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Donald Lu warns Dhaka, Delhi of worsening conflict in Myanmar

Published : Monday, 19 February, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 383

The US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu warned both Dhaka and Delhi over the security situation born out of the Rohingya refugee crisis as the general instability in Myanmar will worsen and continue to have implications for neighbours.

"Sri Lanka as an example of the success of the administrations Indo-Pacific strategy in collaboration with partners such as India, but warned both Dhaka and Delhi that the security situation born out of the Rohingya refugee crisis and the general instability in Myanmar will worsen and continue to have implications for neighbours," Donald Lu said while speaking at a high-powered panel along with other administration officials from the State Department, National Security Council and Pentagon to mark two years of the Joe Biden administrations Indo-Pacific strategy at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), a thinktank in Washington DC, last week.

Addressing potential Chinese threats in the region, Lu emphasized the need to support Sri Lankas sovereignty, mentioning the US governments provision of patrol boats to the Sri Lankan military.

On the security front, he referred to the Indo-Pacific maritime domain awareness initiative, providing free, near real-time commercial satellite data to countries in the region, including South Asia, through the Indo-Pacific Information Sharing Centre.

Lu said that the situation in Burma was not getting better and what worried him was that the refugee crisis and the security problems it was creating for Bangladesh and "potentially for India" could get deeper in coming days. "It is something we have to watch out for and enable our partners in the region, in this case Bangladesh and India, to cope with those stresses without it boiling over into instability in their countries as well."

Lu also touched upon his discussions with authorities in the Maldives, emphasizing that China could be a good partner only if faced with "real competition" from others.

Additionally, he recognized Indias leadership in the Indian Ocean and the ongoing discussions between India and the US on collaborative efforts in littoral states in Africa.

The panel discussion marked two years of the Joe Biden administrations Indo-Pacific strategy, with Lu providing insights into the US approach to regional challenges and collaborations.

In a hint at Chinese threats in the region, Lu said that a part of what Sri Lanka "really needs" was "for all of us to be there to support its sovereignty". "One of the ways we are doing it from the US government is by providing patrol boats to the Sri Lankan military," Lu said.

On the security front, he also referred to the Indo-Pacific maritime domain awareness initiative. "This is a complicated way of saying we are going to provide free, near real-time, commercial satellite data in countries around the region, including in South Asia, through the Indo-Pacific Information Sharing Centre that Indians have created. This is going to be transformative and will help countries defend themselves against piracy, drug trafficking and illegal fishing".

Replying to a question, Lu briefly referred to the India-China border conflict and the "historic, deep seated conflict" between India and Pakistan but said he spent a lot of time on the implications of the Myanmar situation on the South Asian region.

"I spend a lot of times on Bangladesh, the Rohingya refugees who are there and the effects of instability in Burma and what it means for the region," Lu said, adding that US spent worked significantly with Bangladesh to support the generosity Dhaka has shown for over a million people who have been living in the country for years.
 
Responding to a question on how China has portrayed the administrations Indo-Pacific strategy as directed against Beijing and how the US is managing this new world, Lu offered the example of Maldives.

"It is a place where China, US, India, lots of countries are competing for influence. The way we will prevail is by offering a better proposition…. my view is that China will be a good partner when there is genuine, actual competition. If there isn competition, what we have seen over and over again is China offering unsustainable debt for unsustainable projects," he said.

Pointing out that Maldives faces serious challenges including debt - if Maldives doesn get debt restructuring, it will owe more than $1.3 billion in debt payments, more than the governments budget - Lu said that what US needed was "sustainable, profitable, private sector led investment" and pointed to economic opportunities.

On the debt side, Lu said the creditor community led by Japan, France and India, negotiated for months to find a formula to allow Sri Lanka to restructure its debt in a sustainable manner. "That formula put pressure on the Chinese to go along with those debt reassurances. That opened up IMF funding and changes in the economy you witness today."

"If you are going to get this right, you have to work with Indians and make sure what we are doing is consistent with the direction they are moving in with respect to the Indian Ocean. They are historically the big player. So we are having interesting talks, including talks which will launch at the end of this month on Africa to think about how we are working together particularly in the littoral states of Africa that border Indian Ocean," Lu said.







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