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Sangita asked: How can India balance the growing Chinese influence in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka?

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  • Rup Narayan Das replies: Economic engagement in terms of trade, commerce and investment between two sovereign countries is always normal and legitimate, and no third country should have any qualms about it. Like apple and orange, it would be unfair to compare China’s economic engagement with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar with that of India. China’s gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly five times that of India and it also has a robust reserve of foreign exchange, which it is investing through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, there is a discernible discontentment regarding BRI projects among countries in the region and beyond. India, which is not only South Asia’s largest but today also the world’s fastest growing major economy, has already made its position clear on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Countries like Malaysia, the third largest economy in Southeast Asia, too have expressed their concerns and even Pakistan has slashed Chinese investments in the CPEC.

    India's engagement with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar has its own imperatives and dynamics. Besides physical proximity, India shares a unique relationship with these countries in terms of cultural, civilisational and historical linkages, including people-to-people contacts, which are very strong and robust. In recent years, India has also taken several initiatives to further strengthen its economic and political engagement with these countries. In terms of strategic engagement, India has built as a joint venture with Sri Lanka the $120 million Rajapaksa International Airport at Hambantota. India's connectivity via its northeastern states with the Chittagong Port in Bangladesh is yet another instance of its growing strategic engagement with Bangladesh too.

    Recently, at the meeting of the 19th Standing Committee pertaining to protocol arrangement and improvement of Inland Water Transportation held in New Delhi, India and Bangladesh agreed to declare Kolaghat in West Bengal and Chilmari in Bangladesh as new Ports of Call. The two countries have also signed an agreement to use Chattogram and Mongla Ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from India. Both sides further agreed for ‘development of Jogighopa as a hub/trans-shipment terminal for movement of cargo to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Bhutan and notifying Munsiganj River terminal by Bangladesh Customs for routing third party Exim cargo through Kolkata Port. Discussions were also held to make Nakugaon Land Port in Bangladesh and Dalu ICP (India) operational and to connect Gelephu (Bhutan) as tripartite cross-border route.’

    Similarly, during the recent visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary to Myanmar, the two countries signed the MoU for ‘appointment of a private Port Operator for the Operation and Maintenance of Sittwe Port, Paletwa Inland Water Terminal and associated facilities included in the Kaladan Multi Model Transit Transport Project.’

    Editor’s Note: May also like to refer to the following IDSA publications on/related to the subject of query:

    Dr. Rup Narayan Das was Senior Fellow at IDSA. He is currently Director, Research and Information Division, Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi.

    Posted on October 26, 2018