An Indian-backed port is opening in Myanmar in response to China’s corridor project

A new port in Myanmar built with support from New Delhi has started to accommodate container ships as both India and China seek closer economic ties with the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, Nikkei Asia reported.

The first cargo ship from the Indian metropolis Kolkata arrived at the port of Sittwe in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar on Tuesday. Officials from India and the military government of Myanmar attended the port’s inauguration ceremony.

The Port of Sittwe forms a link with India’s Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, a sea route linking Kolkata in eastern India with Sittwe on Myanmar’s west coast. From there, the corridor runs inland via the Kaladan River and a highway through Myanmar and enters northeastern India, Asia Nikkei reported.

Ahead of the ceremony, Indian Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal hailed the port as “opening up north-east India to south-east Asia”.

The two countries shook hands on the $484 million Kaladan project in 2008. New Delhi is providing full support, Asia Nikkei reported.

New Delhi sees the new Kaladan project as an opportunity to connect isolated north-east India to the Indian Ocean, creating a catalyst for economic growth.

The region is connected to the rest of India only by the narrow Siliguri Corridor, a bottleneck bounded by neighboring countries with China to the north. Ethnic clashes erupted in north-east India, as well as deadly border clashes between Indian and Chinese troops, Asia Nikkei reported.

While India is calling for a return to civilian rule in Myanmar, New Delhi has maintained a close relationship with the military government since taking power in 2021 and has distanced itself from Western sanctions. Myanmar borders India and the two countries must work together in responding to cross-border militant groups and other challenges, a diplomatic source said, Asia Nikkei reported.

China is also seeking access to the Indian Ocean via Myanmar.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Maj Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who heads Myanmar’s military government, on May 2. Qin said Beijing will accelerate the development of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, which includes logistics and industrial infrastructure projects linking China to the Indian Ocean, Asia Nikkei reported.

China is planning a major port and industrial zone in Kyaukpyu, a city in Rakhine state.

Although the port of Sittwe opened, construction of other parts of the Kaladan transport corridor, including the highways, has been stalled by fighting between Myanmar’s military and pro-democracy factions.

The Indian Council of World Affairs, a think tank affiliated with India’s foreign ministry, convened a meeting in April between government officials and experts from countries neighboring Myanmar.

Representatives of Myanmar’s military government also attended the forum, Asia Nikkei reported.

These discussions were initiated by Thailand and then India hosted the subsequent round. The meetings provide an informal forum for stakeholders to exchange views with a view to finding a solution.

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