India and Burma agreed Friday to expand cooperation in oil and gas exploration, open up border trade and speed up the construction of natural gas pipelines, the Associated Press reported.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered visiting Burmese President Thein Sein $500 million in credits for infrastructure projects, including roads, inland waterways and ports, the news agency said.
The move marks a significant step forward -- though perhaps not a giant leap -- for India's Look East policy, which is designed to increase India's ties and influence in Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific, as GlobalPost reported Wednesday. Seen by many as an effort to counter's China's rising influence and increasing activity in India's own backyard, India's past attempts to become an actor in these areas has sometimes been met with bellicose rhetoric from Beijing.
But Indian officials downplayed any competition with Beijing in furthering ties with Burma, the AP said.
Singh and Thein emphasized in a joint statement the need for energy security, and Burma agreed to encourage more Indian investments in its energy sector, the agency reported.
The two leaders also targeted doubling bilateral trade to $3 billion from last year's $1.28 billion by 2015.
Trade between India and Myanmar totaled $1.28 billion last year. The two countries have set a modest target of $3 billion by 2015.
But bolder moves could be on the way.
In an editorial in the Indian Express earlier Friday, foreign policy expert C. Raja Mohan, of India's Center for Policy Research, suggested that India can take a pivotal role in Burma's moves toward real democratic reforms, as its sole democratic ally.
He suggested that India should push western nations to remove economic sanctions against Burma -- which formed a nominally democratic government last year, though the elections were a single-party sham, in what some see as a litmus test for real polls down the road. Mohan also said India should "contribute to internal peace-building [and] assist in the democratic transition" in Burma, though he offered no prescription for what tactics New Delhi might employ to those ends.