2023 年 69 巻 3 号 p. 84-96
Myanmar’s coup in 2021 surfaced India’s long-time challenge of democracy assistance in Myanmar. Resurgent debate on democratic value versus geopolitical interest as guiding principle for Myanmar policy has its origin in 1988 transition. India sided with Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratic leaders but turned to “two track policy” around 1993. Since then, phased engagement with military government evolved while uneasily searching for new format of democracy assistance.
China’s expanding influence in Myanmar is often cited as India’s main geopolitical interest. However, India’s interest has been shifting over time, so it is too simplistic to see China factor as constantly dominant. This paper traces changes in weight and format of India’s democracy assistance. It focuses on geopolitical interest pertaining to land border, firstly necessity of border control and consequent importance of cooperation from Myanmar’s military regime, and secondly, land connectivity which Myanmar provides as gateway to ASEAN.
Myanmar’s place in India’s “Look East” and later “Act East” is quite interesting. India's vision for its Northeastern area development was tied to its neighbor. Connecting Northeast to ASEAN through Myanmar was the key to its Look East policy. Thus, engaging military government of Myanmar became legitimate as a part of ASEAN connectivity. India’s diplomacy under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasized democratic value than ever as India started to identify itself as rising “democracy.” The feature of India’s democracy assistance debate then was that democratic transition was presented as the mean for economic development. Also, democracy assistance was thought to be best done through building institution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced “Act East” policy at East Asia Summit held in Nay Pyi Taw in 2014. Under the Act East, India prioritized Bangladesh and Myanmar as recipients of capacity building. We can observe that India set to compete with China at this stage. Capacity building is a convenient policy tool which includes building education centers such as IIT and transferring submarine to Myanmar navy. India also supplied Covid-19 vaccine to Myanmar as humanitarian assistance.
Regarding democratic value versus geopolitical interest, the real test for India is Rohingya crisis. Refugee and migrant in the Northeast is problematic as it has ramifications on citizenship issue. India changed its tolerant policy in 2017 and defined Rohingya as “illegal migrants.” Instead of extending asylum in India, India provided humanitarian assistance to Rohingya in Bangladesh as well as in Rakhine state.