PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi will attend the fifth BIMSTEC Summit via video conference on March 30. Unwilling to share the stage with Myanmar’s leaders, India learned it had relied on Sri Lanka, which hosts the summit as current BIMSTEC chair, to lead on a virtual platform.
Besides India and Sri Lanka, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) includes Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
While previously scheduled to be held in person, the summit was postponed due to the pandemic. With the Covid situation improving, the summit was then postponed to the end of March. Senior BIMSTEC officials will meet on March 28, followed by meetings of foreign ministers on March 29.
“The challenges related to the Covid pandemic and the uncertainties within the international system that all BIMSTEC members are facing, lend greater urgency to the goal of taking BIMSTEC’s technical and economic cooperation to the next level. This should be the main topic of the leaders’ deliberations at the Summit,” the Department of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
Leaders should also discuss setting up the group’s basic institutional structures and mechanisms, he added.
More than a year after the Myanmar coup, India has made a nuanced shift to distance itself from the regime – without condemning it outright, but raising concerns about the democratic process undermined by the military junta in Nay Pyi Tow. In recent months, as Modi met US President Joe Biden for the bilateral summit at the White House last September, the needle has moved a bit for Delhi.
With Washington leaning on Delhi, India finds itself in a delicate position vis-à-vis Myanmar. Aware of Beijing’s growing political, military and economic footprint in Myanmar, she does not want to isolate the Nay Pyi Taw regime. Delhi thinks it can, with partner countries, engage the junta.
India’s initial response was softer than usual. Hours after the coup in February last year, the MEA said it had “noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern”.
A few weeks later, the Indian Mission in Yangon tweeted on February 28 last year that “The Indian Embassy is deeply saddened by the loss of life in Yangon and other cities in Myanmar. today”. This was after at least 18 people were killed as security forces opened fire on protesters, according to the United Nations.
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But on Dec. 7, Delhi said it was “troubled” by the verdicts for Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others. Stressing that the rule of law and democratic process must be upheld, New Delhi said any development that “undermines these processes and accentuates differences is a matter of deep concern.”
Suu Kyi was sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Myanmar, which found her guilty of inciting dissent in the first of a series of verdicts.
In what was India’s first official communication with Myanmar’s military regime, Foreign Minister Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Myanmar on December 22-23. He sought to meet Suu Kyi, which the Burmese army refused.
India has refrained from directly criticizing the Tatmadaw, Burma’s military, as it is wary of Beijing’s growing influence and the high stakes involved in maintaining peace and security along the Indo-Burma border. Burmese. He believes that instead of condemning Myanmar’s military rulers, he should work with partner countries to rely on the military to work together to resolve their differences peacefully and constructively.
So while he wants to work with the Burmese junta regime, he doesn’t want to share the stage with the leaders at a summit right now.