Two important visitors to Delhi this week — the foreign minister of Myanmar, Wunna Maung Lwin, and the prime minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra — bring India's eastern flank into strategic perspective.
The Thai prime minister is the third successive visitor from the East to grace India's annual Republic Day celebrations. Last year, the president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono was the chief guest. The year before, it was South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
India's deepening interest in East Asia comes at a time when the region has become the principal strategic theatre in the world. As China's power and influence in the region has grown over the last two decades, the Obama administration announced a "pivot to the East" last year.
In proclaiming its return to Asia, Washington has been egging India on for a larger role in East and Southeast Asia. The leaders from the region too, want Delhi to be a lot more active and effective. As Myanmar comes out of its prolonged international isolation and Thailand overcomes its political instability, India has a big opportunity to put the relations with the two countries on a stronger footing.
One way of doing it is for India to join the massive project for the development of a deep sea port and special economic zone in Dawei, Myanmar, being sponsored by Thailand. When developed, the $50 billion Dawei project will tower over the recent China-built port complexes in Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka).
To be located at Dawei, on the shores of the Andaman Sea in southern Myanmar and close to Thailand, the project is expected to reshape not only Myanmar's economy but also the geopolitics of the region. The project, spread over nearly 250 sq km, will include the construction of a deep seaport, superhighways, steel mills, power plants, shipyards, oil refineries, pulp and paper mills and a petrochemical complex. A few golf courses and resorts are also in the works.
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