India boosts maritime cooperation with Burma

On July 29, India and Burma (Myanmar) signed a military cooperation agreement, with the aim of increasing their common defense. General Min Aung Hlaing, head of Burmese Defense, notably met Admiral Karambir Singh, who heads the Indian naval forces.

Indeed, maritime cooperation between the two countries has been one of the main areas of development of the agreement. New Delhi and Naypyidaw (the capital of Burma) have thus expressed their desire to develop joint maritime surveillance of the Bay of Bengal region, to work together on the creation of maritime infrastructure, or to strengthen their defense cooperation. .

During these meetings, it was also concluded that India will provide Burma with its first submarine: a Kilo class submersible, manufactured by the USSR and purchased by India in the 1980s. Once renovated, the submarine will be delivered to Burma during 2019 and will serve as a training vessel to train future submariners, with the aim of subsequently obtaining more modern buildings in order to constitute a fleet. Payment for the ship will be made by Naypyidaw using a special credit offered by India to enable Burma to modernize its army. Indeed, India is seeking to get closer to Burma, in order to counterbalance China's presence there (New Delhi is one of its main arms suppliers, along with China, Russia and Israel).

Myanmar JF 17 Defense News | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders | Used Defense Equipment
Myanmar Air Force has already received 6 of the 16 Sino-Pakistani JF-17s ordered

Bridging South Asia and Southeast Asia, Burma is at the heart of a struggle for influence between India and China; more specifically Arakan (or Rakhine State), located on the Burmese coast. For China, Arakan is extremely strategic: it transports oil from the Persian Gulf directly to the Chinese region of Yunnan, via pipelines from the port of Kyaukphyu, without having to pass it through the strait. from Malacca. Logically, the Arakan region is therefore an integral part of the future Chinese “string of pearls”.

India also views the region as a nerve center of local geopolitics. The Arakanese coast constitutes one of the main interfaces of the Bay of Bengal; also, developing its influence there is vital for India in order to avoid too strong a presence from China. The integration of the Burmese coast and Bangladesh into a strong economic area is therefore essential for New Delhi. This is why India is banking heavily on the Kaladan project, which aims to connect Sittwe, the capital of Arakan, to the state of Mizoram (located in the remote territories of northeastern India). , but also in Calcutta and Chennai, the main ports on its eastern coast.

Kyaukphyu port pipelines Defense News | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders | Used Defense Equipment
Kyaukphyu Port hosts pipelines supplying the Yunnan region in People's China

The challenge is therefore threefold for New Delhi: countering China's growing influence in the region, having an integrated space constituting a gateway (and surveillance) to the Strait of Malacca and, finally, opening up its North-Eastern states (consisting of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura). Crossed by waves of violence in the 70s and 80s, the northeastern territories remain historically and culturally resistant to integration with India, whose attachment was imposed by the British colonist, then by the new central Indian power. . Tensions remain alive since, in 2015, Naga separatists (the main ethnic group of Nagaland, also distributed in other northeastern states and in Burma) launched a series of attacks against Indian security forces.

A landlocked and economically stagnant northeast could thus constitute a potential lever of influence for a China already present in Burma and Bangladesh. Hence the urgency for New Delhi to accelerate the economic, security and maritime integration of the Bay of Bengal.

Robin Terrasse – Silk Road Analyst

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