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Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia, bordered by Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, China on the northeast, Laos and Thailand on the east, the Andaman Sea on the south, and the Bay of Bengal on the southwest. It has a land area of 678, 500 square kilometers and, as such, is the largest mainland Southeast Asian country and the second largest in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) after Indonesia.
There are two ecological niches in the country: (1) the lowland central plains, which lie between the Irrawaddy and Salween Rivers in the center of the country and are occupied by the dominant Burmans and (2) the highlands surrounding the plains, which are primarily inhabited by minority groups such as the Shans, Kachin, Karen, and Chin. The lowland plains are dominated by a monsoon climate of rain from June to October, a cool interlude for a month or two, and then a hot, dry period lasting until the rains return. The mountainous regions experience the same general seasonal fluctuations with slightly cooler temperatures. Temperature could reach 38Â°C between May and October and fall to 20Â°C between December and February.
History and Key Events
The Mon and Pyu peoples are reported to be the first inhabitants in the area. The arrival of the Mon people, who migrated to Southeast Asia from the north is said to have occurred in the ninth century B.C.E. The first Pyu city-state, Beikthano, was established during the first century C.E. but in 832 C.E. the final Pyu city-state, Sri Ksetra, falls to the Nanzhao kingdom of China. In 1044, the Burman kingdom of Pagan was founded but experienced invasions by the Mongols in 1287 B.C.E. Pagan declined and new centers of power were located at Pinya, Sagaing, and Ava. With the arrival of the British colonizers, a series of war followed. The first Anglo-Burmese War occurred between 1824-1826. The second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852 resulted to the expansion of the British territory. As a consequence of the third Anglo-Burmese War in 1883, Burman territories along with that of the neighboring minority groups became part of British India.
Burmese nationalism emerged with the establishment of the Young Men’s Buddhist association in 1906. They opened a number of schools dedicated to raising the cultural and educational levels of Burmans, so they can compete with Indians for jobs in the colonial government. Strikes against British colonial rule followed. Burma was separated fromfrnhtfcnfnhgbvf India in 1937 but it was soon followed the Japanese occupation. In 1948, Burma gained independence. A military coup in 1962 placed Ne Win in power. Since then, the country had intermittently been under military rule. The government ignored the election victory by the opposition party, the National League for Democracy and its leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was imprisoned.
On July 23, 1997, Myanmar joined ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). Adminstrative changes were made in March 2006. Nay Pyi Daw became the new administrative capital. However, in 2007, the country remained impoverished and huge fuel price increases sparked protests, later dubbed the “saffron revolution” after the robes of monks who also joined in.
On November 7, 2010, Myanmar held its elections in accordance with the new constitution that was approved in the referendum in 2008. As part of Myanmar’s ‘Roadmap to Democracy,’ Suu Kyi’s was released from house arrest and detention after 14 years on November 2010.
Culture and Society
The Pyu and Mon were the earliest inhabitants of the area. Under the 1974 Constitution, the political map demarcated ethnic minority states – Chin, Karen (Kayin), Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan – and seven divisions where Burmans are in the majority. Myanmar has around 135 linguistic sub-groups from 13 ethnic families. Total population as of July 2010 is estimated at 53, 414, 374. In terms of age structure, 25.3 percent are below 14 years old; 69.3 percent are between 15-64 years old; and 5.4 percent are 65 years and above. The median age is 26 years old and life expectancy is 64.23 years. The population is expected to grow at a rate of 1.096 percent. In terms of literarcy, 89.9 percent of the population age 15 and above are capable of reading and writing.
Burmese is the official language. It belongs to the Sino-Tibetan group of languages and is spoken by the majority of the population. Likewise, around 15 percent of the population speak Shan and Karen. English is spoken mainly in large cities and among educated social groups. Majority of the population, 89 percent, are Buddhists. 4 percent are Christians, 4 percent are Muslims, 1 percent are animist and the remaining 2 percent belongs to other local religious groups. Some of the indigenous people in the hill areas, who followed various types of shamanistic rituals in the precolonial era, were converted to Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth century.
Pagan, which is said to be the birthplace of Burmese culture, is the place where the first Burmese empire was founded. This is where the newcomers from the Indo-Chinese plateau first wrote their language and where the Burmese first received the teachings of Buddha. Furthermore, the Ananda temple serves as a monument to the great civilization of Pagan. This cave-type temple was built by King Kyanzittha in 1090. Tourist would come for the Ananda temple festival which falls on the full moon of Pyatho as up to a thousand monks chant day and night during the three days of the festival.
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar was previously known as the Union of Myanmar or the Union of Burma. Myanmar had been under military rule since 1962. The administrative capital was moved on November 6, 2005 from Yangon, the country’s economic hub. After more than two decades, election were held on November 7, 2010. The parliament was convened in February 2011 and former Prime Minister Thein Sein was sworn into office as president on March 30, 2011. The event marked the end of the junta that ruled the country for decades. Tin Myint Oo and Sai Muak Kham will serve as vice presidents. 30 ministers and 39 deputy ministers were also appointed by the president to his government. The legislature is bicameral, which comprise the House of Nationalities (Amyotha Hluttaw) and the House of Representatives (Pythu Hluttaw). Military forces was estimated at 375,500 in 2006, making it one of largest military in Asia after China and India. The military, that uses Chinese technology, is given a huge portion of the national budget.
Myanmar’s economy is heavily centered on agricultural processing. Major agricultural products are rice, pulses, beans, sesame, groundnuts, and sugarcane. Other industries include wood products; copper, tin, tungsten, iron; cement, construction materials; pharmaceuticals; fertilizer; oil and natural gas; garments, jade and gems. Total exports (which primarily include natural gas, wood products, pulses, beans, fish, rice, clothing, jade and gems) were $6.862 billion in 2009. Major export partners were Thailand (46 percent), India (19 percent), China (9 percent), and Japan (6 percent). On the other hand, total exports (which primarily include fabric, petroleum products, fertilizer, plastics, machinery, transport equipment; cement, construction materials, crude oil; food products, edible oil) were $4.02 billion in 2009. Major export partners were China (33 percent), Thailand (26 percent), and Singapore (15 percent). Myanmar is also heavily dependent on official development assistance (ODAs) in keeping its economy afloat.
Karen and other ethnic refugees, asylum seekers, and rebels, as well as illegal cross-border activities from Burma
the feasibility of jointly constructing the Hatgyi Dam on the Salween River near the border with Burma; citing environmental, cultural, and social concerns,
reconsidering construction of 13 dams on the Salween River but energy-starved Burma with backing from Thailand remains intent on building five hydro-electric dams downstream, despite identical regional and international protests
seeks cooperation from Burma to keep Indian Nagaland separatists, such as the United Liberation Front of Assam, from hiding in remote Burmese Uplands;
after 21 years, in January 2008, it resumed talks with Burma on delimiting a maritime boundary
Current Australian policy toward Burma is tightly targeted with respect to both humanitarian aid and financial sanctions imposed on named individuals who form, or are connected to, its ruling military regime.
Australia is well placed to initiate a number of diplomatic actions on Burma, including supporting a United Nations Security Council-imposed arms embargo.
The Australian government’s current policy toward the Burmese regime is best described as targeted, incorporating a combination of sanctions applied to specifically named individuals and activities, and expenditures allocated to specific purposes and projects while eschewing broad-based restrictions on trade and investment.
Australia co-sponsored a resolution on human rights in Burma at the March 2009 session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. In November 2008, Australia co-sponsored a resolution on human rights in Burma in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.
The Australian government provides humanitarian assistance to the Burmese people, with a focus on women and children, ethnic minorities, and displaced persons and refugees on the Thailand-Burma and Bangladesh-Burma borders.
In 1949, Myanmar became the first noncommunist country to officially recognize the newly established People’s Republic of China.
China has become an important partner for Myanmar in trade, economic assistance, and investment. In 2008, bilateral trade reached US$2.63 billion, increasing 26.4% compared to the year before. In fiscal year 2008-2009, China’s investment in Myanmar was US$856 million, which ranked first among the investors in Myanmar that year.
According to a recent report prepared by the International Crisis Group, China may be able to extract minor concessions, but these have never led to fundamental changes in Myanmar. China could not stop the conflict between the Myanmar army and the Kokang cease-fire group. That conflict forced an estimated 30,000 Kokang and Chinese to flee from Myanmar into China’s Yunnan Province, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry noted that the conflict “harmed the rights and interests of Chinese citizens living [in Yunnan].” The report also said that China’s influence is limited by the Tatmadaw government’s profound distrust of China and its anxiety about domination by China (which will not occur).
Bilateral relations between China and Myanmar are nevertheless on a stable base, and dialogue between the two countries is frequent.
On September 28, 2009, for example, General Tin Aung Myint Oo, first secretary of the Myanmar government, attended a reception in honor of the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in Rangoon along with Lieutenant General Myint Swe, the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations-5, which oversees the Rangoon Regional Military Command, and other senior officials.
The chief aim of the Japanese government’s policy toward Myanmar is to encourage the government and the people of Myanmar to move in the direction of political democratization and economic development.
Japan assists Myanmar in economic development, recognizing the necessity and urgency of enhancing the welfare of the people as well as the geo-economic importance of the country as a link between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
In the context of economic cooperation, Japan has provided grant and technical assistance, although yen-denominated loans have been suspended since 1988. The purpose of this assistance has been mainly to improve humanitarian conditions through medical and health care, school construction, and education. The allocation of financial resources has been decided on a case-by-case basis, taking into account improvements in the human rights situation and the progress of political democratization.
Areas in which specific Philippine policies could be directed:
Providing assistance in education modernization programs, including provisions for liberal arts and humanities.
Working within ASEAN to provide the basis for political reform in Burma/Myanmar by making use of provisions in the ASEAN Charter that promote respect for democracy and human rights and in the ASEAN Political and Security Community that urge the sharing of values and norms in the region.
Initiating exchange visits by young people on a bilateral basis between Burma/Myanmar and the Philippines, including formal exchanges through training programs for young bureaucrats (e.g., the Foreign Service Officer cadet program in the Philippines).
Initiating cultural exchanges between the two countries.
ASEAN functions according to consensus decisions, it is unlikely to serve as anything more than a structure for managing economic relations, and it cannot overcome the reluctance of India and China to do anything that would adversely affect their economic interests in Burma/Myanmar.
ASEAN’s Stand on Myanmar
Defended the membership of Myanmar in ASEAN
Opposed any discrimination directed at Myanmar in ASEAN’s external relations and cooperation with any dialogue partner or other external party
Continued to support Myanmar’s quest to join Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation as soon as the moratorium on organization membership is lifted
Supported Myanmar’s joining the annual ASEAN-Europe Meeting starting from the fifth meeting in Hanoi in October 2004
Encouraged and supported dialogue and cooperation among all parties concerned with achieving peaceful resolution to the political problems and national reconciliation in Myanmar
Supported the prompt implementation of Myanmar’s seven-step roadmap to democracy, as expressed, in particular, at the 2003 ASEAN Summit in Bali
Encouraged Myanmar to keep fellow ASEAN member states fully informed of progress as well as setbacks in implementing various measures in the roadmap
Supported the ASEAN chair when interacting with Myanmar
Supported the good offices of the UN secretary-general and his special envoy to Myanmar
Support capacity building for the Myanmar government, including attachment to and training at the ASEAN Secretariat, as well as recruitment of Myanmar nationals to work in the ASEAN Secretariat.
Take an active leadership role in mobilizing ASEAN and international support for the operations to provide humanitarian assistance to survivors of Cyclone Nargis, under the Tripartite Core Group of ASEAN, the United Nations, and Myanmar
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