India is learnt to have played a pivotal role to “bridge” differing positions in talks that led to a statement from the UN Security Council on Thursday calling for the “immediate release” of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been detained by the military.
India also left its distinctive stamp on the statement with key insertions, reflecting its known positions, drawing upon a long and strategic relationship with Myanmar, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
They cited the use of the word “process” by the UNSC in its call for upholding “democratic institutions and process” as proof of India’s role, alongside the use of the phrase “dialogue and reconciliation”.
India was able to engage with all members during the negotiations because of a general acknowledgement of its role, according to the same people. Washington has said it has had “daily ongoing conversations” with New Delhi since the military coup last Monday.
The statement issued by the UNSC followed intense negotiations with China’s acquiescence not clear until the final hours on Thursday.
There was some finger-pointing over a leaked draft statement, which triggered speculation that China and Russia were blocking it. China slammed it later, saying it was “shocked and baffled by the leak and the irresponsible rumours”.
The western powers in the 15-member council had pitched for a more “condemnatory” statement, according to the people familiar with the talks.
A leaked draft prepared by the UK, which holds the UNSC’s rotational chair for February, had described the overthrow of Suu Kyi, her arrest and related developments as a “military coup”, which has legal ramifications and triggers punitive measures.
The United States has already decided to call the overthrow a “military coup” and is considering new curbs and sanctions.
Other members such as Russia, China and Vietnam “didn’t want a situation where you start condemning and it becomes counterproductive” and they wanted to “be constructive”, according to the same people.
India’s own view was that “the Security Council’s pronouncements should not become counterproductive (and) it has to be constructive”, they added.
The UNSC statement, which is non-binding, said the members “expressed deep concern at the declaration of the state of emergency imposed in Myanmar by the military on February 1 and the arbitrary detention of members of the government” – including Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others. It added, “They called for the immediate release of all those detained.”
In the leaked draft, as reported by POLITICO, this paragraph was stronger and had said the members expressed “deep concern at the state of emergency imposed by the Myanmar military on February 1, and the detention of members of the legitimately elected civilian government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and civil society”.
The draft had then gone on to say the members “condemn the military coup” and that they urge coup leaders to “immediately release those unlawfully detained”.
That language, strong and forceful as it was, did not make it into the final statement.
India played a key role there, based on its strategic relationship with Myanmar, ensuring what was acceptable to all the members, according to the people who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The challenge, the people said, was how to you find that bridge between the two positions. “It is not as much language as what is acceptable to the 15,” one of the people familiar with the talks said, referring to the 15 members of the UNSC.
“The members of the Security Council emphasised the need for the continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar,” the UNSC statement said. “They stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. They encouraged the pursuance of dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar.”