The United States is imposing consequences on the leaders of the coup in Myanmar, President Joe Biden said Wednesday, reiterating that the military must relinquish power it seized “and demonstrate respect for the role of the people” as “expressed in their November 8 election.”
The U.S. government, Biden said, “is taking steps to prevent the generals from improperly having access to the $1 billion in Burmese government funds.” He has also approved an executive order “enabling us to immediately sanction the military leaders that directed the coup, their business interest, as well as close family members.”
A first round of targets will be identified this week, the president explained in remarks about the situation in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“We’re also going to impose strong export controls for freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly,” Biden said.
Gregory Poling, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said of the announcement, “We haven't seen the actual list of targets, but I think it's the right approach.”
The Myanmar government's February 1 overthrow of the country’s democratically elected government has prompted widespread street demonstrations there against the takeover for five consecutive days.
“As protests grow, violence against those asserting their democratic rights is unacceptable, and we're going to keep calling it out,” the U.S. president said in several minutes of remarks in the White House auditorium. “The people of Burma are making their voices heard.”
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez welcomed the actions Biden announced.
“As I’ve said before, there must be real consequences if Aung San Suu Kyi and the rest of Burma’s elected leaders are not immediately freed and allowed to resume their rightful place at the head of a civilian government,” Menendez said in a statement.
The United States is ready to impose additional measures if the situation worsens, Biden indicated.
After Biden finished speaking, State Department spokesman Ned Price amplified the president’s warning of further potential action.
“Importantly, as protests grow, Burma's military leaders need to know that violence against those who peacefully assert their democratic rights will not be tolerated,” Price told reporters. “The United States will take note of those who stand with the people of Burma, at this moment of crisis.”
Calls to corporations
The United Nations and other organizations have expressed concern about the use of force against protesters. Major global rights groups have renewed calls for international corporations to break ties with military-linked enterprises and have urged governments to impose targeted sanctions on the generals and their business interests.
“Additional possible sanctions on the military family members could actually bite more than the generals themselves, because it's not as if the generals have a lot of international assets, but they do have a lot of kids who have been given crony contracts over the years who run businesses," Poling told VOA.
The CSIS analyst brushed off concern that tighter sanctions from the West could drive Myanmar’s military leaders closer to China, which is already the largest investor in the country’s economy.
U.S. sanctions “are not going to make them get over their distrust of China and suddenly flock to Beijing,” Poling said. “The military has no love for Beijing, and the generals are going to do what they think is right for themselves and their perceived mission for Burma.”
Military leaders have placed democratic leader Suu Kyi and other officials of the civilian government and the National League for Democracy party (NLD), as well as activists, under arrest. Curfews have been enacted and gatherings restricted.
The coup reversed a nearly decadelong move toward democracy after five decades of military rule. The military claims the November election won by Suu Kyi’s NLD was fraudulent.
Nike Ching at the State Department contributed to this report.