No press statement has been issued on the discussions, sources said, largely because China and Russia discouraged the move.
India finds itself in a familiar predicament regarding Myanmar – while supporting democracy, how does it pursue strong security and developmental interests after the latest military coup.
Even though there has been no communication between New Delhi and the ruling Tatmadaw (Mynamar military) since the coup on Monday, India plans to continue its development activities particularly in the sensitive Rakhine state, where it is building the Sittwe port and homes for the Rohingya.
The US has already called it a “coup” leaving the door open for potentially more sanctions. Going by the experience of the past decades, it has become clear that sanctions don’t actually work, particularly in already introverted societies like Myanmar. But sanctions might push Myanmar closer to the Chinese. It is believed that one of the reasons for the military to open up to democracy in 2010-2011 was to reduce their dependence on China.
China and Russia have taken a non-committal approach to the coup while ASEAN made a muted call for “dialogue, reconciliation and return to normalcy”. Japan called it a “coup” but Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato talked of continuing with economic assistance and said, “We will consider our response while we keep watching the situation.” The western countries, including Australia and the US have issued strong statements with threats of sanctions.
India wants to remain engaged in Myanmar for quite a few reasons. Many insurgent groups find haven in Myanmar which means India needs its help to counter them. Similarly, India can make common cause with the military to counter the fact that China supports the Arakan Army which has targeted the Indian Kaladan project, including briefly kidnapping some personnel. Most important India wants Myanmar to counter the biggest security threat – Chinese support with arms to the Wa army, which undermines its (Myanmar) forces, as well as help arm other insurgent groups in Myanmar and India.
Historian Thant Myint U, summing up the issue, tweeted, “The Myanmar generals have always been motivated by power not wealth. … Their creed is nationalism and their dream is to end the country’s 75-year old civil war on their terms. Any effective international approach will also need to understand the unique psychology of Myanmar’s political elites, shaped by decades of violence, isolation, poverty, and oppression as well as the deeply conservative and hierarchical nature of its mainly Buddhist society.”
For India, engagement with Myanmar is vital. It was not for nothing that foreign secretary Harsh Shringla travelled to NayPyiDaw together with army chief Gen MM Naravane in October. New Delhi recognised the importance of maintaining a two-track engagement, acknowledging the primacy of the army in Myanmar’s affairs.
In fact, close observers of Myanmar in India were not overly surprised at the coup. After the November elections, many detected a sense of unease among the military, an apprehension that Aung San Suu Kyi-led civilian leadership might diminish their role.
Bilahari Kausikan, former permanent secretary of Singapore’s foreign ministry, said, “As developments in Myanmar play out, it would be prudent for the US and ASEAN not to forget that no external party has much influence in Myanmar and that Myanmar’s future lies in its hands.”