Suu Kyi visit offers high hopes for India-Myanmar ties

Published on October 18, 2016

By Dr. Nehginpao Kipgen

The Bangkok Post – October 18, 2016

Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi’s state visit to India this week will likely provide a key to success in New Delhi’s Look East Policy (now Act East Policy).

During the three-day trip which ends tomorrow, Ms Suu Kyi is to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others in the cabinet. She is to attend a business event with a view to bolstering bilateral economic and commercial relations. Her last visit to India was in in November 2012 which she then made in her capacity as leader of the opposition party National League for Democracy. It was the beginning of India foreseeing the future role of Aung San Suu Kyi in a democratic government.

This week’s visit is significant as it happens right after the meeting of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) in India. Ms Suu Kyi’s visit comes less than two months after Myanmar’s President Htin Kyaw’s visit to the subcontinent country in late August.

During President Kyaw’s visit, the two countries reached several agreements and signed four memorandums of understanding: cooperation in the field of traditional systems of medicine, cooperation in the field of renewable energy, cooperation in the construction and the upgradation of bridges and the approach road in the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa section of the trilateral highway in Myanmar, and cooperation in the construction and the upgradation of the Kalewa-Yagyi road section of the trilateral highway in Myanmar.

Ms Suu Kyi’s visit is symbolically important, especially for India. Many in Indian political circles would have wanted the state counsellor to choose India as her first overseas trip after her NLD came to power in April. But this visit comes weeks after her visit to China, India’s traditional political rival, which assured its support to Myanmar’s peace process with the ethnic armed groups. Ms Suu Kyi then embarked on a visit to the UK and the US where she successfully lobbied for the lifting of US sanctions on the country.

Though Ms Suu Kyi’s visit to India is not her first overseas trip, there are high expectations that bilateral ties between the two nations will be strengthened, especially people-to-people relations, which Ms Suu Kyi had emphasised in her 2012 visit. India is a special place for Ms Suu Kyi who lived and studied in the country. Her mother Khin Kyi was ambassador to India and her late father Aung San was a friend of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The visit is also a moment for India to show to the world that like Ms Suu Kyi, India has pursued a pragmatic foreign policy. Though it had disappointed Ms Suu Kyi and many of her pro-democracy supporters during the past couple of decades, New Delhi is making the point that the policy was necessary for India’s national and security interests along the line of its Look East Policy.

For New Delhi, tackling insurgency problems in its restive northeastern states with the support of Nay Pyi Taw and catching up with other international competitors in investments and other economic activities in Myanmar remain the top priority.

For Nay Pyi Taw, India’s investments, its assistance in the peace process with ethnic armed groups and the building of democratic institutions, and enhancing people-to-people relations in the form of improving tourism and educational and cultural exchanges remain the priority.

Nehginpao Kipgen, PhD, is Assistant Professor and Executive Director of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University. His writings (books and articles) have been widely published in over 30 countries in five continents: Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America.

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