It is not a moment too soon that EAM Sushma Swaraj decided to fly out to meet Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi [ASSK], for far reaching strategic developments are taking place on our eastern borders. ASSK has just returned from her visit to China, where she met the Chinese President Xi Jinping, PM Li Keqiang and other leaders. What is the strategic importance of ASSK's visit to China? What are the implications, particularly for India?
*China which had been the main benefactor of Myanmar in the years that it was under military rule, received a rude shock when the military backed government of President Thein Sein cancelled the prestigious US$3.6b Myitsone dam project that China was building. China quickly realized that times were changing and that sooner rather than later, the military backed government would have to give way to a more democratic set-up. A re-calibration of policy was required and was quickly done. Consequently, last year ASSK as leader of the National League for Democracy [NLD] was invited to China and was received by no less than President Xi Jinping; even though she held no official position.
*China looms large in Myanmar's economic calculus, accounting for half its foreign investment and 40% of its trade. China is conscious of the efforts made by the US and Japan to pursue energetically openings for economic investment that have appeared in Myanmar and their endeavor to "balance" Chinese influence.
*However, both China and Myanmar have done their strategic sums nicely. China wishes for access to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar and is prepared for large scale investments to build railroads and highways linking Myanmar ports on the Indian Ocean with Yunnan province in southern China. Oil and gas pipelines traversing this route are already in existence. This is a strategic necessity for China, considering that it is increasingly getting involved with disputes in the South China Sea [SCS]. It is therefore not without reason that one of the more important visitors that ASSK met in Beijing was Jin Liqun, the President of the AIIB.
*For Myanmar, ASSK believes that it is essential to achieve peace and unity amongst different ethnic groups that constitute the Union and that there can be no sustained development with out peace. She realizes that the key to this process lies in the hands of China, that can influence various insurgent groups that dot the Sino-Myanmar border areas, to co-operate with the new Myanmar government.
*That is where President Xi Jinping personally delivered. He handed over to ASSK letters signed by three well armed and stubborn insurgent groups with close affiliations to China, conveying that they would attend the peace conference that ASSK is convening on 31st August 2016 in the Myanmar capital. ASSK responded by ordering the setting up of a Commission to re-assess the Myitsone dam project.
*China also realizes that these insurgent groups have to kept in check, if its aim of opening new rail and road links through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean is to be successful. Success here would also mean that China's prestige amongst the people of Myanmar would exponentially rise.
*It is for these reasons that ASSK chose China to be the first major country that she visited after assuming power. Although slated to visit the US next month, her China trip will cast a distinct shadow on that visit.
*If successfully implemented, these new developments would have profound implications in the strategic landscape for South East Asia. With the CPEC coming into operation in Pakistan and with these new links developing through Myanmar, the Chinese would begin to dominate India's periphery both to the west as also to the east of India!