Thursday, January 20, 2022

US urges Asean members to help restore democracy in Myanmar ‘immediately’

There have been claims that Washington has not been paying enough attention to a region that is crucial to its regional strategy to counter an increasingly powerful China.

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The US has “deep concerns” about the military coup in Myanmar and calls on Asean to take action to end the violence and restore democracy in the country, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Asean has been leading the main diplomatic effort to find a solution to Myanmar’s deadly turmoil since the Feb 1 coup plunged fellow Asean member into violence that shows no signs of easing.

During a video conference with Asean foreign ministers on Wednesday, Washington’s top diplomat urged Asean to take “immediate action” on a five-point consensus, agreed upon in April, to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The Asean plan calls for an end to the violence in Myanmar, the start of a dialogue between all parties, greater humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas as well as the appointment of a special envoy.

The plan – which coup leader Ming Aung Hlaing agreed to – has also received the backing of Russia, a key supplier of arms and training to Myanmar’s military.

The coup leaders, however, have since shown no intention of following through on the plan and have instead reiterated their own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy in Myanmar.

The military’s lack of action has frustrated Asean’s most outspoken members such as Indonesia and Singapore, which are also additionally demanding the release of detained civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar descended into chaos after the coup, with hundreds of protesters killed by security forces and thousands jailed amid paralysing strikes and spreading conflict in border regions.

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, while tens of thousands of people have been displaced amid fighting between the security forces and newly formed armed and tribal groups across Myanmar.

Blinken asked for the release of all those “unjustly detained” in the country, and the restoration of Myanmar’s democratic transition, Price said.

Blinken also emphasised the US rejection of China’s “unlawful maritime claims” in the South China Sea and said Washington “stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of Beijing’s coercion”, Price said.

The US secretary of state’s meeting with Asean was his first since President Joe Biden took office in January and came amid concerns among diplomats and others that Washington has not been paying sufficient attention to a region that is crucial to its regional strategy to counter an increasingly powerful China.

The State Department said Blinken reaffirmed the US’s commitment to Asean centrality on Wednesday and underscored the group’s essential role in the Indo-Pacific regional architecture.

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