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Is Xi’s ‘Historic’ Visit to Myanmar A Concern For India?

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On 17th January 2020, Xi Jinping made his maiden visit to Myanmar, signing 33 new pacts based on the Chinese vision of “21st-century silk road”. Myanmar is one of the nations interested in this Chinese vision and China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is a subset project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

One of the important talks during the visit included a new city project in Yangoon, which China is interested to invest in. This visit is very much alarming for India, which is emerging as a strong rival to China in the Indo-Pacific region. Rajiv Bhatia, former ambassador of India to Myanmar, asked the visit “to be taken very seriously by the (Indian) government.”

In recent times, China has been forging new relations. Prior to 2017, China-Myanmar relations were not cordial, as people recognised that China is increasing and trying to dominate a country such as Myanmar. A $3.6 billion megaproject, the Beijing-backed dam is still on hold due to a 2011 controversy, due to which the dam was suspended over environmental concerns. However, due to two major reasons, relations between both the nations are taking a new turn.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in Myanmar. Image Source: TGNLM

Post 2014, China has been flexing its muscles by dominating South Asian nations. A perfect example is when China deceived Sri Lanka by pursuing the country to take a loan from China in order to build a Hambantota port. Sri Lanka had hoped that the port will help its economy grow, whereas reality contradicted this dream. The port did not turn out the way it was hoped to be.

Instead of repaying the loan to China, Beijing offered to give the port to China on lease. Further, China is taking up different moves – from sanctioning huge line of credits to developing infrastructure in countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and more – in order to promote its BRI project and increase its soft power.

In November 2019, the Republic of Gambia, an African country, filed a case against Myanmar over the Rohingya issue at ICJ. Myanmar has been under constant pressure from the Western and Islamic countries over the Rohingya crisis. In these conditions, China offered a helping hand to Myanmar. China is also facing criticism over the condition of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. It is a very common tactic of China to draw countries that are facing International criticism closer.

For example, Iran faced sanctions by the USA, prohibiting any nation from purchasing crude oil from Iran. While all the nations (including India, Iran’s trusted ally) started abiding the the US sanction, China continued its purchases from Iran. Not only this, but in the next few decades, China will invest $400 billion in Iran in various sectors. In such a situation, when Iran’s economy is in turmoil, China’s help will surely change the regional geopolitics.

The second reason for China to increase its influence in Myanmar is the BRI (Belt and Road initiative) itself. China’s vision is to re-establish the lost old silk road, which used to connect China to the Roman Empire. If this project brings even partial success, the Chinese economy and trade will boost like never before, with the ‘absolute free trade’ policy.

In a nutshell, China backs Myanmar’s United DWA State Army (UDSA), whereas India supports the country’s democratic camp. The democratic camp came forward in 1988 when Aung San Suu Kyi led the uprising for democracy. After a long tussle, democracy was established and Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won the elections. But, Myanmar’s military-led SLOC party, with China’s support, put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. Things eased out post 1992, but today, despite Aung San Suu Kyi being the country’s leader, the military holds some power.

Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Rangoon under martial law, and released in 2010. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In order to contain China’s increasing influence, India, Japan, Australia, and the USA formed a group by the name Quad. Moreover, ASEAN’s tussle with China continues due to the South China Sea dispute. Despite Myanmar being an ASEAN member, countries like itself and Cambodia remain aligned towards China.

India, on the other hand, is pushing forward in the Indian sub-continent, not letting its allies slip away. In case of Myanmar only, in 2017, Bangladesh purchased two 035G type submarines worth $203 million from China; India correctly analysed the situation where Myanmar was rushed and, in response to Bangladesh’s purchase, wanted to keep itself afloat.

This was when Myanmar decided to purchase Indian-made Sindhuvir submarine. In 2019, India got the charge of Sittwe Port in Myanmar, which could be very beneficial for their bilateral relations, as well as the Indo-Myanmar Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project.

A common enemy of both countries is the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is suspected to be funded by China. KIA is a threat to Myanmar, and was also found supporting the Arakan army, which is an insurgent group found to threaten the Kaladan Project. Kaladan is an essential river for the connectivity of Sittwe port to Myanmar. In order to safeguard the project, Myanmar’s and India’s military commenced ‘Operation Sunrise’, aimed to push the Arakan army back.

China’s ambitious BRI project is full of opportunities, but adversaries do fear it. For a country such as India, many experts believe that India should set the past aside and think of the future. However, given that both the countries are proud nations and currently have nationalist governments in power, border disputes (the primary reason for tensions between both the nations) are hard to be negotiated.

Note: This article was originally published on the author’s blog here

Featured image has been sourced from here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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