Geostrategic importance of Dawei Port in Myanmar for India
Despite cacophony of the US led democracies along with India, Australia & Japan the SCS which witnesses nearly 1/3rd of the maritime trade across the globe, has been militarized by China to enact the real life drama of military guarded trade & technology in the SCS Theater. Contrary to the laws laid down in UNCLOS China has followed its own laws and rules as a result, the Ocean Ecosystem of the region is being totally modified and degraded.
According to the estimates by experts, SCS is home to huge reserves of oil & gas apart from huge marine bio resources. Apart from these, there are some other abiotic marine resources that may be tapped by China or the same may be getting transported at different location, depending upon the changing morphology of the seas and the coasts of the littoral countries of the western Pacific Ocean or eastern Indian Ocean.
In the background of this, I strongly emphasized the unique strategic position of Myanmar, which happens to be the land bridge between South and SE Asia and hosts most of the critical minerals and hence not only assume gravity but occupies cardinal place in India's 'Act East" policy. The astounding Military coup by over throwing the democratically elected NLD Government on 1st February 2021 followed by large scale Civil disobedience movements, protest demonstrations, violent crackdown by the Tatmadaw on the civilian protestors coupled with escalation of violent clashes with the armed ethnic minority groups, though constituting 23% of the country's population but occupying nearly 50% of the geographical area of Myanmar, & concomitant slapping of economic sanctions by the US& some western economies but a surreptitious support to the junta by China & Russia created an extremely enigmatic situation there, for India and its Tri lateral supply chain allies viz Japan & Australia.
This enigma is getting compounded by the expression of lack of faith in the ASEAN members by NUG due to the former's lack of efforts to resolve the crisis, guerrilla style civilian resistance & keeping the experience of his predecessor with the democratic political parties in view, Senior General Min Aung Halong's tougher stand to liquidate the political opponent-NLD.
In this article I will try to express the strategic importance of Dawei port for India in the present day geopolitical scenario of Indo Pacific with reference to the suzerainty of China with ASEAN countries in particular, and littoral states of eastern Indian ocean region or Littoral states of Bay of Bengal (Andaman Sea) in general and India's initiative to develop its own sustainable supply chain without China. Based on my experience at ground level in Myanmar and study of texts on the present day developments there, I am inclined to emphasize the preeminence of Dawei port in the light of conspicuous prominence given to Myanmar crisis in the G-7 meet in London on 12th May 2021 terming it as pressing geo-political issue and surreptitious emergence of UK in its post-Brexit avatar & holding the whip of its past colonial legacy in Asia, in taking the mantle of West.
Certainly indicating of something much bigger, not just restoration of democracy, because a new narrative is surfacing that speaks of inclusive nationalism and creation of a Democratic State of Myanmar.
Myanmar has a long history of coups, wars, and rebellions. Ethnic divisions and political unrest have been common since the first Barman kingdom in the 11th Century and things more or less remains similar but added to it is the entry of UK-the same colonial power carrying the legacy of Evangelistic network which had split the freedom movement of Burma during the British Raj into two opposite directions viz the Karen National Movement which was with the British ruler and the Burmese National Movement which was Buddhist & anti-British.
Now if we add up the narrative of inclusive nationalism & Democratic state with the hitherto unexpressed interest of Britain, carrying the legacy of Raj dipped in evangelist flavor insinuating clearly the fragmentation of Myanmar. If this happens then the eastern and northern states which are nerve center of armed ethnic insurgents who have been demanding mostly greater autonomy or secession from Myanmar may form an autonomous country or an independent country.
Even if the country does not break up, there may be states with greater autonomy and inclusive nationalism & these states are rich/very rich in mineral resources, that are critical to the green energy, semi-conductor chips, military hardware and high end metallurgical products, EV etc. The raw materials for the said downstream products are well endowed in the eastern & northern states that may be a part of the HINTERLAND of Dawei Deep water Port in Taninthyari state.
Out of the nine sea ports in Myanmar, at least the two that are of high strategic significance for India are : Sittwe in the south west corner of Myanmar, hardly 50 & odd kms from Bangladesh border , built with Indian assistance, and the other in the south eastern corner of Myanmar at Dawei which is not yet functional but is being built by Italy-Thailand Development Public Co Ltd . Both the deep sea ports are on Bay of Bengal (Andaman Sea) & thus gateway to IOR.
Apart from these, Dawei port can be said to occupy the central stage in the scheme of things of the Japan-India-Australia trilateral resilient supply chain initiative signed in September 2020 to minimize the dependence on China. My purpose of accentuating the significance of Dawei deep sea port is not only the presence of numerous other developmental/ infrastructural projects by Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea etc under the aegis of various agreements, initiatives, protocols but also emphasizing the critical resources attribute of its Hinterland.
While I was writing this text, a new development took place which further enhances the strategic location of Dawei port for India as well as Japan, Australia. US export to China grew at the expense of Australia- a member of Quad and an ally of the US, after Beijing's trade ban against Australia, on a slew of products like Coal, wine, cotton, log timber may be iron ore also, at a later date. It has also cut down the supply of steel to Australia- one of its top commodities suppliers.
This obviously insinuates that the remaining Quad members have to ensure their own sustainable, safe, stable, resilient supply chain, if a new non-Sino centric word order is to be put in place in the Indo Pacific Region.
The Dawei deep sea port, when complete, will provide India an alternative sea route to Southeast Asia and reduce dependency on the congested Strait of Malacca and cut transport time,
Japan has been active in taking initiatives to maintain & strengthen momentum for the development of the Greater Mekong sub-region which has a North-South corridor linking cities of Mekong basin encompassing Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar-Thailand, Vietnam ,to China. But India is not keen to join this.
However, the southern part of the Mekong India Economic Corridor is of interest to India also, & it would be concentrating on this segment because it would connect Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Bangkok in Thailand to Dawei in Myanmar. The most prudent thing which I wish to add is that we may get not only access to the technology provider for Nd Magnet located in a country as listed above but also get access to additional areas hosting critical raw materials
When Dawei port is ready, India is planning to connect it with Chennai. There will be no need to go through the Strait of Malacca
ABOUT DAWEI PORT & THE SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE: The port is located adjacent to the estuary of Dawei River in Taninthayri Region of South eastern Myanmar and was developed with the concept of an alternate route to the Gulf of Malacca. Though the port is not yet completed but it would be pertinent to state in brief the salient basic frame work of this Deep sea port.
It will have 8 Container Terminals dedicated to Coal imports, Iron ore imports, Petro-chemicals, crude oil imports, steel products export and general category of berths. The associated SEZ spread over an area of 196 sq.km is envisaged to be completed at a cost of over 10.7Billion US$ and will set to be the largest industrial complex in SE Asia. This SEZ will have the following differentiated zones viz 1) Information Technology Industrial Zone 2) HI-Tech Industrial Zone 3) Export processing zone 4) Transportation zone 5) Technological R&D zone. 6) Port area zone .
I feel that of Hi-tech Industrial zone may be platform for the upstream or midstream processing units of steel critical minerals that may be exported to India or Japan or Australia for downstream industries.
The highway alongside the Dawei SEZ will connect Cambodia, Vietnam,& Thailand to Africa, the Middle East Europe & India. It would be pertinent to mention here that 1400 km long India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway from More in Manipur to Moe-sot in Thailand passes through the highway component alongside Dawei SEZ.
The highway - from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar - would open up India's landlocked northeast to Southeast Asia. The project is being funded by the Asian Development Bank.
At the end, I express a Quote must be known to you, and originally expressed by Deng Xiaoping in 1987 that " THE MIDDLE EAST HAS ITS OIL, CHINA HAS RARE EARTHS" .China has 30 years head start.
Time for the US to get moving on a domestic supply chain ......" In the light of the need of the hour for the development of a new world order with its own sustainable, stable , secure Supply Chain, we should get into the critical mineral resources from neighboring countries like Myanmar where the ports like Dawei & Sittwe may be holding a vital gateway to the Indo Pacific.
(Ravi Sinha, Consultant Geologist & ex-Director,G.S.I)
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