'Geographical Importance': India Defends Myanmar's Participation in BIMSTEC Summit

Asked if the US had issued a demarche to India on Myanmar's participation in BIMSTEC, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi did not deny the claim.

Listen to this article:

New Delhi: India on Thursday defended Myanmar’s participation in the BIMSTEC summit, saying the country’s geographical location can determine the success of the regional grouping.

The fifth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit was held virtually on March 30, during which the ‘BIMSTEC Charter’ was adopted. It gives the grouping an international identity and lays out the basic institutional architecture for the countries to carry out the work.

The Wire had revealed a day before the summit that the US had asked India to follow ASEAN’s lead and isolate Myanmar’s junta regime, which came to power following a coup in February 2021. That did not happen and the regional conference was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the heads of state of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.

Myanmar was represented by the country’s foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin.

Sri Lanka, which was the chair of the summit, had taken the decision to follow this formula for Myanmar’s participation, which was accepted by the other members.

On Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was asked if the US had issued a demarche to India on Myanmar’s participation in BIMSTEC. He did not deny the claim but moved on to defend Myanmar’s participation. He said India respected the decision of the chair, Sri Lanka, that the Myanmar foreign minister attend the summit in virtual mode.

“Let me emphasise BIMSTEC is a grouping organised around the geography of the Bay of Bengal. Its focus is on economic and development cooperation. We feel that it added real value to the lives of our people. Our activities include cooperation for the effective implementation of [Sustainable Development Goals] targets and cooperation in building capacities in disaster management,” Bagchi said.

He said Myanmar is an important member of this grouping, adding that its “important geography” can determine the success of BIMSTEC. “We have always, welcomed participation by Myanmar in BIMSTEC activities,” he said.

On the junta’s coup, he said India has made its position clear, and that “there has been no change in our desire to see the restoration of democracy”.

Immediately after the summit, India had similarly defended Myanmar’s cooperation, saying for the “success of cooperation activities” all countries should be present and participate. “Myanmar is an important constituent member of the BIMSTEC and it has a very important geography,” MEA additional secretary Rudrendra Tandon told reporters.