Indian premier meets Burma president


Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) shakes hands with President of Myanmar U Thein Sein (R) during a full state welcome at the Presidential palace in New Delhi on October 14, 2011. India rolled out the red carpet for visiting Myanmar President Thein Sein, sensing a chance to deepen relations with a neighbour traditionally allied to New Delhi's regional rival Beijing. The former general, who arrived in India on October 12 and spent two days touring Buddhist pilgrimage sites, before reaching New Delhi for the official leg of his three-day visit.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets Burma's President Thein Sein, presenting a possible opportunity for India to take another step forward in making its so-called "Look East policy" a functioning strategic doctrine.

After New Delhi's oil exploration pact and security agreement with Vietnam Wednesday -- a deal that showed India has developed a new understanding of China's saber rattling over India's actions in East Asia -- Singh can now cement the Look East policy as a strategic doctrine by offering to shepherd Burma back into the global community as it progresses with democratic reforms.

Here's the C. Raja Mohan from the Center for Policy Research, writing in the Indian Express:

Realists in Delhi recognise that Myanmar and China have strong incentives for expansive bilateral cooperation. They believe, despite Sein’s recent suspension of a $3.6 billion contract with China to build a controversial dam in northern Burma, the two sides will find a way to preserve and protect the “strategic partnership” they had proclaimed last May.

Delhi is more interested in getting a first-hand account of Sein’s plans to reorient Myanmar at home and abroad. His surprising and positive effort to implement long overdue political reform, reclaim Myanmar’s rightful role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and rebuild bridges with the United States and the West, opens up unexpected space for Dr Singh to embark on some creative diplomacy with our very special neighbour to the east.

So what does that mean, exactly?  Mohan has some interesting suggestions:

As Sein alters the internal dynamic in Myanmar towards greater political liberalisation, seeks peace with the warring ethnic minorities in northern Myanmar and an end to the nation’s international isolation, there is new hope that Myanmar, with some persistence and purposefulness, can re-emerge as one of Asia’s prosperous and pivotal states.

There is much India can do to help Myanmar manage this difficult transformation. Delhi must press the US and Europe to lift all international sanctions against Myanmar, contribute to internal peace-building, assist in the democratic transition, facilitate greater bilateral economic integration and promote greater physical connectivity.

That would be Looking East and looking West at the same time, positioning India as a player not only in Asia but also at global negotiations, like those at the United Nations, where New Delhi seeks a permanent seat on the Security Council.  And that would mark a major departure from its first two blunders in its ongoing stint as a temporary member -- abstaining twice from votes on interventions in Libya and Syria, when voting no (the real meaning of the abstention) would have communicated that India not only wants to get in the game, but to take its turn at the bat.