Selective outrage against Adani’s Myanmar Project?

Is this selective outrage not hurting India’s geo-political ambitions?

The Adani Group is back in the news again. The last time it was hauled over the coals was when agitating farmers protesting on the borders of the Indian Capital had blamed the Ahmedabad-based group and Ambani for their woes.

This time, the news is trickling from across the eastern borders.

So let’s delve a bit into history. In May 2019, the Adani Group announced that it would build and operate a new container terminal along Myanmar’s Yangon river. This was confirmed to be a 50-year deal that would enable India to gain significant strategic geo-political advantage in the region in a fitting response to similar Chinese investments in lieu of its long-standing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

In 2010, APSEZ won the Yangon international terminal project through a global competitive bid, the spokesperson said. “The project, fully owned and developed by APSEZ is an independent container terminal with no joint venture partners.”

The land acquisition for the project was facilitated by the Myanmar Investment Commission led by U Thaung Tun, its chairman and Minister of Investment and Foreign Economic Relations under the guidance of Her Excellency President Aung San Suu Kyi”s National League for Democracy government.

Myanmar military commander-in-chief General Min Aung Hlaing (centre) and senior military commanders arrive for the ‘Sin Phyu Shin’ joint military exercises in the Irrawaddy Delta region on February 3, 2018. (File photo: AFP)

New Delhi had hailed the decision as momentous, it had triggered breaking headlines. The democratic Myanmar government, then led by Aung San Suu Kyi, facilitated the venture through Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), a government body responsible for verifying and approving investment proposals in Myanmar. This included identification and approval of land to be leased for the new container terminal at Yangon being developed by the Adani Group. For any aspiring economy, a stable and efficient port is the precursor to any development and investment proposal, and accordingly, MIC facilitated land through Myanmar Economic Corporation Co Ltd (MEC). 

So what is happening to the project today?

It, actually, stands on very shaky grounds. But what is surprising — and missing from the headlines in India — is that the troubled status of the project is not because of the recent military coup in Myanmar. Rather, it stems from the selective outrage that singles out the integrated infrastructure conglomerate for engaging with and indirectly financing MEC.

As fabricated and out of context narratives by various detractors continue to sling mud on a top Indian corporate giant, one must ask a very simple question: Who stands to suffer the most? 

The answer, in short, is India.

The Adani Group has denied engaging with Myanmar’s military leadership over the Yangon port deal.

But it has not stopped the outrage against Adani.

A set of videos and photographs circulating on the social show Adani Ports’ top officials meeting with Myanmar’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing in July 2019. Photographs also showed the general’s visit to the Adani-owned Mundra Port in Gujarat, the media has easily made two and two four. It is easy mathematics. 

But here’s the whole truth.

The above-mentioned photos and videos are from the Myanmar general’s visit to India hosted by the Indian government – the purpose being enhancing cooperation between India and Myanmar in the areas of counter-insurgency, capacity building, military-to-military-ties and maritime collaboration. In the same trip, General Min Aung Hlaing also travelled to Vishakhapatnam to visit Eastern Naval Command headquarters, as well as the National Defence Academy in Maharashtra. 

Therefore, Mundra Port was only one of the multiple locations on the general’s visit to the country.

This is not all. It has also been confirmed that the visiting delegation held a rendezvous with the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh. For India, this was a great opportunity to counter the threat of China which had taken over as the largest supplier of weapons equipment to the south-east Asian nation in lieu of the sanctions imposed on Myanmar’s supplies from the West. 

Minister of External Affairs, Dr. S. Jaishankar, also confirmed the nature of the visit in a tweet, terming it as ‘foreign policy focussed that would advance our national security’.

As for the images depicting ‘gifts’ being presented by Adani officials to the visiting dignitaries, it is the customary practice of exchanging mementos. Isn’t it routine? 

Now, let’s focus on the issue of the sum of investment that the Adani Group is obliged to pay to MEC, who have leased them 54 acres of land for the development of the Ahlone International Port Terminal 2 (AIPT 2). 

As per leaked documents published by Australian news broadcast company, ABC, Adani Ports is paying $30 million in ‘land lease fees’ and $22 million in ‘land clearance fee’. This is being touted as a significant boost to Myanmar military’s finances to ‘conduct international crimes’. 

Now, pause for a while. 

If this amount is so significant, then why is no one talking about the foreign oil and gas companies in Myanmar that end up paying approximately $1 billion per month in royalty payments to Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) – the major funding source of the country’s military government? Oil majors like Chevron, PTT Thailand, PETRONAS Malaysia and Woodside Australia continue to operate and control main oil and gas blocks in the country at a far bigger scale than Adani, yet haven’t come under the scanner as much. 

Despite US sanctions, American companies like Coca Cola and GE also remain active in the Myanmar landscape. Japanese companies like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Marubeni and Toyota continue to pay huge taxes to the new regime in Myanmar. Yet, while Adani Ports gets called out for paying a nominal fee for utilizing land in a foreign country, the fact that oil and gas veterans and other MNCs from countries with long-standing interests in the volatile nation have flown under the radar points towards hypocrisy at play. 

This is not all.

No one is talking about how critical the Adani Yangon project is for getting Myanmar’s ravaged economy back on track. By the end of its second phase, the terminal will be equipped with the capacity to handle over 800,000 TEUs. In fact, 90 percent of Myanmar’s exports & imports will be handled by the Yangon ports cluster. Adani Group also plans to build a maritime university for community skill development and strengthen local transport and civic infrastructure to cater to the region’s socio-economic growth.

As the Adani Port’s Yangon terminal port faces unjustified flak and selective outrage from vested interests, could there be a bigger political game in play here to destabilize India’s strategic policy in the South East Asia region? 

With tough countermeasures and sanctions against Myanmar’s military government on the rise, there’s a fear that the regime will be driven even closer to China. India’s highly sensitive North East region is already in a fix, thanks to China’s expansionist stance and encouragement of cross-border disputes. 

Hence, India’s Yangon terminal project is, above all, a vital step towards keeping Beijing’s growing dominance in check – as the latter looks to further build upon its critical investments in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota and Colombo ports and Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Any lapse in the Adani project, therefore, would come at a great cost to India’s strategic cooperative relations with Myanmar while also posing a threat to national security in the event of the latter allying with China against India. 

At the end of the day, one must question whether those who’re taking up arms to spread misinformation against the Adani Group and the Yangon port project have the best interests of India at heart. 

As the above evidence suggests, the answer is quite obvious.

Shantanu Guha Ray
Shantanu Guha Ray
Shantanu Guha Ray is India Editor, Central European News (CEN), Vienna and the Consulting Editor, News Intervention. His much-acclaimed and award-winning book, Target, takes a close look at the NSEL crisis.

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