Why should Myanmar strengthen its relations with Bangladesh?
by Pathik Hasan
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbors. Before World War II, many people from Bangladesh traveled to Burma in search of a livelihood. Since then, the people of this country have developed an economic and social relationship with Burma. Apart from India, Bangladesh shares a border with Myanmar. The border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, 271 km long, is very important for Bangladesh for geographical reasons. Bangladesh can use Myanmar overland to communicate in Southeast Asian countries including China. Road connectivity is possible across Myanmar. Perhaps a new horizon of relationships and possibilities is unfolding.
Myanmar can also use Bangladesh to reach South Asia, especially Nepal, Bhutan, and mainland India. Bangladesh and Myanmar both share a common regional platform like “BIMSTEC”. On the other hand, Bangladesh is considered a “hub” between South Asia and South East Asia. It is true that Bangladesh is a country in Southeast Asia geographically but a country in South Asia culturally, demographically and historically. This is an exceptional geostrategic feature of Bangladesh. Therefore, without the participation of Bangladesh, any connectivity between ASEAN and SAARC states is absolutely impossible.
Myanmar is a country rich in natural resources. There are huge amounts of natural resources like tin, zinc, copper, tungsten, coal, marble, limestone, natural gas, hydroelectricity, etc. The main resource of this country are mineral resources. Myanmar can be a major source of energy for Bangladesh to ensure its energy security. Food and grains are produced in large quantities in Myanmar. Myanmar can also be of great help to Bangladesh in the area of food security.
Myanmar has enormous potential for rice cultivation. But Myanmar’s land has been idle for decades due to a lack of human resources. Myanmar needs manpower. Rice production in Myanmar accounts for around 43% of the country’s total agricultural production, making it the seventh largest rice producer in the world. Out of 67.6 million hectares of land, 12.8 million are used for cultivation. In 2019 alone, Myanmar accounted for 13,300 million metric tonnes of milled rice production. Rice production in Myanmar relies heavily on human and animal power, two traditional cultivation methods. Myanmar lacks manpower and technology in this regard. But Bangladesh has these two things. Bangladesh has a surplus of human resources. Myanmar can use Bangladesh human resources for maximum gain.
But Bangladesh has never been able to take full advantage of this opportunity. This country of 135 different tribes and ethnic groups has been under military rule for many years. This may be one of the reasons the relationship is not deep. If Bangladesh had good relations with Myanmar, its dependence on India could be reduced in many cases. If contacts were made in Southeast Asia and China via Myanmar, the potential for investment and trade would be immense.
Bangladesh and Myanmar are both on the way to being developed countries. Bangladesh is going to be a South Asian economic miracle. Bangladesh can play an important role in Myanmar to some extent throughout South East Asia. To achieve this, Myanmar should increase diplomatic relations with Bangladesh for the mutual best interest of all of South Asia and Southeast Asia. The EU, China, India, Russia and North Korea are becoming allies in Myanmar’s oil, gas, mineral and military markets. Taking advantage of the negligence of the United States, Myanmar’s military junta has reached out to China for investment. Thus, China is now the biggest investor in this country. According to Earth-Rights International, a private group, more than 26 Chinese companies are investing in Myanmar’s oil, gas, mineral resources and related sectors. China has already become its biggest ally in the construction and supply of weapons to Myanmar. Myanmar has developed relations not only with China but also with India. India and China establish trade relations with Myanmar. The United States is also changing its approach to the Myanmar issue. That is why America, a strong economic country, began to take new initiatives to develop relations.
Recently, a 41-year-long maritime border dispute with Bangladesh and Myanmar was settled by the International Court of Justice. As a result, Bangladesh’s rights were established in an area of 1 lakh 11 thousand square kilometers. Myanmar waters have also been identified. As a result, this problem has been eliminated. The path to creating tensions in the Bay of Bengal has been blocked.
Myanmar is rich in minerals, ores, oil, gas, gems and other natural resources. The country is a major supplier of natural wood to the world. While the attraction of foreign investment has been limited to the oil and gas sector, the country has recently shifted its focus towards attracting production-based investment. The country is well ahead in electricity production thanks to good investments in hydropower production. The tourism industry is also a promising sector in the country. Myanmar’s economy has so far been limited to the extraction of natural resources, said Nobel laureate in economics, Professor Joseph Stiglis, who warned the country would suffer a “wealth curse “if he continued. Some resource-rich African countries, including Nigeria, Sudan and Benin, have been plagued by corruption, internal conflict and poverty. These countries have not been able to adopt an appropriate wealth management system.
Economists believe that if democracy is restored in Myanmar and corruption is reduced, it should not go to countries that have failed in wealth management. Therefore, it can be assumed that Myanmar will become a country with rapid economic growth in a few years. The biggest economic advantage of the country is that they are members of the ten-nation ASEAN. ASEAN is one of the three most successful trading blocks in the world. The trade consists of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The alliance controls about 24 percent of total world trade and its share in world trade is increasing every year. Their trade relations with China, Japan and South Korea are deepening due to increased trade. The ASEAN countries account for over 50 percent of total trade between them and the three countries. As a result, Bangladesh has the opportunity to strengthen its ties with this trade alliance ie Myanmar. Bangladesh and Myanmar are among the seven member countries of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Therefore, there are many opportunities to increase trade and investment relations between the two countries through BIMSTEC.
There are many opportunities to improve Bangladesh’s bilateral trade and investment relations with Myanmar. By importing gas and electricity, Bangladesh can achieve future energy security. The two countries can jointly explore for oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh can also contribute to the development of Myanmar’s infrastructure.
The Asian Highway construction project, funded by the Asian Development Bank and other donor groups, could also increase terrestrial connectivity between the two countries. And there is ample opportunity to increase shipping. In addition, joint investments can be made in fertilizers, plastics, cement, furniture, etc. Both countries will benefit if Myanmar produces raw materials and Bangladesh with skills, technical knowledge and manpower. Because Myanmar imports all the products. Bangladesh can also export ready-made clothing.
Bangladesh produces medicines and electronics. Myanmar can import a lot from Bangladesh. On the other hand, Myanmar is a source of agricultural products. Bangladesh can import them from Myanmar. At the time of the onion crisis between Bangladesh and India in 2019, Myanmar supplied onions to Bangladesh. Bangladesh then understood the importance of bilateral trade with Myanmar. On the other hand, Bangladesh is keen to provide assistance to Myanmar.
The diplomacy of the Covid-19 vaccine and the counterterrorism approach to regional security are a few areas. The Rohingya refugee problem has driven Bangladesh and Myanmar away. Myanmar should solve this problem to serve its own interests and those of the region. Myanmar must understand that this is what is at stake in the region. The whole of South Asia and Southeast Asia can be unstable and unstable in the face of this problem.
However, the two countries can also increase production in the agricultural sector through joint ventures. Besides adopting joint investment projects, Bangladesh can increase imports of various agricultural products, including pulses, spices, fish and rice. Thus, strengthening bilateral relations could contribute to the growth of trade and investment relations with ASEAN and BIMSTEC countries. This will create an opportunity to resolve the Rohingya problem and stop militant activities. Therefore, Myanmar should take effective measures to strengthen bilateral relations.
About the writer:
Pathik Hassan, Dhaka-based NGO activist and freelance writer on contemporary international issues whose work has been published in numerous local and international publications. Academic background: BSS and MSS in Peace and Conflict Studies at Dhaka University. He can be contacted at pathikhasan1141 @ gmail.