India-Myanmar border cross opening shows Act East Policy in action: panelists

25 August 2018
India-Myanmar border cross opening shows Act East Policy in action: panelists

The opening of an international border crossing in August 2018 linking Myanmar with northeast India has been heralded as an important breakthrough in terms of connectivity, trade and development between Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Mizzima Editor in Chief Soe Myint recently took part in the events involved in this historic opening, crossing by land from Myanmar to Manipur in India and joining a discussion broadcast on Impact TV India on 19 August. Meetings included the Citizens’ Dialogue on the Prospects of Manipur and Sagaing Region in the light of India-Myanmar Cross Border Initiatives 19-20 August held in Imphal.

The border crossing linking Sagaing in Myanmar with Manipur in India allows Myanmar and Indian citizens with a passport and visa passage across the border.

It is a practical manifestation of the India-Myanmar corridor that looks set to revolutionize communications and trade between not only these two countries but links South Asia with Southeast Asia, and provides an easier land route for India-China trade compared with Himalayan trade routes.

Panelists on an Impact TV show, namely RK. Shivachandra Convenor, State Level Committee for Operationalisation of Act East Policy or AEP, Hero Thokchom, Secretary of Business Excellence Group (BEG) and Mizzima Editor in Chief Soe Myint stressed the groundbreaking nature of the international border opening. 

Observers see the opening as the outcome of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to take the former lack-lustre Look East Policy and turn it into the Act East Policy, with practical steps now to improve communications not only between Myanmar and India but also between Southeast Asia and the rest of Asia.

RK. Shivachandra said that people can now see the difference between India’s two policies. 

“For the last 20 years we have been looking east but nothing practical was done. Action speaks louder than words sometimes,” he told the TV show.

He said Indian PM Narendra Modi has turned looking into a time to act, noting he had recently visited Myanmar, and now the border has opened.

Mizzima Editor in Chief Soe Myint has shown a keen interest in India-Myanmar relations and cross-border cooperation.

“I have been monitoring and working in this issue with regard to India-Myanmar relations, particularly India’s policy on Myanmar. I have seen India’s Look East Policy and now I am seeing India’s Act East Policy. Definitely we have seen a lot of active involvement or active encouragement first of all from the leadership of both countries. I remember the Chief Minister of Manipur visiting Myanmar in early 2017, he mentioned about this opening of this international border and now we have got the border opened,” he said.

Hero Thokchom, Secretary of BEG, said he saw potential for business and trade as a result of the border opening.

“If we can plan properly how the structure can progress, then this is a big step, then political and economic development will be there,” he said.

On a practical local level, communications are set to improve, according to Soe Myint.

“So we have seen those practical things move forward, we have seen the progress. Of course, there are many things still to be done but I am really glad that we have reached this stage where people like me who are from Yangon cross the border to Tamu and tomorrow I can go to Delhi by bus so I am really glad that we have reached this stage,” he said.

On the macro-level, this border crossing opening heralds a new era in terms of communication and trade in Asia.

“Myanmar is a member of ASEAN. For India it is Act East, for us it is Act West. This is very important for us. This is very important for us, there is a big market, a 1.2 billion population next to us, there is a big market there,” said Soe Myint.

“But it is not only for Myanmar when we are talking about opening the border. We are talking about Myanmar being a member of ASEAN, Myanmar being next to China. And we will see more and more of these goods coming from China, across Myanmar to India, plus Indian goods going across Myanmar to China and other ASEAN countries as well,” he added.

Major changes are now taking place in Asia that will see an improvement in the passage of people and goods and the resulting development as the three main blocks – India, China and the ASEAN countries – see barriers drop and trade and communications rise.

Mizzima Editor in Chief Soe Myint was upbeat on what this means for the region.

“We will see quite a lot of these developments in the next few years. All this regional connectivity will push more for progress and development. Plus we will see the movement of the peoples, free movement of the peoples,” he said.

As he noted, from 8 August, people can travel more easily between Myanmar and India, one of the first steps in a grand overarching plan with major benefits for the region.