New Delhi: India Friday pushed back against putting fresh pressure on Myanmar, telling other Quad foreign ministers that it doesn’t believe in imposing sanctions on its eastern neighbour to force the military junta to restore democracy.
The fourth Quad foreign ministers’ meeting was held in Melbourne, Australia, Friday. It was attended by US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
The foreign ministers said they remained “gravely concerned” and jointly called for a “swift return” to democracy in Myanmar, asking the military junta to put an end to the ongoing violence there. However, New Delhi refused to get drawn into the conversation about imposing sanctions on the regime.
The military regime has been in power for a year now. On 1 February last year, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, led the coup overthrowing the democratic government under Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
In December 2021, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had made an outreach to the junta by travelling to Myanmar, and New Delhi has now chalked out a twin-track approach to deal with Naypyidaw, engaging with both the junta and pro-democracy factions.
“We are all agreed on the importance of the democratic transition which was underway in Myanmar, and clearly the fact that the country has moved in a different direction is something which troubles all of us. We all also strongly back the ASEAN position on Myanmar and their efforts to engage,” Jaishankar said at a press conference in Melbourne after the meeting.
However, he said as far as India is concerned, as an “immediate land-border neighbour”, New Delhi has “some specific” concerns on Myanmar.
“Concerns about insurgents operating there who some months ago killed a very senior military officer and his family, concerns about Covid and about the lack of vaccination on our common border, concerns about a humanitarian situation which is arising from food shortages,” said Jaishankar, adding, “where we are concerned, we don’t follow a policy of national sanctions”.
‘We can’t not work with them’, says India
Jaishankar also had to face a number of questions on India’s engagement with the military leadership in Myanmar earlier in the day when he addressed the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne.
On being asked by former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans why India is opposed to imposing sanctions on the Tatmadaw, Jaishankar said, “Our dilemma is this. We (India and Myanmar) have a complicated border with insurgents operating. One way to secure that border is by working with the government, which means the military. So, despite unfortunate developments, we can’t not work with them.”
Talking about the world’s treatment of military rule elsewhere, and hinting in particular at the US’ support for Pakistan’s military leaders, Jaishankar said, “We had military generals to our west and east. One was sanctioned, the other was elevated to a major non-NATO ally.”
According to US Secretary of State Blinken, Myanmar was discussed as a major concern as it remains “deeply troubling” for the Quad.
“We support the ASEAN five-point consensus, we need to see it getting implemented, this is something President Biden is going to focus on when he hosts the ASEAN leaders in Washington… We had robust discussions and the concerns are widely shared,” Blinken said.
The consensus by ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, states that there shall be an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and all parties shall exercise utmost restraint; constructive dialogue among all parties concerned shall commence to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.
According to the joint statement that was later issued by all the Quad members — the US, India, Japan, and Australia — the grouping also called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained by Myanmar’s junta.
“We reaffirm our support for ASEAN efforts to seek a solution in Myanmar and call on the military regime to urgently implement ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus and swiftly return Myanmar to the path of democracy. We encourage the international community to work together to support an end to the violence,” the statement said.
China the elephant in the room
The Quad, as always, sent out some major signalling to Beijing as it unanimously called for a “maritime rules-based order in the South and East China Seas” and adherence to international law by all countries in the Indo-Pacific, specifically in relation to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“In the Indo-Pacific region, there are the nuclear and missile activities by North Korea, unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas, and the situation in Myanmar, and others. There are numerous pressing matters. This is indeed the moment where the power of diplomacy fits,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi.
Japan will be hosting the next Quad Summit in the first half of this year.
Supporting Hayashi’s statement, Blinken added, “We’ll strengthen our cooperation on maritime security, both to combat challenges like illegal, unregulated, unreported fishing, and to ensure freedom of navigation and overflight across the region, including in the South and East China Seas.”
In a meeting last week between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two had discussed the “negative impact of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy on peace and stability in the region” according to a joint statement.
In response to this, Australian Foreign Minister Payne said, “Where we see the sort of statement that was issued by the Presidents after their bilateral meeting, it is concerning because it doesn’t present or represent a global order that squares with those ambitions for freedom and openness and sovereignty, and the protection of territorial integrity.”
The Quad Friday also discussed the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis that the US and Japan highlighted as a major tension point.
“We continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border. And as we’ve said before, we’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time. And to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” said Blinken during the press conference.
“We’re continuing to draw down our embassy. We will continue that process. And we’ve also been very clear that any American citizens who remain in Ukraine should leave now,” he added.
According to Hayashi, the international situation remains “immensely fluid” due to the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
“At the moment, tension in Ukraine is rising and diplomatic efforts to resolve the situations are intensifying,” he said.
However, the issue was not mentioned in the joint statement.
“I’ve also reiterated Australia’s strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that we will continue to support our allies and partners to deter this sort of aggression, and to raise the costs of this kind of behaviour,” said Payne.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)