WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemns atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and says those responsible, perhaps the country’s military, will be held accountable.
Tillerson says the accounts of the Rohingya’s suffering are “heartbreaking,” and if those reports are true, then “someone will need to be held accountable for that.”
Tillerson, who will visit South Asia next week, is urging the Myanmar government to improve humanitarian access to people in western Rakhine state.
Amnesty International has accused the Myanmar security forces of killing hundreds of men, women and children during a systematic campaign to expel the Rohingya. More than 580,000 refugees have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the end of August.
“We really hold the military leadership accountable for what’s going on,” Tillerson told the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The most important thing for us is that the world cannot sit idly by and witness the atrocities that are being reported in that area.”
He also called on Wednesday for the United States and India to expand strategic ties. He pointedly criticized China, which he accused of defying international norms necessary for global stability.
He said the world needed the US and India to have a strong partnership. The two nations share goals of security, free shipping, free trade and fighting terrorism in the Indo-Pacific, and serve as “beacons East and West” for a rules-based international order that is increasingly under pressure, he said. .
Both India and China benefited from that order, but Tillerson said India did so by upholding the rules and regulations, while China “sometimes” undermined them. To prove his point, he alluded to China’s island building and expansive territorial claims in seas where Beijing has longstanding disputes with Southeast Asian neighbors.
“China’s provocative actions in the South China Sea are in direct defiance of international law and norms upheld by the United States and India,” Tillerson said.
He added that the US seeks constructive relations with China, but “will not back down” from the challenges it poses when it “subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries and puts the US and our friends at a disadvantage.”
Relations between the United States and India have generally prospered over the past decade, in part due to their shared concerns about the rise of China. While President Donald Trump has sought to deepen cooperation with China to address the North Korean nuclear threat, he has also sought a closer relationship with India, which shares US concerns about Islamic extremism.
“In this period of uncertainty and anxiety, India needs a reliable partner on the world stage. I want to be clear: With our shared values and vision of global stability, peace and prosperity, the United States is that partner,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson said the United States wants to help improve India’s military capabilities and also enhance security cooperation among major democracies in the region, including Japan and Australia.
Tillerson said the United States and India were leading regional efforts against terrorism. He called on India’s arch-rival Pakistan to “take decisive action against terrorist groups established within its own borders that threaten its own people and the region at large.”