Top US Diplomat Headed to Southeast Asia with China, Myanmar on Agenda

By The Irrawaddy 9 December 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will head to Southeast Asia next week on a tour designed to show the region’s importance to the US strategy of confronting China, and to further address the worsening crisis in military-ruled Myanmar.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Wednesday that Blinken will start off his round-the-world journey with a meeting with his G7 colleagues Friday through Sunday in Liverpool, England.

Then, Blinken will visit Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand from Dec. 13-16 to stress the top priority of US foreign policy, which is to challenge an ever more assertive China.

The trip will come right after US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet’s trip to Cambodia and Indonesia on Dec. 8-13 to engage with stakeholders on key regional issues, including the crisis in Myanmar, which has been in social and political turmoil since a military coup in February.

In Phnom Penh, Chollet will discuss Cambodia’s upcoming chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Myanmar, an ASEAN member, was excluded from the bloc’s summit in October after its regime failed to honor commitments it made to ASEAN to take steps to resolve its country’s crisis. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will visit Myanmar in January, becoming the first head of government to meet regime leader Min Aung Hlaing. In Jakarta, Chollet will focus on further deepening the US-Indonesia strategic partnership.

Throughout the counselor’s trip, he will underscore the importance of strengthening US-ASEAN cooperation to press the Myanmar military regime to cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and restore Myanmar’s path to inclusive democracy, the State Department said.

Chollet will then join Blinken for his engagements in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

In Jakarta, Blinken will give a speech “on the significance of the Indo-Pacific region” while in Kuala Lumpur he will address the need for the region to remain “free and open,” Price said.

“In each country, Secretary Blinken will address the worsening crisis in Burma,” Price said, using Myanmar’s former name.

Since the coup, Myanmar’s military regime has repeatedly committed atrocities including extrajudicial killings, arrests, tortures and arson attacks against protesters and their property, despite international condemnation. So far, it has killed more than 1,300 civilians.

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.

Under the Biden administration several US delegations have visited Southeast Asia. Daniel Kritenbrink, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, visited the region last week.

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

The US has repeatedly denounced the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the civilian government of Myanmar, and the jailing of civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

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