In this photo taken on March 9, 2023 pupils from another village attend a class at Kone Tar Village in Namhsan Township, northern Shan State, as their school is being reconstructed after clashes with Myanmar's military. (Photo: STR / AFP)

Policymakers' View

Partnering with ASEAN to Promote Peace in Myanmar


The United States stands ready to work with ASEAN and other partners in the region to bring about the return of stability and prosperity in Myanmar.

In the fall of 2022, United States President Joseph Biden travelled to Cambodia to mark the beginning of a “new era” in the relationship between the United States and Southeast Asia. Announcing the launch of the U.S.-ASEAN Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the President underscored that peace and security in the Indo-Pacific – home to 60 per cent of the world’s population – rests on the ability to work together to tackle the growing challenges to global security, stability, and prosperity.

In its approach to the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. is deeply committed to our relationship with ASEAN, to our alliances and partnerships in Southeast Asia, and to the centrality of the 10-member grouping. The United States, ASEAN member states, and many other countries in the region and beyond are eager to find solutions to our shared challenges and collaborate on shared opportunities.

Our mutual interests allow us to think boldly and be more innovative together to tackle the economic, climate, health, and human rights challenges of the 21st century. And, here in Southeast Asia, we face perhaps no more acute threat to achieving our shared goals of regional stability than the worsening armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Myanmar resulting from the February 2021 coup d’état.

I am travelling again to Indonesia and Thailand this week to advance our partners’ efforts seeking to resolve the Myanmar crisis. We continue to support ASEAN’s efforts to fully implement the ASEAN Leaders’ Five-Point Consensus. We appreciate Indonesia’s leadership as ASEAN Chair in championing the Five-Point Consensus and supporting the people of Myanmar including by providing much needed humanitarian aid to Rohingya refugees. In recent months, the U.S. has taken concrete steps to support ASEAN and intensify pressure on the military regime in Myanmar to stop the violence, release those unjustly detained, and allow unhindered humanitarian access into the country.

Last year, the Biden Administration worked with the U.S. Congress to pass the BURMA Act to promote accountability for the regime’s atrocities and further strengthen U.S. efforts to address the crisis. Heeding ASEAN’s calls for the United Nations (UN) and external partners to support ASEAN efforts, we also worked with our colleagues in the UN Security Council to pass a landmark resolution on Myanmar this past December.

Since the military coup d’état over two years ago, the military regime in Myanmar has unleashed widespread violence not seen in this part of the world in decades. Nearly half of the population is now living in poverty and 17.6 million people need humanitarian assistance. The regime may attempt to stage sham elections without the participation of many of the country’s key stakeholders. This is a recipe for prolonging the violence and instability.

What happens in Myanmar does not stay in Myanmar. Opium production has surged by a third over the past year, fuelling drug trafficking around the region. Illicit arms dealers have gained a foothold selling weapons to the regime. Russia, an ASEAN Dialogue Partner, is providing support to fuel the regime’s war machine, undermining ASEAN’s plan to cease violence and facilitate national dialogue. The spectre of long-term political and economic chaos in Myanmar undermines our shared goals for regional prosperity.

In my conversations with leaders of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and ethnic groups, I have heard a resounding call for genuine federal democracy in Myanmar. The U.S. supports this vision.

The U.S. has dialled up our economic actions to impose costs on the regime – as well as its enablers and beneficiaries. It will continue to do so until it changes course. In lockstep with our allies and partners, we have thus far enacted targeted sanctions on 80 individuals and 32 entities to deprive the regime of resources to execute its scorched-earth campaign.

In my conversations with leaders of Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and ethnic groups, I have heard a resounding call for genuine federal democracy in Myanmar. The U.S. supports this vision. We encourage the international community to join us in fostering cohesion and cooperation across the country’s ethnic groups in order to encourage and facilitate national dialogue. This – not the divide-and-rule repression of the regime – is the true foundation for a lasting peace in Myanmar.

We likewise remain focused on addressing the acute hardship of displaced Rohingya refugees who remain unable to safely return to their homeland. This is critical for those in camps like Cox’s Bazaar, where a recent fire left thousands without shelter. On 8 March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced nearly US$26 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the region, for those people in Myanmar affected by ongoing violence, and for communities hosting refugees from the country. We are deeply grateful for the assistance Indonesia has provided to Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers in distress at sea. Allowing refugees’ safe disembarkation and access to humanitarian assistance has saved lives, and this approach serves as a model for the region.

For the United States, ASEAN, and our international partners, 2023 is a critical year to promote peace in Myanmar. We look forward to working with Indonesia, as ASEAN Chair, as well as our partners throughout the region to support the people of Myanmar in their quest for a peaceful, stable, and prosperous country.


Derek Chollet is the Counselor of the U.S. Department of State. He serves at the rank of Under Secretary as a senior policy adviser to the Secretary of State on a wide variety of issues.