U.S. Relations With Burma

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Fact Sheet
July 17, 2018


More information about Burma is available on the Burma Page and from other Department of State publications and other sources listed at the end of this fact sheet.

U.S.-BURMA RELATIONS

The United States supports a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Burma that respects the human rights of all its people. Burma remains a country in transition to democracy, and faces significant ongoing challenges and human rights issues.

Partial elections in 2010 led to a peaceful transition from sixty years of authoritarian rule to a quasi-civilian government headed by former general Thein Sein. Under President Thein Sein, the Government of Burma initiated a series of political and economic reforms which resulted in a substantial opening of the long-isolated country. These reforms include the release of many political prisoners and child soldiers, the signing of a cease-fire agreement with eight major non-state ethnic groups, greater enjoyment of freedom of expression, including by the press, and parliamentary by-elections in 2012 in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 43 of the 45 contested seats. In historic national elections in 2015, the NLD won a majority of the total seats in the national parliament and in most state and regional parliaments. Despite significant structural and constitutional problems, including the reservation of 25 percent of parliamentary seats for the military; the disfranchisement of groups of people who had voted in previous elections, including the ethnic Rohingya; and the disqualification of candidates based on arbitrary application of citizenship and residency requirements, the 2015 election represented a fundamental step forward in Burma’s democratic transition. The new national parliament sat February 1, 2016, and National League for Democracy member Win Myint was inaugurated as the NLD’s second president on March 30, 2018. The new government has released hundreds of political prisoners in the two years it has been in power, though others remain in jail.

The United States has employed an engagement strategy that has recognized the positive steps undertaken to date and to incentivize further reform. The guiding principles of this approach have been to support Burma’s political and economic reforms; promote national reconciliation; build government transparency, and accountability and institutions; empower local communities and civil society; promote responsible international engagement; and strengthen respect for and protection of human rights and religious freedom. In 2016, the two countries launched the U.S.-Myanmar Partnership Dialogue, which has expanded bilateral communication and cooperation in political and economic spheres.

In support of further reform, in 2012 the United States re-established a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission in country, supported new grant and lending operations and technical assistance by international financial institutions, and eased economic and investment sanctions against Burma. Since then, senior U.S. government officials have traveled to the country to meet with the Government of Burma, political parties, civil society, human rights activists, religious and ethnic leaders, and youth, demonstrating the United States’ continuing support to Burma in its democratic reform efforts.

While the country has made significant progress, major institutional and political challenges remain, including reforming the constitution (which accords the military control of three key security ministries, one of two vice presidential appointments, and control of 25% of parliamentary seats), completing the national reconciliation process with various ethnic groups, strengthening respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly on freedom of expression and assembly, releasing remaining political prisoners, and improving the conditions in Rakhine State, especially those facing members of the Rohingya population. Beginning in August 2017, following attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents on security forces, over 700,000 Rohingya fled violence in northern Rakhine State, including violence committed by security forces and vigilantes. In November 2017, the United States determined that this situation constituted ethnic cleansing of Rohingya. In December 2017 the United States imposed targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on former Burmese Major General Maung Maung Soe for his role in human rights abuses against Rohingya in Rakhine State.

Other challenges remain. More progress needs to be made to reduce the military’s role in politics, move from cease-fires to political dialogue, and to improve rule of law and government accountability. Sporadic, intense fighting between the Burmese military and ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan States and elsewhere has resulted in numerous civilian casualties and internal displacement. The United States continues to emphasize to the Government of Burma the importance of promoting tolerance, diversity, and peaceful co-existence, and for the Burmese military to completely end any military ties with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The military government changed the country’s name to "Myanmar" in 1989. The United States government continues to use the name “Burma.”

U.S. Assistance to Burma

The United States has a long-standing commitment to improving the lives of the people of Burma. After the USAID Mission was closed in 1989, the United States continued to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance along the Thailand-Burma border, including through NGO partners for Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in the refugee camps on the border. The United States resumed targeted health programs in 1998. In 2008, U.S. assistance efforts scaled up in response to the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis. Burma's ongoing reforms led to the re-establishment of the USAID Mission in 2012.

Carefully integrated with U.S. diplomatic efforts, U.S. development assistance focuses on deepening and sustaining key political and economic reforms, ensuring that the democratic transition benefits everyday people, and mitigating division and conflict. Since 2012, the United States has provided over $500 million to support Burma’s transition, advance the peace process, and improve the lives of millions, including by assisting communities affected by violence and combatting hate speech and communal violence. More than 1.1 million people have improved food security, and over 300,000 impoverished farming families have increased their agricultural productivity with better access to technology, markets and new investments. New entrepreneurs are benefiting from the economic reform process, which has increased access to information and communications technology.

The United States provided almost $300 million in FY2017 and FY2018 to address humanitarian needs in Burma, including among internally displaced persons throughout the country and vulnerable Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in the region. This includes vulnerable communities along the Thailand-Burma border and in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan States, where the United States continues to provide emergency assistance.

In addition to USAID, many other U.S. agencies provide assistance and training in Burma, including the U.S. Departments of State, Commerce, Energy, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury; the U.S. Census Bureau; the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office; and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.

Bilateral Economic Relations

In recognition of Burma's political and economic reform progress, the United States has taken concrete steps to accelerate broad-based economic growth and support the political reform process. The United States played an instrumental role in supporting renewed engagement from multilateral development banks, which re-started operations in 2013. In 2016, the United States terminated the national emergency with respect to Burma, which had been in place since 1997. The termination removed a range of economic and financial sanctions, including the designations of individuals and entities listed on the Office of Foreign Assets List pursuant to U.S. sanctions on Burma.

The U.S. government encourages responsible investment in Burma as part of an overall strategy to encourage economic growth and improve the standard of living for the people of Burma. The United States plays a leading role by enhancing human capacity and promoting global standards throughout Southeast Asia due to the quality of private investment. U.S. companies will continue to play a critical role in supporting broad-based, sustainable development in Burma and are helping the country progress toward a more open, inclusive, and democratic society.

Burma's Membership in International Organizations

Burma became a member of the United Nations in 1948 following independence from the United Kingdom, and a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997. Burma was the chair of ASEAN for 2014, its first chairmanship in 17 years as an ASEAN member state.

Burma and the United States belong to a number of the same international organizations, including the UN, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization.

Bilateral Representation

The U.S. Ambassador to Burma is Scot Marciel; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department's Key Officers List.

Burma maintains an embassy in the United States at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, tel.: (202) 332-3344; fax: (202) 332-4351.

More information about Burma is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here:

Department of State Burma Country Page
Doing Business in Burma page
Department of State Key Officers List
CIA World Factbook Burma Page
U.S. Embassy
USAID Burma Page
Human Rights Reports
International Religious Freedom Reports
Trafficking in Persons Reports
Narcotics Control Reports
Office of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions Page
Travel Information