While Myanmar’s government has sought Indian expertise in certain areas such as software development, telecoms and services, it is less interested in what India may have to offer in key economic areas such as mining, heavy industries or infrastructure building. Nor does Myanmar’s army look to India as an alternative to China as a source of military hardware: Now that relations with the West are on the mend, the Tatmadaw [Burma’s armed forces] can anticipate eventually having access to the world’s most advanced military technology. Development megaprojects are also beyond India’s means—for these, Myanmar is more likely to seek partners in Japan or Asean.
“India’s biggest weakness,” as the Economist wrote in a 2011 review of David Malone’s book on Indian foreign policy,
is in its own region….As the local hegemon it should be doing much more to foster economic ties and stability all over its back yard. Instead relations with all its neighbours, with the exception of a couple of minnows like Bhutan and the Maldives, are mostly sour, and regional trade is pitiful. Until India shows more charm—or strength—to those nearby, distant powers are unlikely to take its global pretensions very seriously.
In Burma, as in much of Southeast Asia, India is trying to catch up with China, which has been heavily involved in this region for years. Diplomatic ties between Japan and ASEAN, too, have grown considerably warmer in the past few years, and business is booming. As the world’s largest democracy and an emerging global power, India has an interest and the ability to also connect with its eastern neighbors, but so far those opportunities have unfortunately gone largely unrealized.