Indian foreign minister defends ties with Myanmar junta

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India’s foreign minister on Thursday defended his country’s ties with the Myanmar junta, despite growing international concerns about recent executions and the legitimacy of elections planned for next year.

Myanmar’s decade-long experiment with democracy was halted last year and the country has since spiraled into bloody conflict after the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in a coup.

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It has become a global pariah, with some western countries downgrading relations and levelling economic sanctions against the junta.

But India, China and Russia have continued to engage with the regime, including conducting ministerial visits.

Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said New Delhi’s position on Myanmar has been consistent over decades and goes back to the country’s struggle for freedom against colonialism.

“Our relationship is not something which should be judged... by the politics of the day,” Jaishankar told an audience at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

As a direct neighbor India could not avoid dealing with the military junta regime because of border issues such as organized crime, coronavirus and Indian insurgents in Myanmar, he said.

“We also have to manage our border relationship and the complexities of being a neighbor,” he said.

Earlier this year New Delhi’s incoming ambassador to Myanmar presented his credentials to coup leader Min Aung Hlaing -- making India one of the few nations to recognize the junta as a legitimate government.

Jaishankar said as an immediate neighbor, India had an empathy and an understanding that was different from other countries far away that were pontificating about Myanmar’s democracy.

Despite their engagement with the junta, “we deeply believe that Myanmar is best served by being a democracy -- by reflecting what are the sentiments and wishes of its people,” he said.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc have so far proven fruitless.

Last week, Myanmar’s ruling junta moved to restrict the country’s 92 political parties from meeting foreigners or international organizations ahead of an election expected next year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the international community to reject the junta’s “sham elections” planned for next year.

Suu Kyi has been in custody since February 2021 and faces an eclectic raft of charges that could see her jailed for more than 150 years.

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