Why Is India’s Navy Chief Visiting Myanmar?

Admiral Sunil Lanba is on a four-day trip to the Southeast Asian state to advance naval ties.

Why Is India’s Navy Chief Visiting Myanmar?
Credit: India Ministry of Defense

India’s navy chief is on a four day official visit to Myanmar from November 1 to November 4. According to a press release by the Indian Navy, the visit by Admiral Sunil Lanba is intended to “consolidate and enhance the bilateral maritime relations between India and Myanmar.”

Lanba will hold bilateral discussions with Myanmar’s first vice president, as well as the deputy commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s defense forces and the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Navy. He will also address students at the National Defense College and visit several military facilities, including the Defense Services Academy, Naval Training Command, and the indigenously-built Myanmar Navy Frigate UMS Aung Zeya.

Lanba’s visit is just the latest sign of the deepening of cooperation between India and Myanmar both in general as well as in the maritime realm more specifically. The momentum in Indo-Myanmar relations is partly coming out of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s so-called Act Est Policy – a more action-oriented variation on the ‘Look East’ policy first formulated under then-premier Narasimha Rao in the 1990s, which seeks to strengthen relationships with ASEAN specifically and East Asia more generally.

But it has also been an acknowledgement of the increasing prospects for Indo-Myanmar cooperation in the maritime domain more specifically. Both countries have shared a long maritime boundary in the strategically significant Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal, and maritime issues have become a growing part of bilateral defense discussions, even if tangible progress has been quite slow in some aspects (See: “India, Myanmar Eye Future Defense Cooperation”).

In February, in a major but little-noticed development, the two navies signed a pact to formalize coordinated patrols between them, making Myanmar just the third country with which India has such an agreement (the other two are Indonesia and Thailand) (See: “India, Myanmar Ink New Naval Patrol Pact”).

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New Delhi is keen to highlight its growing naval relationship with Naypyidaw amid Lanba’s visit. His trip coincides with the port call of Indian naval ships now on their overseas deployment in Myanmar. The Indian Navy press release specified that this is a significant even as it marks the first time that officers from the Myanmar Navy have embarked on Indian naval ships as part of an international training exchange program. Lanba will also host a reception for dignitaries from Myanmar on board the Indian naval ships in Yangon.

Furthermore, the UMS Aung Zeya, which Lanba is visiting as part of the trip, is a good example of India’s capacity-building partnership with the Myanmar Navy. Though indigenously built, the Aung Zeya has sensors made by M/s Bharat Electronics Limited. India has been continuing its assistance in military hardware and equipment, with a damage control simulator built by M/s Goa Shipyard Limited commissioned back in May.