The QUAD pushback against China in Southeast Asia continues. The QUAD seems to be arming victims of Chinese belligerence in the region. First, it was reported that Japan is planning to sign an agreement that would enable it to export defence equipment and technology to Vietnam. And now India has decided to give Myanmar its first submarine.
As such, India and China have been locking horns in Myanmar for quite some time. India has been developing the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project that aims to connect India’s Kolkata port with Myanmar’s Sittwe port, and further connect Myanmar to India’s Northeastern state of Manipur. On the other hand, China envisions China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a part of Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as a means to connect its Yunnan province to Mandalay in central Myanmar.
But India and China are using very different tactics. India cooperates with Myanmar in security and defence sectors to fight local insurgent groups, whereas China funds insurgents in India’s Northeast and neighbouring Myanmar. China wants to bleed Myanmar through insurgent groups and then milk it commercially. In this sense, New Delhi’s decision to supply a submarine to Myanmar becomes very significant.
India will handover the INS Sindhuvir, a kilo-class submarine, for the use of Myanmar Navy. The move is, of course, supposed to further deepen the strategic military ties that India and Myanmar already share. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has made this big announcement weeks after the visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and Army Chief Gen MM Naravane to India’s Eastern neighbour.
Anurag Srivastava, Spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “Cooperation in the maritime domain is a part of our diverse and enhanced engagement with Myanmar.”
Srivastava added, “India will be delivering a kilo class submarine INS Sindhuvir to the Myanmar Navy. We understand that this will be the first submarine of the Myanmar Navy.”
India has clearly beaten China here. The paper dragon has been eyeing Myanmar for quite some time, and New Delhi and Beijing have been constantly competing for influence in Myanmar, a key Southeast Asian nation that forms the core of India’s ‘Act East’ Policy.
Even now, China was trying to sell its own submarines to the Myanmar government. Earlier, Bangladesh had purchased two Chinese submarines and now Beijing was looking to sell the same to Myanmar. But it seems that India has managed to oust China in the submarines game in Myanmar.
And in fact, India is kicking the paper Dragon out of Myanmar in every possible way. An emboldened Myanmar had only recently split the New Yangon City project, a crucial CMEC segment. In 2018, the Yangon regional government-backed New Yangon Development Company (NYDC) had signed a framework agreement with the Beijing-based China Communications Construction Company, Ltd. (CCCC) for this project.
But the New Yangon City project soon got mired in controversy. Firstly, its flood-prone location has created ecological concerns and secondly, the involvement of CCCC, a Chinese infrastructure company accused of bribery and corruption in several countries, turned out to be unsavoury. Therefore, Myanmar has split the ambitious project.
At the same time, China is facing yet another setback in Myanmar. Myanmar Military has reportedly called in fighter jets to attack Arakan Army. Any ferocious assault on Arakan Army will affect China, which has a longstanding relationship with the Rakhine-based terrorist organisation. China has been looking to arm Arakan Army in order to undermine India’s Kaladan Multi-Modal transit project.
India is therefore gaining more and more influence in Myanmar, while China is being shown the door. Ultimately, it is the QUAD which is becoming powerful in Southeast Asia at China’s expense.
India’s delivery of a kilo-class submarine to Myanmar is a major boon for New Delhi and the QUAD in Southeast Asia. India would want to sell the BrahMos missile, for example, to several ASEAN members like Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia to further weaken China in the Indo-Pacific. As such, India can open up its Southeast defence exports policy after achieving a major success in Myanmar.