The U.S. is exploring additional ways to pressure Myanmar’s ruling junta, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, as civilian strife escalates in the Southeast Asian country.
“It’s important in weeks and months ahead to look at what steps we can take to pressure the regime, to put the country back on a democratic trajectory,” Blinken said in a joint press appearance with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a civilian leader was overthrown by the junta in a February coup. It sparked violence between army and her supporters. Last week, a court found her guilty for encouraging dissent against military personnel and sentenced her to two years imprisonment.
Blinken also said that the U.S. is “actively looking” at whether the Myanmar government’s actions toward the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority should be labeled “genocide.” A 2018 United Nations report said Myanmar’s top generals should be investigated and prosecuted for committing genocide and war crimes against the minority population.
Saifuddin said that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations needed to enter a period of “soul-searching” over events in Myanmar.
“We cannot go on like this. We have to make sure that there are certain ways of doing things,” Saifuddin said. He added that while Asean upholds the principle of “non-interference, “Asean should also look at the principle of non-indifference because what happens in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar.”
Asean has struggled to get Myanmar’s military government to stick to a five-point consensus agreed earlier this year that includes stopping conflict with civilians. The U.S. has led its allies to sanction the country’s military.
Also, the U.S. has placed an arms embargo against Cambodia. This is despite being close to China. However, it has increased its engagement with Myanmar’s junta since becoming Asean chair. The Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Su has stated that the government has the right of attendance at Asean meetings. This is a change in position from Brunei, who took a unique step to deprive Min Aung Hlaing (the Myanmar junta chief) of a place at the summit in October.
Hun Sen accepted an invitation from Myanmar to travel next month. This is the first time a government leader has done so since February, when the junta took power.