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The U.S. is exploring ‘additional steps’ against Myanmar’s military leaders, Blinken says

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a press conference at the Fairmont Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia December 14, 2021.

Olivier Douliery | Reuters

The United States is exploring additional actions against the ruling military junta in Myanmar, as the situation continues to deteriorate, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

“In the 10 months since the military coup, … the crisis only continues to worsen,” Blinken said during a press conference in Malaysia, as part of his Southeast Asia trip that’s aimed at improving relations with the region.

“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,” he said during a joint press appearance with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Myanmar’s military regime ousted its former leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup in February, sparking fierce clashes between her supporters and the army.

A special court in the military-run country sentenced her to four years in prison last week, after finding her guilty of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions.

Blinken said the U.S. is also “actively looking” at whether the junta’s treatment of the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority might constitute genocide.

Last week, the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom jointly imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s “military actors responsible for violence and repression” over human rights abuses.

However, Peter Mumford, practice head for Southeast and South Asia at Eurasia Group, pointed out that sanctions from the U.S. and the international community would have little impact on pressurizing the junta to change course.

There’s very little, I think realistically, that the U.S. can do to change what’s happening with Myanmar.

Peter Mumford

practice head for Southeast and South Asia, Eurasia Group

“What Washington is trying to do is exert more pressure on the junta in Myanmar to certainly refrain from severe violence and put the country back on a course towards elections,” Mumford told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Wednesday.

“And there’s a question about how far the U. S. and other countries will really want to go on sanctions — given concerns that could have a negative impact on the population,” he added. “So really there’s very little, I think realistically, that the U.S. can do to change what’s happening with Myanmar.”

Malaysia’s foreign minister, who was also at the same press conference as Blinken, said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations needs to “do some soul-searching” over events in Myanmar.

The 10-member ASEAN bloc has been struggling to get Myanmar’s military government to stick to a five-point consensus plan agreed on earlier this year, which includes ending violence.

“We cannot go on like this,” Saifuddin said. ASEAN needs to look beyond the principle of “non-interference” to tackle the crisis in Myanmar, he added.

“ASEAN should also look at the principle of non-indifference because what happens in Myanmar is already getting out of Myanmar. It has gone to Bangladesh and Malaysia is now hosting close to 200,000 refugees of Rohingya,” he said.

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