The peoples of Myanmar are presently struggling with three grave challenges: a coup, conflict and Covid-19. This new TNI briefing analyses how these three crises have unfolded, leading to health system collapse, a new cycle of humanitarian emergency and deepening political divisions within the country. Taking a narrative approach, the report focuses on the consequences of state failure, the impact of Covid-19 and the actions taken by different military, political and civil society actors during a time of national breakdown.
The 2020 general election was one of disappointment for ethnic nationality parties in Myanmar. Prior to the polls, expectations were high that they would win a larger number of seats than in previous elections. In the event, the National League for Democracy won another landslide victory. NLD gains were largely at the expense of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. The position of ethnic parties, in contrast, will remain relatively the same.
This briefing aims to deepen discussion on the Belt and Road Iniatiative (BRI) in Myanmar. The BRI is often described as a ‘grand strategy’ led by President Xi Jinping, centrally planned and rolled out by obedient state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The sheer size of the initiative – 136 countries have received US$90 billion in Chinese foreign direct investment and exchanged US$6 trillion in trade with China - can make the BRI appear monolithic and inevitable. However, using a political economy analysis, this briefing demonstrates that the BRI is not a grand strategy, but a broad framework of activities that seek to address a crisis in Chinese capitalism. An examination of four BRI projects in Myanmar using Chinese language sources shows the extent of lobbying by Chinese SOEs and the Yunnan provincial government to promote the projects, with support from the central Chinese government.
How is the peace process in Myanmar going? What progress has been made toward reform? After decades under military rule, the 21st Century Panglong Conference has been welcomed as the most encouraging recent initiative to address humanitarian suffering and national instability. It prioritises ethnic peace and political reform at a moment of opportunity for national reconciliation. However, as ethnic conflict and refugee displacement continue worrying failings have started to appear, raising many warnings from the country’s troubled history.
For people affected by displacement, land is much more than just an economic asset. Being able to return to one’s original place is a deeply felt aspiration about restoring the social relations that constitute a person’s identity. The long-standing displacement of people, land-grabbing and non-existence of rights to land in many parts of the country mean that land reform and land restitution must be a central issue in any peace settlement. What happens today with the land is inextricably tied to the country’s future prospects for peace and democracy.