The United States and leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations said Friday they would “redouble collective efforts” toward a peaceful solution in Myanmar.
“We reiterate our commitment to peace and stability in the region and continue to call for the immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and for the release of all political detainees, including foreigners,” according to the US-ASEAN Joint Vision Statement issued late Friday.
While the joint statement made no mention of opening informal channels with Myanmar’s civilian-led National Unity Government (NUG,) senior U.S. officials and a few ASEAN foreign ministers had talks with NUG foreign minister Zin Mar Aung who is also in Washington this week.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced since a military coup toppled the democratically elected government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, in February of last year.
This week, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted his first in-person summit with ASEAN leaders in Washington. There was an empty chair for Myanmar to reflect dissatisfaction with the military coup and violence in the country.
For some analysts, the gathering is seen as a show of solidarity as the United States competes with China for influence in the region.
It also comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to outline the U.S. approach toward China in coming days.
On regional security, the US-ASEAN statement emphasized “confidence building” and the importance of “practical measures that could reduce tensions and the risk of accidents, misunderstandings, and miscalculation” in the South China Sea.
“Nothing new to see here,” tweeted Derek Grossman, a senior Rand Corp. defense analyst.
The Biden administration has announced $60 million in new regional maritime initiatives that include the transfer of ships to Southeast Asian countries to increase the coastal nations’ capacity to enforce maritime law and counter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam claim parts of the South China Sea – a waterway claimed almost entirely by Beijing, which has landfilled and militarized islets over the past decade.
Friday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States will work with ASEAN to “guard against threats to international rules and norms” during a luncheon with leaders from the regional bloc. Harris denounced China’s “unlawful claims” on the South China Sea during a speech in Singapore in August.
The South China Sea was high on the agenda during the U.S.-ASEAN special summit, according to a senior State Department official.
“South China Sea is an issue of great concern,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jung Pak in an interview this week.
“We've seen increasingly aggressive and coercive actions by PRC against claimant countries. And, you know, we continue to work with all of our allies and partners in the region and beyond to make sure that the South China Sea is free and open,” she said.
The White House on Thursday announced new initiatives of more than $150 million that include investments in infrastructure, expanding maritime cooperation, health security, and education in ASEAN countries.
The US-ASEAN Joint Vision Statement also laid out plans to expand cooperation on COVID-19 recovery, fighting the climate crisis, stimulating economic growth, and deepening people-to-people ties.