India hosts BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers amid raging Myanmar crisis

“Global and regional developments also make it imperative that we find more solutions among ourselves. There are longstanding goals... that have acquired a new urgency,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said

Published - July 11, 2024 09:55 pm IST - NEW DELHI

EAM S Jaishankar in a group photo with Foreign Ministers from other countries during the 2nd BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, in New Delhi on Thursday.

EAM S Jaishankar in a group photo with Foreign Ministers from other countries during the 2nd BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, in New Delhi on Thursday. | Photo Credit: ANI

The seven-member Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) should find solutions to the regional challenges within itself, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on July 11 addressing the first BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ retreat held here.

The meeting assumes significance as it is being held in the backdrop of major developments in neighbouring Myanmar where the military junta has been receiving battlefield setbacks against dozens of Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs).

“Global and regional developments also make it imperative that we find more solutions among ourselves. There are longstanding goals such as capacity building and economic cooperation that have acquired a new urgency. And not least, a grouping that is so complementary and so congenial in its membership should surely harbour higher aspirations,” said Mr. Jaishankar while addressing the participants.

This is the first time such an event was organised since the Charter of BIMSTEC came into effect on May 20, which marked a landmark development in the evolution of the organisation.

The developments in Myanmar pose a major issue before the BIMSTEC as instability there has put a question mark on a number of developmental and connectivity projects that were aimed at firming up ties among countries like Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand. A day before the beginning of the meeting in Delhi, the military junta in Naypyidaw lost control of Naungcho, a major town along a trade highway to China in the northern Shan State, to the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.

Following his meeting with Myanmar Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister U Than Swe, Mr. Jaishankar said, “Our discussions focused on the connectivity projects, so crucial for the future of BIMSTEC. Also exchanged views on border stability and humanitarian assistance.”

The Ministry of External Affairs is yet to clarify if India will extend humanitarian assistance to the affected civilian population inside Myanmar. Till now, assistance has been limited to the displaced population and personnel of the Myanmar military who sought refuge in Mizoram.

India has maintained a cautious approach to the crisis in Myanmar where the EAOs have gained control over the trade routes and territories that are close to the international borders of Myanmar. “Countering transnational crimes including cyber, narcotics and illegal arms is a shared priority of all three nations. We will continue to cooperate in that regard,” said Mr. Jaishankar after meeting with his Myanmarese and Thai counterparts.

Apart from Mr. Jaishankar, Foreign Ministers from Bangladesh (Hasan Mahmood), Thailand (Maris Sangiampongsa), Myanmar (Mr. Than Swe) and Bhutan (D.N. Dhungyel) participated in the retreat. Nepalese Foreign Minister Narayan Kazi Shrestha and the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry skipped the meeting.

Sources said Mr. Shrestha avoided the meeting as the government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is facing a crucial vote of confidence on Friday. Nepal was represented by Sewa Lamsal, Foreign Secretary, and the Sri Lankan side was represented by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya.

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