China's Silk Road Policy
The seminar began with a talk by Jo Inge Bekkevold, head of the IFS Centre for Asian Security Studies, on China's Silk Road policy and China's strategic interests in South Asia. Bekkevold emphasised that while South Asia may not be China's main area of interest, the country's economic interests in the region are nevertheless considerable. Furthermore, the Silk Road initiatives will ensure the continued relevance of South Asia for China – and of China for South Asia.
Rajiv Bhatia, India's ambassador to Myanmar 2002–05 and author of India–Myanmar Relations. Changing Contours (Routledge 2016), presented his book and the rationale behind it. Ambassador Bhatia talked on the gradual development of bilateral India-Myanmar relations, and the countries' common cultural heritage and interests. Ambassador Bhatia furthermore provided an update on Myanmar's democratisation process and the possible roads ahead for Myanmar's foreign relations.
Sunniva Engh, Senior Fellow at IFS' Centre for Asian Security Studies, talked on the main drivers behind India's Myanmar policy, and the current fields of bilateral co-operation: security in the border regions, economic development and trade, oil and gas co-operation, infrastructure and maritime security. Engh furthermore pointed out a number of obstacles to India's achievement of their aims in Myanmar, such as problems of implementation and lack of a coherent policy.
The Sino–Indian 'Great Game'
Professor Stein Tønnesson of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) commented on all speakers' contributions, emphasising the potential for a continued Sino-Indian 'Great Game' in the South and Southeast Asian region. Professor Tønnesson furthermore emphasised the importance of Myanmar's domestic peace process both for the country's new National League for Democracy (NLD) government and for Myanmar's interaction with both India and China.
The talks were followed by a Q&A session moderated by Ian Bowers, Assistant Professor at IFS' Centre for Asian Security Studies.
Summary by Sunniva Engh
About the speakers
Rajiv Bhatia is a distinguished former diplomat, with more than 37 years' experience from the Indian Foreign Service. Bhatia served as India's ambassador to Myanmar 2002–05. As Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, he was responsible for India's relations with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Bhatia is active in India's strategic community and a prolific commentator on foreign policy. Bhatia was Senior Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), Singapore 2011–13, and served as Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA), New Delhi 2012–15. His book, India–Myanmar Relations. Changing Contours was published by Routledge in 2016.
Sunniva Engh is a Senior Fellow at IFS' Centre for Asian Security Studies. Her current research focuses on India's security policy and strategic behaviour, with the project 'China in Indian strategic thinking'.
Jo Inge Bekkevold is Head of Asian Security Studies at IFS. His research focuses on China's foreign and security policy, and great power relations in Asia.
Stein Tønnesson is Professor at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), and is head of the research projects 'The East Asian Peace' and 'Democratization and Peace in Myanmar'.
Ian Bowers is Assistant Professor at IFS' Centre for Asian Security Studies. Bowers currently works on East Asian maritime security, and South Koran defence policy.