Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi in February and launched a bloody crackdown on dissent that has left more than 900 people dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The United States said Monday that Myanmar's junta was playing for time with a two-year election timeframe as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to encourage the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to appoint an envoy.
Blinken is participating virtually in a week of talks involving foreign ministers of the ASEAN, the latest bid by President Joe Biden's administration to engage a region at the frontlines of US competition with China.
Ahead of the ASEAN talks, Myanmar's junta chief promised to hold elections and lift a state of emergency by August 2023, extending an initial timeline given when the military deposed elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1 by more than a year.
The announcement is "a call for ASEAN to have to step up its effort because it's clear that the Burmese junta is just stalling for time and wants to keep prolonging the calendar to its own advantage", said a senior US official, using Myanmar's former name of Burma.
"All the more reason why ASEAN has to engage on this and live up and uphold the terms of the five-point consensus that Myanmar also signed up to."
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army ousted Aung San Suu Kyi in February, launching a bloody crackdown on dissent that has left more than 900 people dead, according to a local monitoring group.
Aug2,Residents, teachers and parents from Letpadaung Taung village, Salingyi, rallied today in voicing out their oppositions to Illegitimate Military ruling. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #Aug3Coup #OurGovernmentNUG pic.twitter.com/tm3MZs9pi5— Brian O'Conner(Ŝhin) (@AlexMyanmar13) August 3, 2021
No progress since consensus statement
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing attended a meeting with ASEAN members on the crisis in April that led to the so-called consensus statement, which demanded an immediate end to the violence and said a a special envoy of the ASEAN chair shall "facilitate mediation of the dialogue process.”
But the junta leader later distanced himself from the statement and no envoy has been appointed.
Myanmar’s military junta should stop prosecuting journalists and end its assault on independent media -- mainly for simply reporting on the military's murderous crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. https://t.co/23CNBFdVOn pic.twitter.com/NpCRZXghRv— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) August 1, 2021
ASEAN is not known for its collective diplomatic clout and its meetings have frequently pitted the United States and China against each other as they seek influence.
The US official said Blinken would address Beijing's "coercion" against ASEAN nations in the dispute-rife South China Sea and also highlight human rights concerns within China.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Southeast Asia last week, where he hammered in on the South China Sea, saying Beijing's claims had no basis in international law.
Vice President Kamala Harris plans this month to visit historic US partner Singapore as well as Vietnam, which has moved increasingly close to Washington despite war memories.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi is expected to meet Blinken in person in Washington this week, while Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman earlier visited Indonesia and Thailand as well as Cambodia - often seen as the most pro-Beijing ASEAN nation.