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India on Monday proposed to build an ambitious $6-billion petroleum refinery project near Yangon, to firmly establish its credentials as a serious and viable development partner of Myanmar.

This was a key takeaway from a rare two-day joint visit by Indian Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane and foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Myanmar.

India seeks to ensure that the neighbouring country does not get firmly set in China’s orbit. “This project would be a win-win arrangement for both countries…. As of now, Indian Oil Corp. (IOC) has evinced interest in the project," said a person aware of the matter, on the condition of anonymity.

Other highlights of the visit include presenting 3,000 vials of Remdesivir, considered as a viable option to treat covid-19 patients, to state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in a “symbolic move of India’s commitment to assist Myanmar in its fight against the pandemic", he said. The promise to import 150,000 tonnes of urad from Myanmar till 31 March 2021 and a grant of $2 million for the construction of a border haat (village) bridge at Byanyu/Sarsichauk in Chin state to provide an impetus to increased economic connectivity between Mizoram and Myanmar were some of the other key outcomes of the visit.

India’s moves come amid a renewed effort by Beijing to woo Myanmar, which has been criticized by some countries for its treatment of the Rohingyas, seen as residents of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, who fled to Bangladesh after a crackdown by Myanmarese troops.

In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Myanmar and the two countries signed a slew of pacts, including a concession and shareholder’s agreement for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone off the Bay of Bengal. With a deep-water port, it is the terminus of the 1,700-km China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a major link in Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative whose other end lies in China’s Yunnan province. Other agreements covered oil and gas pipelines, and road and rail projects from southern China through Myanmar to Kyaukphyu.

“This is a very bold move," former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said about India’s plans to set up the refinery. “It is a very strategic project aimed at reducing Myanmar’s dependence on China’s infrastructure building. India cannot counter China by merely saying it has an ‘Act East’ policy. The investment is substantial to catch Myanmar’s attention," Sibal said. Queries to spokespersons of IOC and the ministry of petroleum and natural gas late on Monday evening did not elicit any response till press time.

Utpal Bhaskar contributed to this story

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