The Leaderboard: Derek Mitchell

Ambassador Derek Mitchell

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific. This post features Derek Mitchell, the newly appointed US ambassador to Myanmar.

Who is he?

Derek Mitchell became U.S. ambassador to Myanmar after his confirmation late last Friday. Up till that point, he served as the first special representative and policy coordinator for Myanmar policy, a position created by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2011. Mitchell brings to bear decades of Asia expertise, having held positions in the defense departments of both the Obama and Clinton administrations and worked at the National Democratic Institute and the Center of Strategic and International Studies, where he was founding director of the Southeast Asia Initiative, the predecessor of the Southeast Asia Program. Mitchell possesses a firm grasp of Myanmar, not only from his position as special representative but also in his previous posts in institutions and think tanks, where he has written on how to reform U.S. policy there.

Why is he in the news?

With his appointment, Mitchell became the first U.S. ambassador to Myanmar in 22 years, which is a historic development in ties between the two countries. His appointment also comes at a critical juncture. In the wake of groundbreaking reforms in Myanmar, U.S. companies, including those involved in oil and gas, are waiting for the government to issue a general license so they can conduct business in the country. However, rights groups and opposition lawmaker Aung San Suu Kyi have cautioned the United States not to move too fast due to transparency and human rights concerns. Mitchell’s confirmation hearing last Wednesday was dominated almost entirely by the question of how to strike a balance between U.S. ideals and interests in Myanmar in the wake of these various concerns.

What can we expect from him?

Mitchell will help facilitate the ongoing “action-for-action” approach the United States is taking with Myanmar, where reforms are reciprocated with various rewards including the easing of sanctions. In his recent testimony as well as in other addresses, he has emphasized both the complexity and diversity of Myanmar as well as the wide range of partners that need to work together in the United States in order to produce coherent and comprehensive policy. His tenure is thus likely to see engagement and consultation with various parties in Myanmar, including the government, civil society representatives, former political prisoners, and ethnic minority and religious leaders, as well as the consideration of the interests of different parts of the U.S. government and private sector in the shaping of U.S. policy in Myanmar.


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