BANGKOK – At an online meeting with his Association of Southeast Asian Nations peers on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated Washington’s position that it will not accept China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea, according to the State Department.
Blinken also expressed deep concern about a military coup that occurred in Myanmar earlier this year, and called for ASEAN to take coordinated action for the cessation of violence and a return to civilian rule in the member country.
The remarks came during the first foreign ministers meeting between the United States and the 10-member ASEAN group under the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
High on the agenda were the political crisis in Myanmar, the response to COVID-19 and disputes in the South China Sea, where China and its neighbors have overlapping territorial claims and where it has militarized artificial islands.
At a special meeting in April, ASEAN leaders called for an immediate halt to violence in Myanmar and agreed to send a special envoy to the country, but not much progress has been made.
Blinken, in a meeting with his Brunei counterpart on the fringes of a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in the U.K. in early May, urged ASEAN to hold Myanmar’s military accountable to the agreed plan. Brunei currently serves as ASEAN chair.
Wunna Maung Lwin attended Wednesday’s virtual meeting from Myanmar. He was appointed foreign minister by the military, which seized power in February by ousting an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The U.S.-ASEAN meeting also comes as China is seen as increasingly assertive, with the Biden administration framing U.S.-China rivalry as a fight between democratic and authoritarian governments.
The United States has been seeking to boost ties with ASEAN in addition to pursuing collaboration among four major democracies in the Indo-Pacific region — the United States, Japan, Australia and India — in a grouping known as the Quad.
China, for its part, has provided ASEAN countries with homemade vaccines and held an in-person foreign ministers meeting with ASEAN in the city of Chongqing in early June.
The virtual U.S.-ASEAN foreign ministers meeting was scheduled to be held on May 25, but it was postponed at the last minute because Blinken, who was heading to the Middle East at the time, could not participate due to a communication failure on the plane he was on.
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