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Why Is India Not On The Same Page With Its ‘Democratic Allies’ On Myanmar’s Military Regime?

Days after condemning the ongoing violence in Myanmar at the United Nations, India has again changed its tone with regard to the country’s military regime, which seized power on February 1 overthrowing Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has called India’s stand “a unique position”. He was speaking at an event in New Delhi on April 14, also attended by his counterparts from France and Australia.

While they found common ground on keeping the Indo-Pacific region free, Jaishankar struck a divergent note saying, while all democratic countries have a common position, “we are located differently and our relationships with Myanmar are each unique”.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 726 people had been killed in the nationwide military crackdown and 4,034 detained as of April 15.

Civilians take out a protest march in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city. (via Twitter)

While New Delhi’s initial silence was seen as its tacit support to Myanmar’s generals, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, T.S. Tirumurti, condemned the violence in Myanmar and urged for maximum restraint during a closed meeting

Analysts interpreted this as western pressure, especially from India’s closest ally, the US.

“There is speculation that New Delhi ‘changed’ its position under pressure from its ally, the United States. But India’s reaction appears to be too little and too late,” Jayanta Kalita wrote a piece for The Irrawaddy.

India has strategic interests in maintaining cordial relations with Myanmar’s armed forces, known as Tatmadaw. There is a line of thinking in Indian foreign policy circles that if New Delhi abandons Myanmar, it would allow a free run to China, which has already made deep inroads into the country through trade and investments.

The Southeast Asian nation is also part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure program to counter western dominance.

The military Junta’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s anti-China sentiments are boosting Myanmar’s relations with India and the latter doesn’t want to lose that edge.

India attaches importance to Myanmar as the country is key to its Act East policy to connect the Asia-Pacific (renamed as Indo-Pacific) and to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

The two neighbors cooperate in a range of areas including, defense, security, counterterrorism, trade, infrastructure, and connectivity.

At the event in New Delhi, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian emphasized “solidarity” with the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mentioning the European Union sanctions, Drian stated that the coup, “is a serious attack against democracy in the southeast of Asia, and we need to maintain international pressure”.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Ann Payne also focused on institutional solutions, supporting an ASEAN meeting next week which would hopefully have, “the ability to press upon Myanmar…the cessation of the use of armed force against civilians, and for a very, very focused examination of the options for a way forward”.

Jaishankar, however, struck a cautious note. “We also have a unique position. So, we are seized of it, both bilaterally and we have a long border and we engage with all parties in Myanmar very very intensively.”

He also stated that India was also in touch with ASEAN “in terms of what they’re doing as indeed….all of us will have to find ways of coming together and each sort of doing what they are good at, in trying to find what is a common solution”.

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