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Inside Challenges, Outside Interests

edited by Lex Rieffel

Publication Year: 2010

Burma had the brightest prospects of any Southeast Asian nation after World War II. In the years since, however, it has dropped to the bottom of the world's socioeconomic ladder. The grossly misruled nation —officially known as Myanmar —is in the midst of a political transition based on a new constitution and its first multiparty elections in twenty years. That transition, together with a recent change in U.S. policy, prompted this book.

Two military dictators have ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for nearly fifty years. A popular uprising in 1988 was brutally suppressed, but it forced the generals to hold an election in 1990. When an anti-regime party led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landside, however, the generals rejected the results, put Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of two decades, and continued to exploit the country's abundant resources for their own benefit while depriving citizens of basic services. Years of Western sanctions had no measurable impact, but in 2009 the Obama administration adopted a new policy of "pragmatic engagement," encouraging greater respect of democratic principles and human rights as a basis for eventual removal of sanctions.

This thoughtful volume examines Burma today primarily through the eyes of its ASEAN partners, its superpower neighbors China and India, and its own people. It provides insights into the overarching problem of national reconciliation, the strategic competition between China and India, the role of ASEAN, and the underperforming, resource-cursed economy.

Contributors include Pavin Chachavalpongpun (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore), Termsak Chalermpalanupap (ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta), David Dapice (Tufts University), Xiaolin Guo (Institute for Security & Development Policy, Stockholm), Gurmeet Kanwal (Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi), Kyaw Yin Hlaing (City University of Hong Kong), Li Chenyang (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Yunnan University, Kunming), Andrew Selth (Griffith University, Brisbane), Michael Vatikiotis (Henry Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Singapore), Maung Zarni (London School of Economics)

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Information

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation is a political foundation close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. At home as well as abroad, our civic education and briefing programs aim at promoting freedom and liberty, peace, and justice. We focus on supporting and promoting democracy worldwide, on the unification of Europe and the ...

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pp. ix-xi

The idea for this volume began in 2007 after a week long visit to the China-Myanmar border, accompanied by an exceptional graduate student guide/translator/interpreter recruited by Dr. Li Chenyang of Yunnan University. At the end of the visit, I discussed with Dr. Li a number of possible joint research activities. One of the ideas was a workshop on Myanmar...

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A Note on the Name of the Country

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pp. xiii

The British bestowed the name Burma on the territory they began to take control of in the 1820s and made into a province of India in 1886. Burma became a separate colony in 1937. Upon independence in 1948, the Burmese accepted the name Union of Burma. In 1989 the military regime formally changed the name to the Union of Myanmar. Myanmar had been ...

Political Timeline

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pp. xv-xvii

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Administrative Divisions of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar according to the 2008 Constitution

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pp. xviii

Myanmar is divided into seven states (pyine) and seven divisions (yin). Under the 2008 constitution, the divisions are re-named as regions. In addition there are five self-administered zones and one self-administered division. The map on the facing page labels states, regions, self- administered zones, and the self-administered division in regular ...

Administrative Map of Myanmar/Burma according to the 2008 Constitution

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pp. xix

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1. The Moment

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pp. 1-29

Change is in the air, although it may reflect hope more than reality. The political landscape of Myanmar has been all but frozen since 1990, when the nationwide election was won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The country's military regime, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), lost no time in repudi-...

Part I: Inside Challenges

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pp. 31

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2. Problems with the Process of Reconciliation

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pp. 33-51

Anyone familiar with Myanmar politics knows that the country's three main political forces, the military government, pro democracy groups represented by the National League for Democracy (NLD), and ethnic minority groups, desperately need to reconcile their differences and find a way to work together for the long-term political stability and economic ...

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3. An Inside View of Reconciliation

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pp. 52-76

Both historically and in the present, the defining characteristics of politics in Myanmar have been mass poverty in all its dimensions, a multiplicity of conflicts, domination of the weak by the strong, and resistance from below.

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4. Recapitalizing the Rural Economy

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pp. 77-85

In January 2009 I met with groups of farmers from areas just north of Mandalay down to areas in the Ayeyarwady Delta that were still recovering from the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. I was part of an assessment team facilitated by International Development Enterprises Myanmar, a nongovernmental organization focused on social entrepreneur-...

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5. Boom on the Way from Ruili to Mandalay

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pp. 86-100

Despite the artificial boundary lines and modern infrastructure that set present-day Myanmar and China apart, trade across the historical frontiers dominated by local forces in the absence of central control has shown no fundamental change over time. After decades of civil war and class struggle impeding economic development in the two countries, market activities ...

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6. Three Scenarios for Myanmar's Future

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pp. 101-110

Myanmar's relationship with Southeast Asia has been problematic for most of the post colonial era. It did not start that way. When the British left Burma in 1949, the splendid colonial capital of Rangoon was the region's most developed and progressive city, a regional hub for communications, education, and finance, and the country it represented was Southeast Asia's ...

Part II: Outside Interests

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pp. 111

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7. The Policies of China and India toward Myanmar

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pp. 113-133

Myanmar has the same strategic importance for China and India in both the geopolitical sense and the geoeconomic sense. After the Myanmar military seized power in September 1988, the Chinese and Indian governments both endeavored to expand their influence in Myanmar to protect their national interests. Their policies toward Myanmar had many simi-...

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8. A Strategic Perspective on India-Myanmar Relations

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pp. 134-149

India and Myanmar were historically part of the extended British Empire in Asia. Since the two countries became independent at the end of World War II, relations between them have by and large been friendly. At the outset Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu worked closely with each other in the area of economic development. India even provided some ...

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9. ASEAN's Policy of Enhanced Interactions

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pp. 150-165

As the most comprehensive regional organization in Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has endeavored to include every Southeast Asian country in its fold and to keep member states committed to common regional objectives.

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10. The Last Bus to Naypyidaw

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pp. 166-180

Myanmar was admitted into the ASEAN family in 1997. In the face of strong objections from the West and certain civil society organizations in the region, ASEAN insisted on welcoming Myanmar's regime, claiming that the admission served the organization's long-term interests. It wanted to engage the rulers of Myanmar constructively to moderate the regime's ...

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11. Myanmar, North Korea, and the Nuclear Question

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pp. 181-194

Since the late 1990s there has been a steady trickle of reports in the news media and on activist websites that Myanmar is developing a close relationship with North Korea.

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12. The New U.S. Policy of Pragmatic Engagement

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pp. 195-200

I appreciate this opportunity to discuss the overarching assessments that helped shape our review. The Administration launched a review of our Burma policy seven months ago, recognizing that political and humanitarian conditions in Burma were deplorable. Neither sanctions nor engagement, ...

About the Contributors

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pp. 201-203


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pp. 205-212

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815705062
E-ISBN-10: 0815705069

Page Count: 212
Publication Year: 2010