Beijing, May 25 (IANS): Considering the geostrategic significance of Myanmar, it is crucial for India to befriend the country as it serves as a land bridge to Southeast Asia and because India's booming economy desperately needs Myanmar's rich oil and natural gas resources, a Chinese expert has said.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will begin his trip to Myanmar on Sunday, the first Indian Prime Minister in 25 years to visit the country since Rajiv Gandhi in 1987.
Ye Hailin, an expert in South Asian studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times daily that, "Some Indian experts take this visit as just another example of India being late to the game, since Chinese and even US leaders have already visited".
However, he said that he does not see Manmohan Singh's trip to Myanmar as a significant change, or as merely following the lead of the US or others.
Under the aegis of its "Look East Policy", a significant shift in India's policy toward Myanmar actually took place in the 1990s, from support for the pro-democracy movement to engaging the pro-military government, he said.
"Considering Myanmar's geostrategic significance, it is crucial for India to befriend Myanmar, which is the only Southeast Asian country with which it shares a 1,600-km land border. It serves as India's land-bridge to the other 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)," the Chinese expert said.
"The other main reason for India to maintain a stable bilateral relationship is because of Myanmar's rich oil and natural gas resources, which India's booming economy desperately needs," he said.
India has been "searching the world" for energy resources, and "Myanmar could be India's next-door supplier". It will enable India to cut down on transportation costs and the risks involved.
Moreover, as Myanmar shares a long border with India's northeastern region, which has many active militant groups that used to take shelter in Myanmar, close ties will help India persuade Myanmar not to take anti-India elements in, he said.
But he said Manmohan Singh's trip "is an obvious sign" that India has picked up the pace to bolster bilateral ties.
"As one of the big stakeholders in Myanmar, India is concerned about being neglected once the US has also joined the competition over the country," he said.
With Myanmar's new openness to the West, dominated by the US, and China's ongoing influence in the nation, "India has actually been edged out of the main stage" while both the US and China are doing whatever they can to gain the favour of the economically struggling, strategically placed Myanmar.
"This is not a situation that India wants to see," he said.
India is accelerating its investment in infrastructure development in Myanmar to compete with China.
Beijing's relationship with Myanmar became strained after the government of President Thein Sein suspended construction in September 2011 of a dam being built with Chinese support, he said.
"Besides, India is closely monitoring whether the China-Myanmar relationship will take on a military dimension in case rumours about China attempting to build naval and intelligence facilities in Myanmar turn into reality," the expert told Global Times.
China and Myanmar are "long-time friends" with a history of bilateral exchanges, economic complementarities and geopolitical ties.
Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo will meet Thein Sein in capital Nay Pyi Taw in December, where the two countries may mend their links, he said.
"It is in India's interest to encourage Myanmar to take the current political reforms to their logical conclusion for free and fair elections in 2015," he said.
But the Chinese expert doubts whether it is in Myanmar's interest "to take India as a main ally".
India's trade with Myanmar has doubled between 2005 and 2010 to $1.2 billion.