Thu 18 Dec 2008
Filed under: News,Regional
Guwahati – It is really a horrible time for India to think of about what is happening in our neighbourhood. China attained a strategic advantage in securing the construction of Gwadar port in Pakistan, the end point of all gas pipe lines from Central Asian states. She has also managed her all weather ally Pakistan to agree for construction of pipe lines to transport petroleum and natural gas to China through Pakistan. If this project materialises, China would not only enclose India in her western flank, but would also dampen her desire to formulate cordial relations with West and Central Asia. In another crucial strategic development in the eastern part of India, China struck an energy deal with Myanmar to construct a China-Myanmar oil pipeline. The 2380 km pipe line will start from Kyaukphyu where the gas will come ashore and carry it to Kunming. To execute this deal, China will offer 83 million US dollar to Myanmar and invest billions of dollars to construct this strategic Sino-Myanmar oil and gas pipe lines, limiting the eastern boundary of India’s sphere of influence and a big blow to her ‘Look East Policy’.
As alternative is very limited, our civilization is almost completely ( 80 per cent) reliant on fossil fuels as energy source. Rise in standard of living, particularly in developing countries, aided and abated by rapid population explosion would double the burning of fossil fuels in coming years. In such a precarious situation, India’s energy diplomacy fails to comply with the growing energy demands. Today 70 per cent of our oil and gas come from import. Per day, we require 170 million cubic metres of natural gas and only half of it is produced in our country. Same is the case with China too. In fact, China and India together account for 35 per cent of the global energy demand and wherever there is commercial availability of oil or gas, both the countries vie desperately to strike the deal in her favour. It is a misfortune for India that Chinese oil companies repeatedly outplayed Indian oil giant ONGC in Kazakhstan, Ecuador and Angola.
To understand the diplomatic and strategic failure of India, Myanmar is a classic example. The history of Burma unfolds the fact that she had war with China (1766-69) and abandoned Sian, but annexed Arakan in 1785 and Assam in 1817. Fearing trouble, half of Arakan’s population fled to Bengal and tempted the British for retaliation which caused the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26), forcing the British to occupy the Burmese capital Rangoon. In successive 2nd and 3rd Anglo-Burmese War, the British annexed the whole of Burma and on January 1, 1886, it was amalgamated as province of British India. In 1937 it became a separate self-governing colony of the British Empire. Burma attained independence on January 4, 1948. Although Burma was attached with British India for over a century, India failed to capitalise political benefit from Burma. Why Burma now prefers to deal more with China than with India? Why Burma is compelled to import 40 per cent of her requirements from China?
The British founded the Rangoon University in 1920, brought electricity to the capital and in 1930, Indian colonial rule in Burma was known as ‘Further India’ and interestingly half the population of Rangoon were of Indian origin. In 1942 though Japan invaded Burma, within 3 years the British allied forces recaptured Rangoon. But the shameful chapter of Indian strategic and defence planning is that India failed to consolidate the advantageous situation created by the British. Taking leverage of India’s weakness and lack of foresightedness and her involvement in countering secessionist forces in the North-East and also in Jammu and Kashmir, China has steadily increased her influence over Burma (officially known as Myanmar).
Myanmar, over 8 times the size of Assam, has 1463 km land boundary with India. Her western frontier covers one of the violent seismic belts of the world. It is the northern most country in SE Asia and her strategic location near major Indian Ocean shipping lanes makes her most significant. Moreover Myanmar is a resource rich country having plenty of petrol, tin, zinc, copper, lead, coal, gems and natural gas. Her estimated oil reserves account 1.963 billion bbl and 271.6 billion cubic metres of proved natural gas.
But yet Myanmar suffers from pervasive government control. Incompetence and corruption associated with brutal Military Junta Government stifled economic prosperity of the country. From 1958 to 1988, 30 years of General Ne Win’s rule made Myanmar more backward. Another Army General Saw Maung followed him and ruthlessly suppressed the democratic movement there. When the whole world voiced protest against military oppression, China in a cynical move aligned with the military rulers of Myanmar and managed to execute the China-Myanmar oil pipe line project. The pipeline project in Pakistan extending from the Arabian Sea to the Chinese mainland and another pipeline project from Myanmar to the Chinese mainland would form a crescent shape arc bounding India within the parameter of its own boundary. This crucial strategic advantage of China would create a barrier to India’s strategic aspirations to become a super power and to play a dominant role in the Indian Ocean. Now, as energy hungry India and China compete for new sources, China’s growing diplomatic activities, her strong economic foundation and her centralised quick decision making process would take her ahead of India. Moreover, with construction of two naval bases on both sides of Indian Peninsula, China would find it easy to pose a naval threat to India any time. China will import 170 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Middle East to South West China through Myanmar in the next 30 years. This will definitely make Indian Ocean shipping lane busier. With diverse strategic interest and with growing Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean region, India can’t remain a silent spectator. The need of the hour is to match China’s economy and striking capability in land, sky and water.
In the mean time, Myanmar has started exploring for oil and gas in the territorial waters of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal near the island of St Martin not far from Indian territory. Naval vessels from both the countries are facing each other and it is unlikely that any side would retreat easily. While India remained oblivious of the proven reserves of natural resources in its surrounding, Bangladesh has divided its sea territory into 28 blocks and auctioned off the area to international oil companies! Myanmar’s exploration activities on the one hand and Bangladesh’s move to invite foreign oil companies on the other may implicate India on the wrong foot conceding scope for foreign naval powers to intervene. It is time for India to deal with Myanmar and Bangladesh impartially and sympathetically keeping the national interest in view.
The writer teaches Geography in Jagiroad College Published by HT Syndication with permission from the Assam Tribune.