Myanmar has officially opened the land border with India for trade, giving New Delhi’s Act East policy and its ties with Asean a much-needed boost.
The opening of two land-border crossings between India and Myanmar earlier this month, at Tamu-Moreh in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur and Rihkhawdar-Zowkhawtar in Mizoram, are expected to bring the two countries closer in the field of trade and commerce.
The land border crossings were opened at a grand ceremony at Tamu in Sagaing division, marking the abolition of special land entry permissions required for visitors entering via land routes.
Myanmar shares an almost 1,600-km border with four northeast Indian states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram – and a majority of residents in the region have relatives living on the other side of the frontier.
“This is a historic day for both the countries, a giant step in our bilateral relations and Act East policy,” Nandan Singh Bahisora, Consul General of India in Myanmar, said at the opening of the border crossings.
The agreement on the land border crossings was signed at Nay Pyi Taw during Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Myanmar in May. The move will enhance trade and tourism and boost socio-economic development.
A statement by the Indian Embassy in Myanmar said, “The landmark Land Border Crossing Agreement between India and Myanmar, signed on May 11, 2018, has been brought into effect with the simultaneous opening of international entry-exit checkpoints at the Tamu-Moreh and the Rihkhawdar-Zowkhawtar border between Myanmar and India.”
The agreement also allows people living on either side of the border to travel within a radius of 16 km of the frontier without permits.
“People from both the countries as well as third country, holding a valid passport and visa/e-visa can cross the land border. People can travel within the entire country and also can stay for the duration as specified in visa,” Bahisora said.
Earlier, Indians travelling to Myanmar had to hire a licensed guide for about US$60 a day, in addition to acquiring a special land route permit from the government.
India and Myanmar are also pursuing initiatives to improve road connectivity between the two sides. They have undertaken two large projects, including the renovation of 69 bridges between Tamu and Kalay and the upgrade of the road between Kalewa and Yargi. The projects are likely to be completed by 2020.
R K Shivchandra, the convener of Act East Policy Committee, said the India-Myanmar land border is the last frontier to be officially opened in the whole of Southeast Asia.
“This is long cherished dreams of both the people of the countries, particularly Manipur. We are very excited that now we can travel to other Southeast Asian countries easily,” Shivchandra was quoted as saying by The Statesman.
The opening of the border crossings is significant not just to enable people-to-people movement, but also as Myanmar is crucial for New Delhi’s connectivity initiatives in the region, particularly in light of New Delhi’s non-participation in the Beijing-led Belt and Road Initiative, the Diplomat reported.
“India, Myanmar, and Thailand are working on the trilateral India-Myanmar-Thailand highway, which is expected to be see completion by the end of next year. There are also plans to connect it with pre-existing highways all the way to Da Nang in Vietnam.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been focussing on India’s Look East policy – which has been renamed the Act East Policy. Myanmar is seen as India’s land bridge to Asean and hence closer ties with the country are important for its policies.
However, the land border agreement is only half complete till the two countries sign a Motor Vehicles Agreement which enables citizens of both countries to drive across each other’s borders.
The Motor Vehicles Agreement, first proposed in 2015, will eventually connect Thailand with India’s proposed Trilateral Highway. The Trilateral Highway – a crucial element of India’s Act East policy – is aimed at increasing trade, tourism and people-to-people contacts with Asean, through Myanmar and Thailand.
India’s emphasis on building these relations was best witnessed at this year’s Republic Day celebrations in January, which saw the heads of all Asean states as chief guests.
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