By Ranjana Narayan
Beijing, July 2 — Even as Indian is keenly pushing ahead with its economic ties with energy-rich Myanmar, where China already has a marked presence, Beijing has said it "welcomes" competition from New Delhi in the region and does not have a strategy to "strangle" India.
India, which shares a land border of more than 1,600 km with Myanmar, inked a slew of agreements with the government of President Thein Sein during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to that country at the end of May.
India and Myanmar's trade is worth $1.2 billion, which is currently heavily in favor of Myanmar. In comparison, China is Myanmar's second largest trading partner, with their bilateral trade hitting $4.44 billion in 2010, a 53.2- percent increase over the previous year, according to a Myanmar Times report, which was also cited by China's state-run China Daily.
"China's position is very strong in economic trade in Myanmar and South Asia. China welcomes competition from India," Jia Xiudong, Senior Fellow in Residence, of China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), Department of International Strategic Studies, told a group of visiting Indian journalists.
He made the comment when asked if China was concerned about India's 'Look East' policy. Jia said China is "not concerned" and welcomes competition.
The Myanmar Times, citing data from the Myanmar Investment Commission, reported that China invested $13.6 billion in Myanmar, mostly in the energy sector, during 2010-11. Of this, $9.6 billion was invested in 2011.
Six official Chinese delegations visited MIC in 2011 to discuss investment in infrastructure, mining, energy and manufacturing.
China has started work on two oil and natural gas pipelines, stretching 1,060 km from the Bay of Bengal port of Kyaukpyu to Kunming, capital of its southwestern province Yunnan.
However, work on the Myitsone dam project on the Irrawaddy - set to be Myanmar's largest hydroelectric power stations - was stopped due to environmental concerns and protests by locals. The state-run China Power Investment Corporation is in talks with the Myanmar government to resume the project.
India's main infrastructure venture in Myanmar is the Kaladan multi-modal project to link Sittwe port to Mizoram by road and an inland waterway. However, work on the project, which began in 2008, is progressing slowly. While the waterway is expected to be completed by 2013, the road link is to be ready by 2014.
India is also engaged in upgrading and resurfacing of a few major roads in Myanmar.
India's state-run oil firms, the overseas arm of Oil and Natural Gas Corp and and GAIL have a 30-percent interest in two gas-producing blocks in Myanmar as part of a consortium which is supplying the hydrocarbon gas produced to China.
Besides, India also has three deepwater exploration blocks.
To a query if China was pursuing a "String of Pearls" strategy of strategically encircling India, Jia said China "does not have a strategy to strangle India".
"This is not our intention...India is a big power...will other countries join to strangle (India)," said Jia. The CIIS is the think tank of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It conducts research and analysis on a wide range of foreign policy issues, according to the official website.
During a separate interaction with the Indian journalists, a People's Liberation Army official had said that China's efforts to seek a presence in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles was only for "logistics support" for its navy and it has "no intention" to set up military bases outside the country.
The PLA (People's Liberation Army) Navy, as part of its anti-piracy escort of ships, has "requested to set up logistics support for refueling" of the PLA Navy in Seychelles. "There is no intention to set up a naval base outside China. We see it as cooperation and not expansion," Navy Senior Captain Zhang Wei, Research Fellow of Naval Military Studies Institute, said.
In December last year, China had said that Seychelles has invited its navy to establish a port to supply its anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, causing some concern in India.
The Indian journalists were visiting China on the invite of the state-run All China Journalists' Association.
(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)