With China on mind, India to host Myanmar ruler

July 23rd, 2010 - 5:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Bodh Gaya New Delhi, July 23 (IANS) In the backdrop of China’s growing clout in the neighbourhood, India will Sunday roll out the red carpet for Myanmar’s General Than Shwe, the ruler of the energy-rich country who comes on a five-day state visit.

Before the 77-year-old Than Shwe touches down in Delhi for talks, he goes to Bihar’s Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. He will also be seeking India’s help to restore the famous Buddhist pagoda, Ananda Temple, in Myanmar.

Than Shwe, who heads the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) - as Myanmar’s junta calls itself - will Tuesday meet the Indian leadership, including President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Expanding counter-terror cooperation will be a key item on the agenda when the two sides hold talks, said informed sources.

Indian intelligence sources indicate that insurgents from India’s northeast continue to shelter along the India-Myanmar border even after a crackdown by the junta.

Officials are expecting a surge in energy, trade and transport links between the two countries after the visit.

India is likely to air its concerns over the Chinese traders’ growing presence in trade hubs of Mandalay and Tamu, undercutting the presence of the Tamil diaspora in those parts of Myanmar.

The visit takes place against mounting criticism of the junta’s dismal record in human rights and recent renewal of US sanctions banning trade with companies tied to the junta.

India has taken note of Western criticism of the junta but believes that its energy and security interests demand that it stays engaged rather than cuts off links with the ruling dispensation in Myanmar, which has emerged as a key Chinese ally since 1988 and one of the biggest recipients of Chinese military hardware.

The accent is on pragmatism and doing business with whoever is in power, said a diplomat, on condition of anonymity.

There is likely to be a quid pro quo.

In return for enhanced Indian investment in hydropower, hydrocrabons and and infrastructure projects, Than Shwe may ask for India’s support for the forthcoming elections which are widely viewed as lacking legitimacy.

The main opposition National League for Democracy and its iconic leader Aung San Suu Kyi are barred from contesting. The elections are part of what the junta has called “disciplined democracy”.

India, which supported the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 but turned pragmatic in mid-1990s after increasing Chinese forays into that country, will have to do a delicate balancing act.

New Delhi is likely to make polite statements about a peaceful democratic transition but its eyes will be on business deals and added security cooperation that will help it counterbalance Chinese power projection in that country.

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