President Joe Biden said on Wednesday the United States would stand with Southeast Asian allies in defending freedom of the seas, democracy and human rights and backed efforts to hold the Myanmar junta accountable to its commitments to peace.
Southeast Asia has become a strategic battleground between the United States and China, which controls most of the South China Sea and has turned up military and political pressure on fiercely democratic Taiwan, a self-ruled island it considers its own.
Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed on Wednesday at a virtual regional summit to establish a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, a sign of Canberra’s ambition to play a bigger role in the region.
Biden joined Southeast Asian leaders in rebuking Myanmar’s junta as the summit opened on Tuesday without a representative from the country following its top general’s exclusion for ignoring peace proposals.
“In Myanmar, we must address the tragedy caused by the military coup which is increasingly undermining regional stability,” Biden said on Wednesday.
“The United States stands for the people of Myanmar and calls for military regime to end the violence, release all political prisoners and return to the path of democracy.”
He also said the United States was deeply concerned by “China’s coercive and proactive actions” across the Taiwan Strait, a waterway linking the island and the mainland.
Tensions between Taiwan and China have escalated in recent weeks as Beijing raises military and political pressure.
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