Colin Willett

Senior Associate (Non-resident), Southeast Asia Program
Expertise: Asia, Southeast Asia
Associated Programs: Southeast Asia Program

Colin Willett is an experienced foreign policy professional with over 17 years of experience working at the White House, State Department, and Intelligence Community on political, economic, and security issues in East Asia. In the Obama administration, she served for nearly four years as Southeast Asia director at the National Security Council. In that role, she set the agenda for the president’s engagement with the region’s premier political and security forums, directed the interagency coordination process on South China Sea policy, and shaped new strategic partnerships with Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. She also led the interagency team to revamp the administration’s Myanmar policy during that country’s political transition and served as the substantive lead in setting the agenda for the president’s annual participation in the East Asia Summit. Ms. Willett also served as senior adviser and deputy assistant secretary for multilateral affairs and the South China Sea in the Department of State’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau. As deputy assistant secretary, she led the department’s participation in key Asian multilateral organizations, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit, oversaw the development and implementation of new assistance programs aimed at deepening U.S. economic ties to the new ASEAN Community, and helped orchestrate the first ever U.S.-ASEAN Summit hosted in the United States at Sunnylands. She drove the development of the State Department’s maritime security strategies, led efforts to build international coalitions on key issues including freedom of navigation, and managed the department’s responses to incidents and crises in the South China Sea. Ms. Willett began her public service as an analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. She holds a M.A. in economics from Tufts University and a B.A. in economics from the College of William and Mary.