US President Joe Biden on Monday warned of re-imposing sanctions on Myanmar following the military coup there, calling the development a “direct assault” on the Southeast Asian county’s transition to democracy.
Noting that Washington removed sanctions on Myanmar over the past decade based on progress toward democracy, the new US president said the reversal of the democratic transition will “necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.”
Biden’s statement was the latest in a series of messages from the administration after Myanmar’s military seized power Monday and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other government leaders, reversing the country’s democratization less than a decade after its transition to civilian rule.
The handling of the Myanmar situation will be closely watched as Biden, who took office last month, seeks to restore Washington’s traditional standing as a beacon of human rights and democracy — a role his predecessor Donald Trump showed little interest in.
The international community should come together in “one voice” to press the Myanmar military to immediately relinquish power and release the detained activists and officials, Biden said in the statement.
He also said the United States will work with its partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and to “hold accountable those responsible for overturning” Myanmar’s democratic transition.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press conference that the United States has had “intensive consultations at multiple levels with allies and partners in the region and around the world” on the Myanmar issue, but did not elaborate.
Senior US and Japanese government officials have shared their concerns over Myanmar, the US State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs tweeted later in the day, citing issues such as the need to restore democracy, respect human rights and the immediate release of all those detained.
Calls are emerging from both Democrats and Republicans to take a tough stance on the issue.
Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Sunday called for the immediate release of the detained leaders and said that if this does not happen, the United States and other countries should impose “strict economic sanctions, as well as other measures” against the Myanmar military.
Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement released Monday that reports that Myanmar’s military has rounded up civilian leaders including Suu Kyi were “horrifying.”
The administration under Democrat Biden must “take a strong stand and our partners and all democracies around the world should follow suit in condemning this authoritarian assault on democracy,” he said, while touching on the need to “impose costs” on those who impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.
Under the two-term Barack Obama administration through January 2017, the United States removed a range of economic and financial sanctions on Myanmar particularly after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the 2015 elections.
Myanmar’s shift to democracy was seen by the Obama administration as a major foreign policy achievement, part of the US strategic “rebalance” to Asia. Biden served as Obama’s vice president.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, imposed sanctions on Myanmar military officers, including commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, over human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.