US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told Asean countries he is concerned about the lack of progress regarding the military coup in Myanmar and called on them to urge the junta toward restoring democracy, Kyodo News reported on Wednesday.
After a foreign ministers’ virtual meeting, Blinken tweeted that the group is “key to the future of the Indo-Pacific”.
The top US diplomat’s attendance at the meeting came as President Joe Biden’s administration is increasing engagement with Southeast Asian nations in an attempt to bolster its efforts to strengthen international support to contain China’s growing aggression in the region.
Blinken and the foreign ministers discussed regional and international challenges, including how best to deal with the pandemic, the climate crisis, and Myanmar, the State Department said in a press release.
On the pandemic, he reminded them that the US has already donated more than 23 million vaccine doses to Asean member states, and that Washington intends to provide US$500,000 to the Asean Covid-19 response fund to support the purchase of more vaccines.
On Myanmar, he “expressed grave concerns about the military coup” and called on Asean to “take joint action to urge the military to end the violence, release all those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to democracy”.
Myanmar is an Asean member, and the coup has caused an international outcry as anti-coup protesters have been killed by the country’s security forces since the Feb 1 coup.
The coup has halted Myanmar’s progress to democracy less than a decade after its return to civilian rule.
Blinken said in a separate statement that he welcomed the group’s appointment of Bruneian diplomat Erywan Yusof as special envoy to Myanmar which was endorsed during a separate meeting of foreign ministers also held on Wednesday.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had a phone conversation with a representative of Myanmar’s government in exile also on Wednesday, the first announced contact between a senior US official and the National Unity Government (NUG) which was established in April by members of the National League for Democracy party led by Suu Kyi.
Sherman and Zin Mar Aung, who serves in the role of foreign minister of the NUG, discussed efforts to return Myanmar to democracy, including continued US support for the pro-democracy movement.
They also discussed efforts to combat rising Covid-19 infections in Myanmar and how to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of the country.