The Trump administration also penalized three of his highest-ranking generals and barred their immediate family members from entering the United States. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state at the time, declared that “the United States is the first government to publicly take action with respect to the most senior leadership of the Burmese military.”
The problem is made more complex by the fact that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from her days as a dissident, defended the military’s actions against the Rohingya ethnic minority and denied that the atrocities, including murder, rape and arson, amounted to genocide. The military forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh, where they live in squalid refugee camps.
For Mr. Biden, the response to the Myanmar coup is a test of his declaration that American foreign policy will emphasize American values, from democratization to human rights. The president’s emphasis on the need to call out, and punish, those who undermine free elections has a rarely spoken subtext — his own effort to show that the United States overcame Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
But there is another test underway: whether Mr. Biden can use the events in Myanmar as an early test of his ability to work with China while also competing with Beijing for economic and military power in the Pacific.
Kishore Mahbubani, a longtime Singaporean diplomat, wrote in The South Morning China Post that the coup “could quietly jump-start discreet geopolitical cooperation between Beijing and the new Biden administration,” because China would not want to see Southeast Asian nations divided on whether to side with the military or with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
An isolated Myanmar and a rift in the region would create openings for other powers to divide nations against Beijing, he argued.
“Fortunately, trade-offs among great powers are an old game,” he wrote, “although to be honest, they are best done under the table with little public scrutiny.”