing in April this year. Just a few weeks later, the ambassador held talks with regime-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC) chairman Thein Soe, asking about electoral processes and discussing further cooperation with the UEC on the upcoming election. The planned polls have been denounced as a sham locally and internationally.
The warm relationship between India and the current Myanmar regime dates back to the junta’s earliest days in 2021. While the regime was being internationally condemned for its coup in February of that year, India was careful not to make any direct reference to the military takeover or to condemn it in its statements.
While most international military attaches boycotted the regime’s Armed Forces Day parade the following month amid bloody junta crackdowns on peaceful protests against military rule, India was among a handful of countries, including Russia and China, to join the event.
Then in November last year, India invited regime Admiral Moe Aung to the Goa Maritime Conclave 2021 hosted by the Indian Navy.
Myanmar has also acquired its first submarine, a Soviet-made kilo-class model, from India.
India is also providing the regime with technical assistance to boost the country’s agricultural industry as the generals seek to solve Myanmar’s financial crisis by exporting agricultural produce.
In September, a Myanmar delegation led by junta-appointed Agriculture and Livestock Minister U Tin Htut flew to India and brought back high-yield strains of beans and pluses including green gram to Myanmar. On November 11, junta-appointed Commerce Minister U Aung Naing Oo attended the annual general meeting of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata as an honorary guest. He plays an important part in attracting foreign investment into Myanmar for the military junta.
Min Aung Hlaing and the Indian foreign secretary also reportedly exchanged views on the progress of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, but details are unknown.
India is currently involved in developing the nearly US $400-million Kaladan port and highway project in the west of Myanmar, as well as contributing around $250 million to another road project to connect India’s landlocked northeastern states with Thailand via Myanmar.
The Kaladan project, aimed at providing an alternate outlet to India’s landlocked northeastern region, is scheduled to be completed next year after long delays. But challenges remain as the Myanmar military is engaged in renewed fighting with Rakhine ethnic armed group Arakan Army in the area.
The Indian foreign secretary also met junta-appointed Minister of the Office of the Union Government Lieutenant-General Yar Pyae on Monday and exchanged views on Myanmar’s peace process. He also paid a call on junta Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin and discussed enhancing cooperation in regional and international forums including the United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
(By arrangement with ‘The Irrawaddy’)