US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday the US was looking at what additional steps to take against Myanmar’s junta and said Southeast Asian leaders had been invited to hold talks at a summit with President Joe Biden.
He made the comments during a trip to Malaysia, where Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the summit invitation would be discussed when counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meet on Jan 19.
“We very much look forward to having a special summit with Asean next year,” said Blinken, who described the 10-member bloc as “essential to the architecture of the Indo-Pacific region”.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military overthrew a civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, prompting protests and pockets of armed resistance met with violent suppression.
Asean has been leading diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis but some of the bloc’s members have expressed frustration about slow progress, leading to Myanmar’s military leader being excluded from a recent meeting of the bloc.
“It’s important in the weeks and months ahead to look at what additional steps and measures we can take individually and collectively to pressure the regime, to put the country back on a democratic trajectory,” Blinken said. The US and other Western countries have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s leadership, the military and businesses, and last week brought in new measures.
Blinken said the US continued to “look actively” at whether actions taken in Myanmar might constitute genocide.
More than 730,000 minority Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape.
Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, was urged by US officials to formally declare that campaign as genocide, but opted not to, despite years of investigation and analysis, according to a Reuters investigation earlier this year.
Since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a monitoring group cited by the UN, says more than 10,900 civilians have been detained and over 1,300 killed by security forces.
The military says the AAPP is biased and uses exaggerated data, and that hundreds of soldiers have also been killed.
As well as discussing the crisis in Myanmar, Blinken said the proposed summit with Asean was also expected to cover issues such as the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, investment and infrastructure, he said.
Blinken is on the second leg of a trip through Southeast Asia and on Tuesday in Jakarta he touted a US strategy to deepen its Asian treaty alliances, offering to boost defence and intelligence work with partners in an Indo-Pacific region increasingly concerned over China’s “aggressive actions”.