International Relations

India suspended the Free Movement Regime (FMR) with Myanmar

  • The Union Home Minister has announced the end of the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the Myanmar border.

About the Free Movement Regime

  • The FMR, which began in the 1970s, permitted anyone who lived within 16 km of the India-Myanmar border to enter the other nation without a visa.
  • India and Myanmar have a 1,643-kilometer border that spans through Arunachal Pradesh (520 kilometres), Nagaland (215 kilometres), Manipur (398 kilometres), and Mizoram (510 kilometres).
  • This system recognised the close familial and ethnic links that existed between communities on both sides of the unfenced border.
  • The FMR was last changed in 2016 to coincide with India’s Act East policy. However, it has been banned in Manipur since 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Historical Context of India-Myanmar Relations

India’s relationship with Myanmar has changed over time, influenced by historical events and geopolitical shifts:

  • Prior to 1937, there were strong cultural and religious ties, as evidenced by centuries of Buddhist interaction.
  • 1937 Burma’s secession from British India resulted in divergent political trajectories.
  • Following the 1962 coup, ties were strained due to Myanmar’s military administration and alliance with China.
  • 1990s Shift: As part of its Look East Policy, India reengaged with Myanmar, emphasising economic and strategic partnership.
  • 2015 Democracy: Improved bilateral relations as Myanmar transitioned to democracy.
  • 2021 Coup: Renewed tensions in relations as a result of Myanmar’s military takeover and subsequent instability.

Why is Myanmar important to India?

[A] Geopolitical Perspective

  • Border sharing: India and Myanmar share a major land border of over 1600 kilometres as well as a marine boundary in the Bay of Bengal, highlighting the importance of Myanmar’s stability to India.
  • Myanmar’s geographical location is critical to India’s “Act East” policy and the development of the Northeast area, serving as a major link between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
  • Multilateral support: Myanmar’s unique position as the sole ASEAN country bordering India makes it critical for regional cooperation. It is a member of BIMSTEC, a SAARC observer, and a participant in the Mekong Ganga Cooperation, which facilitates India’s multilateral engagement.
  • Security Implications: Myanmar’s land serves as a base for rebel groups such as NSCN-K, demanding counter-insurgency cooperation. Furthermore, combating the drug trade emanating from the Golden Triangle region is a common security priority.
  • Chinese Influence: India views Myanmar as a key partner to counteract China’s growing influence in the area, emphasising the importance of increased bilateral interaction.

[B] Socioeconomic Perspective

  • Cultural Affinities: Aside from geographical proximity, India and Myanmar share ethnic, religious, and linguistic similarities, which encourage cultural relations.
  • Indian Diaspora: Myanmar has a substantial population of Indian descent, estimated at over 2.5 million, which strengthens people-to-people links between the two countries.
  • Infrastructure investment: Projects like the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project and the Sittwe Port, IMT Highway seek to increase connectivity, trade, and investment.
  • Bilateral Trade: India is Myanmar’s fifth-largest commercial partner, with bilateral trade totaling USD 1.03 billion in 2021-22.
  • Energy Cooperation: Myanmar is significant for India’s energy security. Myanmar is Southeast Asia’s largest receiver of Indian investment in the oil and gas sector, with an energy portfolio worth more than USD 1.2 billion.

Reasons for the policy shift:

  • Drug Trafficking and Insurgency: Myanmar’s opium production fuels drug trafficking and provides support to insurgent organisations in northeastern India.
  • Refugee Influx Post-Coup: Following Myanmar’s military coup in February 2021, around 40,000 refugees entered Mizoram and approximately 4,000 entered Manipur, raising security worries.
  • Manipur’s Chief Minister urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to cancel the FMR and finish border barrier, citing a link between ethnic violence in the state and unfettered movement over the border.

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