KUALA LUMPUR – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the Biden administration is weighing tough new sanctions on Myanmar to pressure the country’s military leaders to restore a democratic path interrupted by a February coup.
Blinken said the situation in Myanmar in the 10 months since the coup had “gotten worse" with mass arrests and violence against protesters. And he said the administration is also looking “very actively” at designating ongoing repression against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim population as a “genocide.”
“I think it’s going to be very important in the weeks and months ahead to look at what additional steps and measures we can take individually, collectively to pressure the regime to put the country back on a democratic trajectory,” Blinken said.
Blinken made the comments on Wednesday in Malaysia, where he is on the second leg of a three-nation trip to Southeast Asia. His Malaysian counterpart said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must also act, saying the regional grouping must do some “soul-searching” about its policy toward member Myanmar.
“The long and short of it is we have to look at what additional steps, measures could be taken to move things in a better direction and that’s something that we’re looking at," Blinken told reporters at a news conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
Blinken was asked specifically about potential sanctions on Myanmar's state-run oil and gas sector but did not mention the possibility in his response. He did, however, address the possibility of a genocide determination.
“We continue also to look actively at determinations of what are the actions taken in Myanmar and whether they constitute genocide and that’s something we’re looking at very actively right now,” Blinken said.
He repeated demands for the Myanmar junta to release all of those who had been “unjustly detained," including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, allow unhindered humanitarian access to areas in need of assistance, end violence against protesters and restore Myanmar “to its democratic path."
In response to the same question, Abdullah said Malaysia believes that ASEAN must adopt a more coherent position when it comes to Myanmar. The 10-nation group has long hewed to a policy of non-interference in its members' internal affairs and often resisted taking action against them.
“I understand that we celebrate the principles of non-interference, but...ASEAN should also look at the principle of non-indifference because what happens in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar,” he said, noting that Malaysia is now hosting nearly 200,000 Rohingya refugees.
“We have to do some soul-searching,” he said, expressing hope that an ASEAN foreign ministers meeting in January would be able to clarify the group's position on Myanmar and lay out clear demands and milestones for the country's military to meet along with a specific timeline for completing them.