Inclusive, democratic future for Myanmar

Three years after Myanmar’s military seized power from a democratically elected government, the armed conflict in the country might appear intractable. The consequences have indeed been horrific: Tens of thousands of pro-democracy advocates have been killed, imprisoned, or forced to flee their homeland. Villages have been decimated by the military’s aerial assaults on civilian populations. Escalating violence has fueled a humanitarian disaster, with over two and a half million people displaced and one in three in need of assistance, with the highest poverty rate in 15 years.

It would be a grave mistake—and a missed opportunity—for the international community to dismiss the Myanmar crisis as too difficult to resolve. The post-coup period has demonstrated that people in Myanmar will neither give in to fear or repression nor give up their struggle to freely choose their political leaders.

The regime’s divide-and-conquer tactics have failed.

Those striving for democracy are stronger than ever. Anti-regime groups in different parts of the country have mounted, to date, the fiercest armed resistance to military rule. These developments have sharpened the choice for the regime: either risk more political and territorial losses or pursue an inclusive dialogue with all parties.

To pressure the military regime toward the path of peace and democracy, the United States has rolled out a series of targeted financial sanctions.

Last June, we imposed sanctions against the regime-controlled Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanmar Investment Commercial Bank, a move that undercut the military’s ability to obtain foreign currency and purchase weapons from abroad.

In October, the US sanctioned the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, the regime’s most lucrative state-owned company, curtailing a key source of US dollar revenues.

The US Congress did its part by passing the Myanmar Act, which supports additional steps to promote accountability for the regime’s abuses.

These actions, along with those of our European and Asian allies, have disrupted the Myanmar military’s ability to carry out atrocities and provided a powerful incentive for its leaders to change course.

At the same time, we are supporting the diverse coalition of ethnic, religious, and political leaders working to build a federal democracy in Myanmar. The US has provided nearly $400 million to help pro-democracy entities improve their governance capacity, develop local health and education policies, and refine plans for a political transition to civilian governance.

In my conversations with the pro-democracy National Unity Government and other actors in the opposition movement, it is clear they have come a long way toward agreeing on a shared vision for the future.

Since the coup, the US has provided over $317 million in lifesaving assistance to people across Myanmar, through both international organizations and local partners. Our assistance has repaired hospitals and homes, evacuated injured civilians from conflict zones, supplied medicine and clean water, and fed children suffering from malnourishment.

Much of this assistance has reached those in ethnic areas along Myanmar’s borders, including those affected by the military’s ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya minority.

More must be done, and we urge the international community to press Myanmar’s military regime to allow unhindered access by humanitarian actors and build pathways across borders, so aid flows to those who need it most.

Looking forward, we will continue to urge partners in the Indo-Pacific, particularly those in Asean, to redouble their efforts for a transition to an inclusive democracy and make progress on the Asean Five Point Consensus.

We will continue to encourage the United Nations Security Council, which adopted its first-ever resolution on the situation in Myanmar in December 2022, to use all tools at its disposal to support Asean’s efforts. This is what the people of Myanmar deserve, and it matters to the future of the entire region.

The destabilizing impact of the military regime has long been felt in Myanmar, but the consequences are increasingly affecting the broader region and the world. Conflict has turned Myanmar into the world’s largest opium producer, a hub of cyber scamming that uses forced labor to steal billions of dollars from foreign citizens and a driver of irregular migration flows that put migrants at risk.

Despite the tragic events that unfold every day in Myanmar, we still envision a better future. We will still pursue an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government capable of delivering economic growth and promoting equality and justice under the law.

Working alongside our allies and partners, the United States will continue to help realize these possibilities and help fulfill Myanmar’s promise to become an inclusive, prosperous, and democratic nation. The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Derek Chollet is the counselor of the United States Department of State.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of the Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 media titles in the region.