President Joe Biden threatened to impose sanctions on Myanmar after Monday’s military coup and arrest of government leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi. President Biden called for a coordinated international response.
“The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized, release the activists and officials they have detained,” Biden said in a statement.
“The United States removed sanctions on Burma [Myanmar] over the past decade based on progress toward democracy. The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action,” he added.
Myanmar had been under authoritarian military rule for five decades and became a democracy in 2015. Suu Kyi was the de facto leader and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work promoting democracy and human rights.
Suu Kyi had lived under house arrest for promoting democracy. Her party, the National League for Democracy party won a landslide 83 percent of votes in a November 8 election, securing 396 out of 476 seats and allowing it to stay in government for another five years. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won only 33 seats.
The military has been demanding that the Union Election Commission look into what it said were 8.6 million irregularities in voter lists in 314 townships that could have let voters cast multiple ballots or commit what they characterized as other “voting malpractice.” Yet, the election commission rejected the military’s claims stating that there was no evidence to support any electoral wrongdoing. The army called its takeover a response to election fraud.
The coup in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, marks the first major test of President Biden’s administration and his pledge to collaborate more with America’s allies on international issues, especially on China’s rising influence in world affairs. This contrasts with the Trump administration”s “America First” approach.
The statement by the president also received rare bipartisan support as both Democrats and Republicans showed a united front in denouncing the military’s coup.
“We will work with our partners throughout the region and the world to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, as well as to hold accountable those responsible for overturning Burma’s democratic transition,” President Biden said.
The Obama administration had eased sanctions in 2011 after the military regime began allowing some changes towards democracy. The U.S. eased the remaining restrictions in 2016 after democratic elections were held. However, in 2019, President Trump imposed targeted sanctions on four military commanders, including General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup this week, over allegations of abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
The international community has also condemned the coup. The Financial Times reported that UN Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemned” the coup. Marise Payne, the Australian foreign minister, said Canberra was “deeply concerned.”
The U.K. made the following statement: “The Minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, condemned the military coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi.” The British government also urged the military to “respect the rule of law and human rights, and release those unlawfully detained.”