Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Myanmar playing India off against China

Myanmar is becoming increasingly adept at pitting the interests of its two giant neighbors, India and China, against each other to derive maximum benefits for itself. In a sense, this is par for the course for a small, weak, country that has kept itself out of the regional and international mainstream as deliberate policy but now finds its self-imposed isolation a liability. In opening up to the world, Yangon has seemingly alighted on a two-pronged policy of engaging with China on the economic front and with India in the security sphere (which last caters to the historical wariness the Myanmarese nation have always felt for an imperial or expansionist China). Thus, it has signed an MoU to sell PetroChina 6.5 trillion cubic feet of gas for 30 years from its AI field in which the Indian public sector major ONGC Videsh Ltd holds a 30% stake, thereby ignoring New Delhi's plea to sell it gas to feed the proposed pipeline through Bangladesh into eastern India. Almost simultaneously, the military junta ruling Mynamar, dispatched a missile corvette, UMS Anawyahta, to participate in the Indian Navy's annual 'Milan 2006' exercises with the litttoral South-East Asian navies in the Andaman Sea off Port Blair. This is the first time the Myanmarese Navy has accepted its Indian counterpart's standing invitation to join in the 'Milan' Exercise. It is exected that such participation will hereafter become a regular feature of growing security cooperation.


Blogger Nitin said...

Dr Karnad,

Doesn't this suggest that the 'equity oil' strategy that India is embarking on will have limited effects in regimes that follow, so to speak, their own rules? Supplies can be secured only when India creates incentives or dependencies for the supplying country to sell oil/gas to India.

Further Myanmar's willingness to receive Pakistani nuclear scientists wanted by the United States, as well as its allowing the PLA Navy to have a listening post on Cocos Islands suggests that its engagement with China is deep on the security front too.

While balancing between India and China may be part of Myanmar's geopolitical strategy, at this time, it has swung heavily on the Chinese side. That suggests an opportunity for India to influence the 'balancing' vector.

Knowing that the Myanmarese do not like to swing too far towards China, perhaps it is time for India to play hard-ball with the junta. Raising the costs of coming back will both achieve tactical objectives as well as, implicitly, raise the costs of the next departure.

January 13, 2006 12:04 PM  

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