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Here is your Mekong Memo Myanmar for January 9, 2024. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated.
Kyaukphyu Port Raises Indian Eyebrows
China has accelerated the construction of the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port in Myanmar, raising security concerns for India. The port, part of China's 'String of Pearls' strategy, is alarmingly close to India's future nuclear submarine base, INS Varsha, and poses a surveillance threat to India's naval capabilities and missile tests. The port's location near India's northeastern states could further facilitate Chinese support for insurgent activities, potentially straining India's defense resources. The $7.3 billion project, integral to China's trade and military ambitions, bypasses the Malacca Strait, offering a direct route to the Indian Ocean and reducing China's strategic vulnerability. India has thus far responded by increasing maritime surveillance, installing coastal radars, and collaborating with international allies to monitor the region's maritime activities.
Read more: Swarajya (Strategic Implications), Marine Insight (Project Details), Strategic News Global (Myanmar Concessions), Firstpost (Indian Countermeasures), India Times (Details and Indian Concern)
Shadow Government Seeks Chinese Alliance
The National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel government formed by elected lawmakers, has released a policy paper signaling readiness to collaborate with China. The paper supports the "One China" principle and aims to boost direct investment and combat cross-border crime. This development, a divergence from their previous stance, is seen as an effort to counter Myanmar's military government's growing ties with Beijing and to protect Chinese economic interests in Myanmar. The NUG's outreach to China follows its call for armed revolt against the military regime and ongoing guerrilla attacks in collaboration with ethnic rebels.
Reality Check Amidst Rising Resistance
David Scott Mathieson's analysis of Myanmar's conflict highlights the complexities and potential misinterpretations following Operation 1027 by the Brotherhood Alliance. He cautions against over-optimistic predictions of the State Administration Council's downfall, noting historical analytical errors and the need for balanced perspectives. The article emphasizes the importance of understanding the challenges facing Myanmar, including internal divisions, international dynamics, and the humanitarian crisis, while advocating for a more nuanced and realistic approach to conflict analysis.
Read more: The Irrawaddy
Forced Recruitment Rises in Urban Areas
The military, facing a shortage of recruits, has intensified forced recruitment in urban areas, targeting young men at night and threatening them with imprisonment. Families often have to negotiate and pay for the release of young men scooped up this way. The military's desperation is evident in its use of jailed deserters and forced recruitment via a lottery system in rural areas. Reports are ongoing despite denials from the regime, reports and eyewitness accounts confirm the increasing occurrence of these forced conscriptions, including the recruitment of minors.
Read more: Frontier Myanmar
India-Myanmar Relations Navigate Chinese Influence
This perspective coming from India begins with a historical review of the relationship with Myanmar and then moves to Bhutan in the second part. The first part discusses how the India-Myanmar bilateral relationship is deeply influenced by China's longstanding involvement in Myanmar. Historically, Myanmar, despite its colonial ties with British India, maintained robust trade relations with China, which continues to support Myanmar's military and political transitions. India and Myanmar's early post-independence friendship has waned over time, with security concerns along their shared border, including insurgent activities and drug trafficking, dominating their relationship. India's recent shift in policy, focusing less on human rights and more on pragmatic cooperation, come at a time that the complexities of engaging with Myanmar are increasingly influenced by Chinese factors.
Read more: The Sunday Guardian
New Overseas Income Tax Raises Concerns
Myanmar has implemented a new income tax on its nationals working abroad, primarily at a rate of 2%, to increase foreign-currency inflows. The tax, effective from October 2023, requires back payments and impacts passport renewals for non-compliance. While individual tax amounts are small, the collective revenue could be significant. Employers and some members of civil society are now concerned about perceptions of supporting the military by employing Myanmar workers, and although most legal experts argue this view isn't widely accepted, the concern is real.
Read more: Nikkei Asia