US secretary of state Antony Blinken has asked his south-east Asian counterparts to jointly press for an end to violence in Myanmar, its return to a democratic path and the release of all political prisoners.
Mr Blinken spoke in a video conference attended by the military-led Myanmar’s top diplomat.
In the meeting with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) representatives, Mr Blinken also underlined the US rejection of China’s “unlawful” claims in the South China Sea and stressed that Washington stands with the nations at odds with Beijing in the sea disputes in the face of China’s “coercion”.
Mr Blinken’s meeting with the 10-nation bloc also addressed the coronavirus pandemic, US state department spokesman Ned Price said, as surging infections fill hospitals and morgues and further devastate south-east Asian states’ once-bustling economies.
He also “called on Asean to take joint action to urge the end of violence, the restoration of (Myanmar’s) democratic transition and the release of all those unjustly detained”, Mr Price said in a statement.
The US and European nations have been the most vocal opponents of the military takeover that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in February. Ms Suu Kyi was arrested and detained with top members of her National League for Democracy party, including President Win Myint.
Last week, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the rights situation in Myanmar has changed from a political crisis to a “multi-dimensional human rights catastrophe”, adding that nearly 900 people have been killed and 200,000 forced to flee their homes because of military raids.
The World Food Programme has estimated that more than six million people are in severe need of food aid, she said.
Mr Blinken urged Asean to take immediate action “to hold the Burmese regime accountable” to a consensus forged in April by the bloc’s heads of state with Myanmar’s military leader.
The five-point document called for an immediate end to violence and the start of a dialogue among contending parties with a special Asean envoy mediating in the talks.
Although highly contentious issues were raised, the two-hour meeting was “very civil,” a south-east Asian diplomat told The Associated Press.
It is not immediately clear if Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister responded to Mr Blinken’s concerns or to previous Asean demands.
Asean member states have given Myanmar officials the names of its possible envoys from Thailand and Indonesia, but there has been no response.
Two Asean representatives who travelled to Myanmar last month asked to meet Ms Suu Kyi and other detainees but were rebuffed, the south-east Asian diplomat said.
Mr Blinken’s meeting with his Asean counterparts should have taken place in May but he failed to secure an online connection as he took a flight for an emergency trip to Israel.
The bloc’s foreign ministers, who waited for nearly an hour, decided to cancel the meeting. The US state department later apologised.
Founded in 1967 in the Cold War era, Asean is a diverse collective of democracies and authoritarian states that has become a key battleground for regional influence between the US and China.
Along with Myanmar, its members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.