As reported widely, Myanmar has pointed fingers towards China and blamed it for supporting terror on its soil. Though the army general, who gave interview to Russian TV, and the Myanmar army spokesperson who addressed press on this issue have not explicitly named China, their message is clear and they want the support of the world to counter this threat.
Why do we Indians care for this development? Well because of two main reasons.
- Since 1990, India’s relationship with Myanmar was confused, apparently because of the dilemma whether to engage with a military regime or not. The Act East policy of Modi government removed all such confusion with a robust engagement with Myanmar. But before that happened, China made deep inroads to become an important partner of Myanmar economically and militarily.
- The Modi government in recent years moved swiftly to forge a bond with Myanmar and entered into crucial partnerships in the sphere of road, port, energy, and digital infrastructure, the accounts of which you can read in our earlier article.
Now, Myanmar blaming China for as grave a charge like backing terrorism signals a significant shift, which can be seen as India’s gain at this juncture.
Terror – A Major Ground for Common Concern
As the report in Hindustan Times narrates the context of Myanmar’s indirect charge against China, just note the terrorist organisations Myanmar is dealing with.
“The spokesperson said the army chief was referring to Arakan Army (AA) and Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), terrorist organisations active in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar that borders China. A ‘foreign country’ is behind the Arakan Army, he said, citing China-made weapons that terror groups used in mine attacks on the military in 2019.”
Now, you may be aware about the “not much-publicised” surgical strikes that were carried by the forces of India and Myanmar in the recent timelines. One can find references of joint efforts of India and Myanmar in eliminating the extremists along the border as documented in the History TV 18 channel back in 2018 and another one in 2019 reported here.
In those assaults the targets were some North-eastern insurgency groups and also the Arakan rebel army.
Why is the Arakan Army, which is considered as terror group by Myanmar, also a concern for India?
The answer lies in Sittwe port in Myanmar to which India has an operational control. Along with Mizoram-Myanmar Kaladan road which is already in progress, this port ensures the Bay of Bengal access to land-locked states in the North-East. In other words, goods can reach the north-eastern states via this route more easily and cheaply and gives alternatives to the Siliguri corridor and all the hilly terrains within India.
Arakan Army, which has the backing of China as per the charges of Myanmar, has been posing a threat to Kaladan road project as well.
It is also reported that China has been providing shelter to some extremist leaders from India’s Northeast region.
If one connects the dots, it is apparent that Myanmar is slowly perceiving its age-old friend China as a threat to national security. Now, you can thank the Modi government for forging bond with Myanmar in recent years through many pacts, the account of which you can read in our article from archive Myanmar President’s India Visit – Here is How Relationship Between India and Myanmar is Blooming.