A new port in Myanmar built with assistance from New Delhi has begun to receive container ships as both India and China seek closer economic ties with the Southeast Asian country Myanmar, Nikkei Asia reported. The first cargo vessel from the Indian metropolis of Kolkata arrived Tuesday at Sittwe Port in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Officials from India and Myanmar’s military government attended the port’s inauguration ceremony.

Sittwe Port forms a link in India’s Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, a sea lane connecting Kolkata in eastern India to Sittwe on Myanmar’s western coast. From there, the corridor traces an inland route through Myanmar via the Kaladan River and a highway, crossing into northeastern India, Asia Nikkei reported. Ahead of the ceremony, Indian shipping minister Sarbananda Sonowal hailed the port as “unlocking [India’s] northeast for Southeast Asia.”

The two countries shook hands on the USD 484 million Kaladan project in 2008. New Delhi is providing support across the board, Asia Nikkei reported. New Delhi sees the new Kaladan project as a way to connect isolated northeastern India to the Indian Ocean, providing a catalyst for economic growth. The region is linked to the rest of India by only the narrow Siliguri Corridor, a bottleneck squeezed by neighbouring countries with China looming to the north. Northeast India has witnessed ethnic conflict as well as deadly border clashes between Indian and Chinese troops, Asia Nikkei reported. While India has called for the return to civilian rule in Myanmar, New Delhi has maintained a close relationship with the military government since it took control in 2021 and has distanced itself from Western sanctions. Myanmar shares a border with India, and the two countries need to cooperate in responding to cross-border militant groups and other challenges, said a diplomatic source, Asia Nikkei reported. China also seeks access to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met on May 2 with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who leads Myanmar’s military government. Qin said Beijing will accelerate the development of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, which has logistics and industrial infrastructure projects connecting China to the Indian Ocean, Asia Nikkei reported.

China plans a large port and an industrial zone in Kyaukpyu, a town in Rakhine state. Though Sittwe Port has opened, construction on other parts of the Kaladan transport corridor including highways has been stalled by fighting between Myanmar’s military and pro-democracy factions. The Indian Council of World Affairs, a think tank linked to India’s foreign ministry, convened a meeting in April between government officials and experts from Myanmar’s neighbouring countries. The forum invited representatives from Myanmar’s military government as well, Asia Nikkei reported. These discussions were initiated by Thailand, and then India hosted the follow-up round. The meetings provide an unofficial forum for stakeholders to exchange opinions in pursuit of a resolution.