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U.S. weighing more action on Myanmar, 'genocide' label: Blinken

In Malaysia, Top Diplomat Lays Groundwork For Special Biden Summit With ASEAN


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, is hosted by Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah on Dec. 15. (Photo courtesy of Malaysia's Foreign Ministry)

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- The U.S. is exploring additional measures against Myanmar's military regime, including sanctions, to restore peace and stability in the troubled country, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Malaysia on Wednesday.

The top U.S. diplomat said the crisis in Myanmar has worsened in the 10 months since the military seized power, despite heavy pressure from Washington and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He added that the U.S. is looking at whether Myanmar forces' treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority "constitutes genocide."

"It would be very important to look at additional measures and steps that we can take individually or jointly [with ASEAN] to pressure the regime to put the country back in order," Blinken told reporters in the Malaysian administrative capital of Putrajaya, alongside Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah.

Malaysia -- Blinken's second stop on a three-country Southeast Asian tour including Indonesia and Thailand -- has been vocal about the need to end the violence in Myanmar.

Blinken also confirmed that President Joe Biden intends to host ASEAN leaders at a special summit next year. Although the dates have not been confirmed, he said Myanmar's crisis and Washington's Indo-Pacific plans would be among the main priorities for discussion.

On Myanmar, Blinken added that ASEAN already has its "five-point consensus" for restoring peace, which the "junta agreed to and signed on to."

"That plan needs to be implemented," he said.

The top U.S. diplomat earlier held talks with Saifuddin at the foreign ministry complex. Blinken said they also discussed the issue of the South China Sea, where China's overlapping claims with several Southeast Asian countries are a persistent source of tension. "We agreed that all disputes [must] be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law," Blinken reiterated.

The secretary noted that the U.S. is working with Malaysia and countries across Southeast Asia "to advance our vision for a free and open and interconnected and prosperous and resilient and secure Indo-Pacific."

Blinken was due to call on Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob later on Wednesday at parliament, after a roundtable discussion with local energy industry players co-chaired by Energy and Natural Resources Minister Takiyuddin Hassan.

Before leaving for Bangkok, Blinken was also due to meet with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) -- a cultural exchange program for Southeast Asian emerging leaders sponsored by the U.S. government.

Prior to the visit, the foreign ministry said Blinken and Ismail Sabri would discuss ways to strengthen cooperation and explore new joint initiatives across a laundry list of areas: trade and investment, the digital and green economies, cybersecurity, defense, health, tourism, education and people-to-people ties.

The U.S. is one of Malaysia's major trading partners and investors. Bilateral trade was valued at 178 billion ringgit ($42 billion) in 2020, while the total amount of approved investment from the U.S. in Malaysia's manufacturing sector came in at 3.7 billion ringgit.