In first meeting with ASEAN, US secretary of state calls for action on Myanmar and rejects China’s claims in South China Sea.
Antony Blinken, the United States top diplomat, has expressed “deep concerns” about the military coup in Myanmar, calling on Southeast Asian nations to take action to end violence and restore democracy in the country.
Blinken made the appeal during a meeting with foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Wednesday.
ASEAN has been leading the main diplomatic effort on member country Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup on February 1, plunging the country into turmoil.
At least 902 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 groups across Myanmar.
During Wednesday’s video conference with ASEAN foreign ministers, Blinken urged the 10-member group to take “immediate action” on a five-point consensus that was agreed in April, according to a statement by the State Department.
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, Malaysia and Singapore, which are also additionally demanding the release of detained civilian leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
Blinken backed that demand on Wednesday, urging ASEAN to take joint action to release all those “unjustly detained” in Myanmar and to restore the country’s democratic transition.
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 ASEAN’s essential role in the Indo-Pacific regional architecture.
He also went on to emphasise Washington’s rejection of China’s “unlawful maritime claims” in the South China Sea and said Washington “stands with Southeast Asian claimants in the face of (Chinese) coercion”, the statement said.