Caught between international pressure over how to engage with the Myanmar military junta regime and India’s own ties with its neighbour, the government is likely to not include the Myanmar Foreign Minister at the India-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting set to be hosted by the External Affairs Minister (EAM) in mid-June.
The decision marks a departure from India’s attendance at the regional BIMSTEC meeting in Colombo in March, where Myanmar’s junta-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin was invited as a virtual participant, which was protested by the United States. New Delhi’s decision is likely to risk a boycott of the India-ASEAN event in Delhi by Myanmar.
According to several official and diplomatic sources, India has decided follow the consensus of ASEAN countries instead, to invite only a “non-political”, “non-military” representative to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers and US-ASEAN meetings. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is sending invitations to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs U Chan Aye for both the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) on June 15 and the Foreign Ministers’ meeting on June 16-17, the sources confirmed.
Myanmar’s response is still not clear and a final call is expected on Monday, when the MEA has called Delhi-based diplomats of all ASEAN countries — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar — to a logistics meeting to prepare for the XIIth “Delhi Dialogue” or India-ASEAN FM meeting.
The MEA declined to comment on the issue.
India has thus far chosen to take an independent line on Myanmar, including at the UN Security Council, after Western countries imposed sanctions on the Myanmar military government that deposed the elected National Unity Government (NUG) led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. India has stressed the need for a restoration of democratic processes, and release of all political leaders and abiding by the ASEAN’s five-point consensus. The ASEAN five-point consensus on Myanmar, which was adopted in April 2021, calls for an immediate end to violence in the country; dialogue among all parties; the appointment of a special envoy; humanitarian assistance by ASEAN; and the special envoy’s visit to Myanmar to meet with all parties.
India had decided not to boycott the Myanmar government, and officials including then Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla had visited Naypyitaw and Yangon in 2021 and met with the coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing. In March this year, India had also agreed to attend a summit of the seven-nation Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC, that includes Myanmar and Thailand, which the Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin attended virtually in sessions also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and EAM S. Jaishankar. Protesting the inclusion of the Minister, the United States had issued sharp demarches to both Sri Lanka, as the host, and to India, which had backed the decision.
When asked, a senior MEA official had said that “the success of cooperation activities on this platform [BIMSTEC], requires all countries to be present and to participate in that cooperation activities. Myanmar is an important constituent member of the BIMSTEC and it has a very important geography”.
However, for the India-ASEAN meeting, New Delhi has decided to go with the practice adopted by ASEAN at its summit in Brunei in October 2021, and the ASEAN FM meet in Cambodia in February this year. Angered by the “downgrade” in its status, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry had refused to send Chan Aye, and officials said it would likely also protest a similar decision by New Delhi. At the US-ASEAN summit hosted by U.S. President Joseph Biden in Washington on May 12 this year, the U.S. had kept an “empty chair” for Myanmar, and American officials had met with representatives of the now-deposed NUG government on the sidelines of the summit.