MonitorsPublished on Aug 25, 2020
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XIII-33

Myanmar: Japan ties, addressing the elephant in the room

Sreeparna Banerjee

Considered to be Asia’s new frontier, Myanmar has grown to be a landscape of prominence. With an elected government since 2010, coupled with social and economic reforms, the nation is filled with prospects for global investment and trade. Myanmar possesses plentiful of resources and an economy with mammoth potential for growth. Slowly, the international market is also opening up despite many sanctions from the western nations.

Many Asian countries are slowly making inroads into the nation, opposing such sanctions and emphasising a ‘constructive approach’. While Chinese presence has been domineering, the presence of Japan has the potential for surpassing the former.

The Myanmar-Japan relation is strengthening with each passing day. One of the recent testimonies to this was the disbursement of few ICU beds, syringe and suction pumps by the Japanese government on 15 August. From ruling the British colony Burma during the World War II, Japan has come a long way to establish bilateral ties of mutual friendship and goodwill.

Middle path

Throughout the junta rule, Japan primarily emphasised engagement by way of humanitarian assistance, and direct aid supp as an incentive for positive changes. In this regard, Myanmar was the first recipient of Japanese reparations in southeast Asia in 1954, though it occurred before the military take-over of the civilian government. However, the relationship remained lukewarm since the US sanctions on the junta.

Yet, Japan resumed its aid as the post-junta civilian government strengthened its hold as an appreciation for change. In fact, when the civilian government came to power in Naypyidaw, Tokyo waived close to $3 billion in debt, and committed to new loans for a range of infrastructure projects.

A considerable amount of this aid has been for the development as well as the improvement of the health services, transport corridors, and other civic facilities. For instance, in recent times, both the nations have signed four loan agreements worth about $1.1 billion in the beginning of 2020 to fund sewerage, urban development, power distribution and infrastructure improvement projects in seven regions and states in Myanmar.

Additionally, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in March 2020 signed loan agreements (L/A) ODA for contributing to economic and social development through railway improvement and strengthening electricity supply capacity.

Growing investments

Japan’s direct investment has been steadily rising in recent years. According to the Myanmar government, Japanese investment in Myanmar between 2011 and now has exceeded $1.7 billion. More than $ 11 million has been channelled into Thilawa Special Economic Zone. A total of 114 enterprises have been permitted to operate their businesses in Thilawa SEZ, where 39 businesses are from Japan and 27 firms from Singapore.

Most of the investment came to industrial, transport, real estate, hotels and tourism sectors. Toyota Motor Corppration is setting up an automotive assembly plant on 21 hectors of land in Thilawa SEZ in the suburbs of Yangon. The new factory will produce 2,500 Hilux pick-up trucks per year from 2021. Since its establishment in 2015, Thilawa SEZ has attracted 113 investment projects and 76 companies have begun commercial operations. Successful establishment of Thilawa SEZ marks a new phase in promoting bilateral relations between Myanmar and Japan.

Japan has been contributing to the education sector as well. Recently, Human Resource Development Scholarship is introduced on July 2020 that aims at providing young governmental officials who will be leading the country in future with an opportunity to study in Japan for Master’s and PHD degrees and gain necessary skills and knowledge. It is expected to contribute to solving development issues in Myanmar and strengthening the bilateral relations by creating human networks.

Rohingya issue

While contributing to the sectors for development, one area where Japan has been indifferent or sometimes cold- hearted is the case of the Rohingyas. Undeniably, Japan is actively involved in the development of resource-rich Rakhine state where displaced Rohingyas are residing in the open-air camps which can rather be called detention centres. While after the major exodus in 2017, Japan has opposed economic sanctions, saying that such a “drastic” response would only “fuel the situation.” However, the failure in taking measures remains quite questionable.

Tokyo has been silent on the Rohingya issue. It is slowly trying to create a better place in the Rakhine state that might alleviate the age-old social problems the region is dealing with. In general, Japan continues to espouse the idea that a steady aid relationship is critical to achieving change. T

he nation’s policy of quiet engagement has been quite effective in its own way. However, not pointing fingers at what is wrong also resembles participating in the act. At some quarters it is merely fantasy to hope that the Myanmar government or military will automatically change their stance and become more inclusive and less oppressive as they economically expand.

It is important to understand that proper policies are required to safeguard the rights of minority communities that are rendered ‘stateless’ Not addressing such concerns will not reap benefit in the future. Japan being a close ally may help in bringing this point into consideration.

The Rohingya issue has gained prominence for its ruthlessness, on the international stage. As Japan has, they may play a role of a mediator in resolving the issue. While Japan may want to not speak out in open however ignoring the issue will not reap any benefit for either party.

Nepal: Renewed focus on growth with Indian assistance

Sohini Nayak

The eighth meeting of the Nepal-India Oversight Mechanism was recently held through video conference, co-chaired by Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi and Ambassador of India to Nepal, Vinay Mohan Kwatra. Primarily aimed at reviewing the development projects in Nepal with Indian cooperation, the interaction appeared to be a much-required bilateral reciprocity.

Given the events and developments of the past few months, especially the border row over the Kalapani issue, mutual development discourse had taken a back seat. Additionally, the economic and societal implications of the Covid19 pandemic had made the situation worse. Nonetheless, this conference has indeed opened the gateway to a new chapter in bilateral dynamics with renewed focus on growth -- as must be the prime fulcrum in any relationship between two immediate neighbours.

The first meeting of the oversight mechanism was held in 2016, in order to understand and exterminate the several obstructions and bottlenecks in India funded projects in Nepal. In fact, the decision to create such a platform was taken during the India visit of the then Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, keeping in mind the necessity of overseeing and expedite the implementation of projects. Several areas of mutual interest were identified ranging from hydropower, rail and road connectivity, petroleum products pipeline, to multipurpose projects and agriculture.

Evaluating projects

The small Himalayan landlocked country of Nepal has been trying to create an investment friendly market for a very long time for economic development. The Nepal Investment Summit of 2019 tried to mobilize both domestic as well as foreign investment, with special focus on India because of the geographical contiguity and proximity. India has the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Nepal, with the total being NPR 87, 912.01 million as of mid-July 2018.

Hydropower is one of the prime sectors in the country, which despite having immense potential, has not been developing at a comprehensive pace and requires potential investment. Nepal has three large river systems – Koshi River System (originating from the top four Himalayan peaks), Gandaki River System and the Karnali River System, helping in its hydropower potential.

These major rivers along with their smaller tributaries help Nepal to hold the capacity of producing 90,000 MW of hydropower. However, it has been observed over time that the country has not always utilised this resource to its full potential and has generated only 847 MW. Consequently, India has been investing in this domain a lot, one of the primary ones being Arun III. The plant will produce 4, 018.87 million units of electricity per year and has an estimated cost of more than $1.6 billion.

It was in February 2020 that the project secured the financial closure after the two governments signed an agreement. It is being developed on a build-own-operate and transfer (BOOT) basis by Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) Arun III Power Development Company (SAPDC), a joint venture of the Government of India and the Government of Himachal Pradesh. This project is also estimated to generate around 3000 jobs during the process of construction in the two countries, until completion in 2023.

The second category of projects that deserves special mention is road connectivity between the two countries. India has operationalized many such projects in Nepal which include big and small highways, bridges, highways, railways, barrages, etc. The Tribhuvan Rajpath-Kathmandu-Pathlaiya Highway is a very important example.  This was one of the first instances of investment from India, maintained by the Indian Cooperation mission till 1965. Another recent example is the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2006 for road construction in the Terai region.

In August 2017, India’s Minister for Road Transport, Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, Nitin Gadkari, stated that approximately INR 5,253 crore worth of road projects are being implemented, which would benefit India and Nepal. The projects include a 144 km road from Rupaidiha to Barabanki (INR 1,338 crore), a 184 km road from Sonauli to Gorakhpur (approximately INR 570 crore), the Fobesganj-Jogbani road as well as a road linking Piprakodi to Raxaul (INR 429 crore) and 10 other roads costing around INR 500 crore.

It is noteworthy that these proposed roadways are not international roads between India and Nepal. However, the roads will strengthen the roadways infrastructure near the Indo-Nepal border and enhance the connectivity between the two neighbours.

Chinese investment

China has pledged $ 500 million as financial aid to Nepal in 2019, especially in infrastructure and hydropower- three of the most relevant examples being the West Seti Dam, the Pokhara airport and the Upper Trishuli hydropower plant -- thereby creating a direct competition to the Indian investment framework. Nepal is also part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Nepal has commitment towards nine projects under the BRI framework: the Kathmandu-Kyerung Railway, the Madan Bhandari University, the Galchi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung 400 KB transmissionlLine, the 762 MW Tamor hydropower project, the 426 MW Fukot-Karnali Picking run-of-the-river hydropower project, upgrading of the Rasuwagadhi Highway, the Tokha-Chahare road, the Kimangthan-Hile road, and a road connecting Dipayal with Tibet.

In fact, just like India, China also gives access to Nepal to its ports (four sea ports and three land ports). This had come at a time when India and Nepal were going through a very strained relationship following the blockade of 2015. This is undoubtedly a political achievement for China that has been having quite a troublesome row with India in the recent past with border clashes at the Galwan Valley.

This situation has surpassed Nepal’s dependence on India. Nepal is now being expected to strike a fine balance between India and China because as it is a small country, often regarded as a strategic buffer in South Asia. Nepal must remember its position as a country that is trying to carve its niche in South Asian geopolitics and that it is best for the country to tread unilaterally with a policy of non-alignment so that it can reap the best benefits of both the neighbours without participating in the bilateral negotiations between India and China.

Country Reports


Prisoner-release halted

President Ghani halted the release of the remaining 320 “highly dangerous” Taliban prisoners, demanding the Taliban to first release 20 Afghan security personnel that are still in captivity. Australia and France too objected to the release of at least six controversial Taliban detainees, who were imprisoned for crimes committed against the security forces of the two countries. While the US engaged in talks with the governments of Australia and France to cultivate support for the peace process regardless, President Ghani declared in a speech to the security forces that “all barriers to intra-Afghan talks had been removed”, encouraging the Taliban to reduce violence and begin negotiations.

Military might on display

On 20 August, a day after the country celebrated its 101st Independence Day, Afghan National Security and Defence Forces (ANSDF) conducted major military exercises to display their operational capabilities. In the exercise, the Afghan Air Force Special Operations Command and forces of the Afghan National Army demonstrated the use of light and heavy weapons, and their ability to conduct complex operations in the remotest of regions. The National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib said that it was meant to remind Afghans at large about the gains of the past and the government’s commitment to preserving hard-earned achievements.


Indian FS meets PM

Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla made a sudden visit to Dhaka this week, one of the first high-level visits by a top Indian official after travel restriction was imposed due to Covid19 outbreak – and with a special message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for counterpart, Sheikh Hasina. During the visit, Shringla met top leaders and officials of the country, including Sheikh Hasina, and Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen and Foreign Secretary Masud bin Momen. During the visit, two sides discussed issues, including development partnership, enhancing connectivity, the revival of economy post-pandemic, cooperation on Covid19 assistance, including therapeutics and vaccine and joint commemoration of ‘Mujib Barsho’, the birth centenary of Bangladesh’s founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Floods hit 5 m

Floods continue to disrupt the daily lives of the people as water-inundated human habitat and paddy fields due to overflowing of rivers. According to the National Disaster Response Coordination Centre, nearly five million people in 33 districts remain being affected by the flood.  Floods have been a common phenomenon during the monsoon season in Bangladesh, the deltaic country. During monsoon, rivers flow above their capacity of the rivers largely because of heavy rainfalls. This year’s flood is considered to be one of the lengthiest in the last three decades.


Two-way traffic at LCS

India on 19 August allowed movement of vehicles from the Allay Land Customs Station (LCS) allowing industries in Pasakhato export the finished products from the LCS. With this route in use, industrial trucks with export goods will not have to come to Phuentsholing. From Allay LCS, the trucks can directly connect to Bibarey on the Indian side. Prior to this, the LCS, which commenced on July 15, just allowed Pasakha-bound industrial trucks to enter, which means it allowed only the import of raw materials.

Virus threatens supplies

The country’s most important commercial entry point of Phuentsholing through which the majority ofgoods are imported is now a high-risk area with 16 people testing positive for Covid19 in the Mini Dry Port (MDP). The Ministry of Health is yet to rule out if there is community transmission outside the MDP in Phuentsholing. Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering was apprehensive that the supply route and the goods coming through this route could be impacted. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister said that his government was exploring alternative routes through Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar for keeping supplies of essential goods uninterrupted.


Bihar polls amidst pandemic

Assembly elections will take place in Bihar later this year in the midst of the pandemic. The Election Commission announced that the election campaign and the polls will take place by following all the precautionary measures to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Thermal scanning and use of mask and gloves will be mandatory for the voters to enter the polling booth. The road shows, public rallies and gathering will be held with limited number of attendees and adequate physical distancing according to the COVID19 guidelines.

Jobs only for locals in MP

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chauhan announced last week that the government jobs in the State will be reserved for the local youth of Madhya Pradesh. The CM further said in his statement that adequate legal provision will be made to implement the decision as the resources of the state belongs to the “children of Madhya Pradesh”.


Nasheed backs Govt

In the face of Opposition allegations of corruption against former Tourism Minister Ali Waheed, sacked over gender issues, and Health Minister Abdulla Yameen, on Covid-spending, citing audit reports, Parliament Speaker, Mohammed Nasheed, who is also ruling MDP boss and former President, has said that incumbent President Ibrahim Solih has his backing. Separately, he also tweeted that Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid, against whom at least one Opposition MP has threatened to move an impeachment motion, has his full backing.


Trade with ASEAN

Trade between Myanmar and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) reached over $ 9.9 billion in the first nine months of present fiscal year (FY) 2019-2020. From October 2019 to June 2020, Myanmar earned over $ 3.6 billion from exports to ASEAN member states while its import valued at over $ 6.3 billion. During the period, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia were registered as the top three trade partners among ASEAN countries, registering trade values of over $ 3.9 billion, over $ 3.3 billion and over $ 1 billion, respectively.

Drug dealers held in China

Police in southwest China's Yunnan Province have cracked two drug trafficking cases, apprehending four suspects with links to the Myanmar drugs trade and seizing 36 kg of drugs. After receiving a tip-off that drug dealers had been trafficking drugs from Myanmar before transporting the drugs to Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality, police in Weixin County, city of Zhaotong, dispatched a task force at the beginning of this year. On 12 June, police caught a suspect in a hotel in the city of Jinghong in Yunnan, with 18.98 kg of methamphetamine seized. Following a lead, police then nabbed another three suspects and seized 17.02 kg of methamphetamine in the city on 14 June.


Oversight talks with India

The eighth India-Nepal oversight mechanism conference took place recently over digital video platform. This bilateral interaction was a much- needed correspondence between the two neighbours after the border row over the Kalapani issue. The main has been to overview and expedite the developmental projects of India in Nepal. These include mutual areas of interest and development like hydropower, road and connectivity and integrated check posts to mention three. This initiative is likely to normalize the strained relationship between the two countries.

Highest pandemic toll

As on 21 August, the country has reported 838 infections in 24 hours, taking the national tally to 30,483. The Health Ministry has reported of 57 individuals from Province 2, 29 from Bagmati Province, 17 from Province 5, 14 from Province 1, 8 each from Sudurpaschim and Gandaki Province and 4 from Karnali Province dying from Covid-19-related conditions dying. The situation has been deteriorating with each passing day.


Strategic talks with China

Foreign Minister (FM) Shah Mohmmad Qureshi on 20 August started a two- day official visit to China, to attend the second round of the Strategic Dialogue with his Chinese counterpart being held in the Hainan province. Qureshi was received by Chinese foreign ministry officials and Pakistan's ambassador to China Moinul Haq. Before his departure, Qureshi said he had a detailed discussion with Prime Minister Imran Khan and termed his visit as a “very important trip to China”. Qureshi will meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and both sides will discuss the Covid19 situation, bilateral relations and issues pertaining to regional and global order. The first Strategic Dialogue between the two sides took place in March 2019 and stress was given to secure China-Pakistan Economic Corridor from all threats.

India seeks free, fair trial 

New Delhi has stressed for an Indian lawyer to defend Kulbhushan Jadhav in Pakistani court where the review petition against his death sentence will be taken up. Indian officials are in touch with the Pakistani government through diplomatic channels in this regard, said Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson of Indian External Affairs Ministry. India wanted a free and fair trial in essence of the judgement given by International Court of Justice (ICJ), he added. Earlier, New Delhi had demanded “unimpeded” consular access to Jadhav. Furthermore, Islamabad High Court recently has asked Pakistani government to give another chance to New Delhi for the appointment of counsel in Jadhav’s case. It is pertinent to mention here that Jadhav was convicted on charges of espionage and terrorism and sentenced to death by a military court.

Sri Lanka

One nation, one law: President

In his maiden address to the ninth Parliament, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has spoken about ‘one nation, one law’, thus indicating recasting personal laws, especially of the minority Muslim community, pertaining especially to marriage and divorce. He also talked about the scraping of the previous government’s controversial 19th Amendment immediately and following it up with a new Constitution, but without mentioning anything about a political solution and power-devolution for ‘ethnic Tamils’. Focussing on the recovery of rural economy, he specified agriculture and irrigation, artefacts manufacture and tea industry. He also said his Government would end ‘plundering’ of the nation’s marine resources by foreigners – a reference to southern Tamil Nadu fishers from neighbouring India.

Nation-wide power outage

Th whole of Sri Lanka plunged into darkness on Monday as a massive power outage hit the entire country following a technical failure at Kerawalapitiya Grid Sub- Station. The power supply was restored in some parts of the country after six hours, but capital Colombo remained in darkness for a few more hours. The Government has since announced that there won’t be any such failures in the coming months, as the problem areas have been fixed.



Opinion Pieces

Mohammad Yahya Qanie, “The Illusion of Inclusivity in Afghan Peace Process”, The Khaama Press, 19 August 2020

James Durso,“Uzbekistan’s Role in Afghan Reconciliation”,The Diplomat, 18 August 2020


Afghanistan Times, “Peace Process Plateauing Out”, 19 August 2020

The Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Independence and Political Upheaval”, 19 August 2020


Opinion Pieces

Shamsher M Chowdhury, “Indian foreign secretary’s visit and the state of Bangladesh-India relations”, The Daily Star,  21 August 2020

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee, “Bangabandhu inspiring India-Bangladesh relations”,, 17 August 2020


The Daily Star, “Irregularities in govt’s flood response must be avoided”, 21 August 2020



Kuensel, “Let’s not get relaxed”, 21 August 2020

Kuensel, “Stopping community transmission isn’t possible”, 19 August 2020


Opinion Pieces

Rahul Bajoria, “Tailwind from villages: Rural economy may do the heavy lifting in 2020”, The Indian Express, 21 August 2020

Naushad Forbes, “A new social contract: We need to fundamentally reform our labour markets”, The Indian Express, 21 August 2020

Anoop Sadanandan, “Secularism is still thriving”, The Indian Express, 21 August 2020

Faizan Mustafa, “Contempt powers, in the people’s name”, The Hindu, 20 August 2020

Ryan Christopher Sequeira, “Moving urban India after the Covid-19 pandemic”, hindustantimes,18 August 2020


The Hindu, “Less Taxing: On National Recruitment Agency”, 21 August 2020

The Telegraph, “Narrow lens: Employment bias in government jobs”, 21 August 2020

The Indian Express, “Job of the state”, 20 August 2020

The Indian Express, “Make it same”, 18 August 2020


Opinion Pieces

Fathimath Himya, “Volunteers are advocates for compassion in challenging times”, The Edition, 19 August 2020

parkhub,”Due to Covid19, Maldives’ startups at the edge of cliff without proper support”, The Edition, 19 August 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Unlike China’s, India’s infra projects offer multiple benefits”,, 18 August 2020


Opinion Pieces

Yan Naing, “Rescuing Myanmar From the Chinese Debt Trap”, The Irrawaddy, 21 August 2020

Nyein Nyein, “Myanmar Peace Conference Grapples with Mistrust and COVID-19”, The Irrawaddy, 18 August 2020

Nan Lwin, “Myanmar Opposition Parties Spend Big on Facebook Ads Ahead of Election”, The Irrawaddy, 18 August 2020

Bo Kyi, “How Should Myanmar Citizens Vote This November?”, The Irrawaddy, 17 August 2020


Opinion Pieces

Dr. Prakash Budhathoky, “Expectations and reality”, Republica, 21 August 2020

Amish Raj Mulmi, “Starting over again”, The Kathmandu Post, 20 August 2020


The Kathmandu Post, “Test, trace, contain”, 19 August 2020


Opinion Pieces

Mahir Ali, “The UAE-Israel deal has shifted Middle East dynamic away from eternally dispossessed Palestinians”, Dawn,19 August 2020

Fahd Husain, “Politics of governance”, Dawn, 22 August 2020

Shariq Jamal Khan, “Intra-Afghan dialogue”, The Express Tribune, 17 August 2020

Talat Masood, “Is Pakistan’s politics on the right course?The Express Tribune, 18 August 2020

Imran Jan, “Kabul wants Biden as president”, The Express Tribune, 19 August 2020

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Lucien Rajakarunanayake, “Powerplay of parliamentary politics”, The Island, 22 August 2020

D B S Jeyaraj, “Future course of defeated ITAK Leader Maavai Senathiraja”, Daily Mirror Online, 22 August 2020

Kelum Bandara, “GoSL to reset foreign policy with Asia-centric approach”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 August 2020

Malinda Seneviratne, “Two-thirds, 19th and other Oppositional anxieties”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 August 2020

Ranga Jayasuriya, “Saving UNP: Karu Jayasuriya as interim leader may be the best out of the fratricidal struggle”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 August 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Future life of TNA”, Ceylon Today, 18 August 2020

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Can a 20-A muster the numbers?”, Colombo Gazette, 17 August 2020


Kamini Wickremesinghe, “JVP did not go wrong: Sunil Handunnetti”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 August 2020


Daily Mirror Online, “President reminds top politicians and officials – you are servants of the people”, Daily Mirror Online, 21 August 2020


Kamini Wickremesinghe, “JVP did not go wrong: Sunil Handunnetti”, Daily Mirror Online, 19 August 2020


Afghanistan: Shubhangi Pandey

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

Pakistan: Ayjaz Wani

Coordinator: Sreeparna Banerjee

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