Joe Biden has threatened to resume sanctions against Myanmar after the military coup and the suspension of democracy, and called for international solidarity to confront the country’s generals.
“The United States removed sanctions on Burma over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. Reversing that progress will require an immediate review of our laws and sanctions authorities, followed by appropriate action, ”Biden said in a written statement addressing the first foreign policy crisis of his presidency.
The United States lifted sanctions against Myanmar in October 2016 after it held elections, established a civilian government, and took other steps to restore democracy, although targeted sanctions were maintained against certain military officers.
“The United States will defend democracy wherever it is under attack,” Biden’s statement said, adding: “The international community must unite in one voice to pressure the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have taken, liberate to the activists and officials they have detained, lift all telecommunications restrictions and refrain from violence against civilians.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not say whether measures other than sanctions were being considered, but said the United States was in “intensive consultations at multiple levels” with its allies and partners around the world.
On the contrary, China’s foreign affairs spokesman merely pointed to the coup and refused to discuss whether China, which has significant oil and gas interests in Myanmar, had warned against such a move when the Chinese foreign minister met. with his military leadership last month after the harsh defeat. of his delegated party at the polls.
“We have noticed what has happened in Myanmar and we are in the process of better understanding the situation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily press conference in Beijing.
“China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar. We hope that all parties in Myanmar can properly handle their differences under the constitution and legal framework and safeguard political and social stability. “
At last month’s meeting between Myanmar’s military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who assumed power, and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, the general laid out his claims that the November elections had been fraudulent, citing irregularities that echoed many of the claims. made by Donald Trump about his electoral defeat to Biden in the same month.
Champa Patel of Chatham House think tank said: “China will not welcome the news of the coup. The Chinese have warm relations with [Aung San Suu Kyi] which have deepened as Western countries criticized their civilian government’s response to the Rohingya crisis. On the other hand, the army is perceived to have a more independent streak that sought to balance itself with Chinese influence. “
Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines largely followed China on Monday in saying the problem was internal to Myanmar.
UK Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward has announced that she is holding an urgent debate on the Myanmar crisis at the security council on Tuesday. The UK has assumed the monthly renewable presidency of the security council for February.
A closed-door meeting had been scheduled for February 4, but the crisis has led to an earlier meeting in which a call will be made for a UN mission to be sent to the country.
The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, condemned the coup as a severe blow to democratic reforms in the country. The UN has been at the center of largely unsuccessful efforts so far to organize the return to Myanmar of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees trapped in camps in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh called for peace and stability in Myanmar and said it still hoped that its neighbor would make genuine efforts to advance the stalled process of voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees. “We have been persistent in developing mutually beneficial relations with Myanmar and have been working with Myanmar for the voluntary, safe and sustained repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh,” the Foreign Ministry said.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “I condemn the coup and the illegal imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar.” He said that the vote must be respected.
The reputation of Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has declined dramatically in the West due to her approach to the Rohingya crisis, even as she defended Myanmar during a genocide case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ ) in The Hague. His supporters claim that the relatively slow progress toward reform in his country has been shown to be justified by a coup that he warned was always on the horizon.
There were hopes that her landslide victory in the November elections would encourage her to show greater independence from the army.
In a longer statement, the Foreign Office said: “The UK condemns the state of emergency imposed by the Myanmar military on February 1 and the detention of members of the civil government and civil society, including the Councilor for State Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint. The UK calls on the military to respect the rule of law and human rights, and release illegally detained ”.
Myanmar has had two coups since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1948, one in 1962 and one in 1988. The country is deeply ethnically divided, riddled with excess weapons and heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia under Barack Obama, who fostered close ties with Aung San Suu Kyi, said another military takeover in Myanmar would be a severe blow to democracy in the region.
“This is a major setback, not only for democracy in Myanmar, but also for the interests of the United States. It is yet another reminder that the prolonged absence of credible and consistent US engagement in the region has emboldened anti-democratic forces. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism