MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines has followed New Zealand's decision to reject the inclusion of Burma in the world's largest free trade pact as international opposition to the military takeover in the Southeast Asian nation broadened into trade and diplomatic sanctions.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. told his Southeast Asian counterparts in a Thursday meeting in Cambodia that the Philippines will not accept Burma's accession to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a 15-nation free trade agreement that went into effect Jan. 1.
In Locsin's speech released to journalists in Manila on Friday, he did not cite any reason for the Philippine decision and added he was ready to yield if that stance would get in the way of a collective position by the 10-nation regional bloc, which includes Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.
The Burmese army wrested power from Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government on Feb. 1, 2021, in a takeover that sparked widespread street protests. About 1,500 civilians have been killed by security troops, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Suu Kyi, 76, remains in detention with other ousted officials and faces a raft of charges that human-rights groups say are baseless.
Two Asian diplomats said this week that New Zealand notified other countries in the partnership that it would not recognize Burma's papers allowing it to join the trade bloc because it opposes its military-led government.
New Zealand was among the Western nations that quickly opposed the takeover, suspending all military and high-level political contacts with Burma and calling on army leaders to immediately release all political leaders and restore civilian rule. It also placed a travel ban on Burmese generals.
Locsin has been one of the most vocal in the region in calling for a dialogue to resolve the yearlong crisis in Burma, welcoming a plan for a special envoy to travel to the crisis-wracked country next month to initiate a discussion among contending groups.
"The dialogue must include all and not just a select few, most especially it must include Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint," Locsin told fellow ministers. "It should be a genuine dialogue and not a ventriloquist act."
The partnership originally would have included about 3.6 billion people and encompassed about a third of world trade and global GDP.
The deal slashes tariffs on thousands of products, streamlining trade procedures and providing mutual advantages for member nations. Experts expect the deal to boost trade within the region by 2%, or $42 billion, and participating countries have expressed hope the initiative would help power their recoveries from the pandemic.