Myanmar on Agenda as US’ Top Diplomat for Asia Heads to ASEAN Capitals

By The Irrawaddy 1 December 2021

The US’ top diplomat for Asia, who is currently on a visit to the region that will take him to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, will reaffirm Washington’s commitment to work with Southeast Asian countries on “the most serious global and regional challenges,” including the Myanmar crisis, and stress US support for “a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific,” Reuters quoted the US State Department as saying. The language used by Washington is seen as code for its efforts to oppose China’s recent assertions of hard power in the region.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, arrived in the region on Saturday and will leave on Dec. 4, the State Department statement said.

US President Joe Biden joined leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a virtual summit last month, the first time in four years Washington has engaged at the top level with the bloc.

Kritenbrink will also “engage allies and partners on regional democracy and human rights challenges,” according to the State Department, in addition to seeking to discuss cooperation on climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement added that he will “discuss ways to pressure the Burmese military regime to cease the violence, allow for unhindered humanitarian access, and restore Burma’s path to democracy.” Burma is another name for Myanmar.

In response to the Myanmar military regime’s brutal crushing of nationwide protests, Biden issued an executive order imposing sanctions on the leaders of Myanmar’s coup and has taken steps to block access by the country’s military to US$1 billion of government funds held in the US.

Activists and politicians expect more targeted sanctions and travel bans against arms dealers and other cronies closely associated with the regime, which staged an illegitimate coup in February overthrowing the elected government.

In July, the US imposed fresh sanctions on 22 individuals including four Myanmar ministers in response to the coup and the military’s attacks against the country’s pro-democracy movement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the new sanctions were levied “in response to the brutal campaign of violence perpetrated by the Burmese military regime and to continue imposing costs in connection with the military coup.”

The sanctions do not target the Myanmar people, but are aimed at pressuring the military to “immediately restore Burma’s path to democracy,” Blinken said.

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