In Jakarta, PM Modi Says Engagement With Myanmar Necessary for Connectivity and Security

Since the military coup which ousted the civilian leadership in 2021, Myanmar has been barred from attending the ASEAN meetings and has been criticised for not complying with the regional bloc’s five-point consensus peace plan.

New Delhi: While ASEAN reaffirmed its non-invitation policy towards the Junta, Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged the regional bloc’s stance, while emphasising the necessity of engaging as Myanmar’s neighbour to address border security concerns and promote connectivity.

Modi addressed the Myanmar situation during his remarks at the East Asia summit in Jakarta on Thursday. During his brief visit of less than 12 hours, Modi participated in the East Asia summit and the ASEAN-India meeting before returning to Delhi, where heads of state had already begun arriving for the G-20 summit.

India lent its support to three outcome documents – East Asia summit leaders’ declaration, and then ASEAN-India statements on Maritime cooperation and Food and security.

Earlier on Tuesday, the ASEAN leaders had collectively agreed that Myanmar will not assume the rotating leadership of their regional bloc as originally planned for 2026.

Since the military coup which ousted the civilian leadership in 2021, Myanmar has been barred from attending the ASEAN meetings and has been criticised for not complying with the regional bloc’s five-point consensus peace plan.

Despite reports of division between ASEAN members on approach to Myanmar, the regional group urged “the Myanmar Armed Forces, in particular, and all related parties concerned in Myanmar, to de-escalate violence and stop targeted attacks on civilians, houses and public facilities, such as schools, hospitals, markets, churches and monasteries”.

Indonesia also said that ASEAN had designated a troika of countries – the group’s previous, current and next chairs – to deal with Myanmar.

India has repeatedly said that it will be guided by ASEAN’s approach to Myanmar, but the remarks by Modi also reflected the view in New Delhi that it would keep on having more engagement with Naypyidaw.

“India’s policy in Myanmar takes into account ASEAN’s views. At the same time, as a neighbouring country, ensuring peace and security on the borders; and enhancing India-ASEAN connectivity is also our focus. Peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, is in the interest of us all,” said Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday.

In July, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar had met with his Myanmarese counterpart Than Shwe, while top Indian officials have travelled to Myanmar over last few months. India has also invited Myanmar ministers to take part in various events related to the sub-regional BIMSTEC group and diplomatic engagements.

Furthermore, during the East Asia summit, Modi said that the current global landscape is beset with challenges like terrorism, extremism and geopolitical conflicts, which can be countered by multilateralism and rules-based international order.

“It is imperative to adhere fully to international laws; And everyone’s commitment and joint efforts are also necessary to strengthen the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. As I have said before – today’s era is not of war. Dialogue and diplomacy is the only path to resolution,” he said.

His remarks about territorial integrity takes place a week after China had released the 2023 version of its standard map which had riled a number of neighbours, including India and other Southeast Asian countries.

Modi didn’t mention Ukraine or any other geopolitical conflicts by name in his short speech.

He said that the “need of the hour” was for an Indo-Pacific where international law was applicable to all countries and there was freedom of navigation and oversight.

“India believes that the Code of Conduct for South China Sea should be effective and in accordance with UNCLOS. Additionally, it should take into consideration the interests of countries that are not directly involved in the discussions,” he said.

Two months ago, China and ASEAN reached an agreement on new guidelines aimed at expediting negotiations for a legally binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. China has repeatedly pushed for a Code of Conduct that would limit the presence of foreign military forces in South China sea.

The Indian prime minister also claimed that there was “unison in the vision” on Indo-Pacific between India and ASEAN. He also batted for the Quad grouping at the East Asia summit, saying that agenda of Quad “complements with the various mechanisms of ASEAN”.

At the ASEAN-India summit, Modi spelled out a 12-point proposal aimed at strengthening India-ASEAN cooperation in areas such as connectivity, digital transformation, trade, addressing contemporary challenges, enhancing people-to-people contacts, and deepening strategic engagement.