1. Geographical Location
Myanmar is located in South East Asia bordering the People's Republic of China on the North and North East, Laos on the East, Thailand on the South East, Bangladesh on the West and India on the North West. It is also strategically located between South Asia and South East Asia. More interestingly, Myanmar is sandwiched between the two most populous nations in the World-- China and India. Bangladesh, 5 times smaller in size with a population 3 times larger than Myanmar, is another of her neighbours. The former, unlike Myanmar is not blessed with abundant natural resources, in addition to which she has the misfortune to be battered by natural disasters almost every year.
The Length of Borders with Immediate Neighbouring Countries
China - 2192 km (1362 miles)
India - 1331 km ( 827 miles)
Bangladesh - 256 km ( 157 miles)
Thailand - 2096 km (1302 miles)
Laos - 224 km ( 139 miles)
Coast Line - 2276 km (1414 miles)
2. People And Religion
Myanmar comprises eight major national ethnic races with some 135 ethnic groups. The major national races are Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine and Shan. The Bamar form the largest national race constituting 70% of the whole population. In the religious sector, 89.2% of the population is Buddhist, while Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Animism are also practised.
3. Pre-Independence Days
The divide-and-rule policy with which the British had ruled Myanmar for over 100 years paved the way to the outbreak of insurrections as soon as she regained independence. Moreover during the years of struggle for independence, a variety of conflicting ideologies and ideas had proliferated and infused the thought of those who had participated in the struggle and bred differences in outlook and attitudes. All this eventually caused the disintegration of the national unity and solidarity just prior to independence. Myanmar's national hero General Aung San and his ministers were assassinated in July 1947 through the complicity of the colonial conservative government. It was the most damaging act in the history of Myanmar. It left the country almost leaderless on regaining her independence from Britain in January 1948. The British also forcefully introduced the production of opium in the northern Myanmar states in the 19th Century with the aim of increasing the opium trade with China. Myanmar inherited these problems which have remained an entrenched and a current issue.
4. Confusion Over The Name Of The Country - Myanmar or Burma
Refusing to call a nation by its proper official name may seem insignificant to some but generates resentment among a very high majority of the Myanmar population. The subject is concerned with the recognition of the country by its original name. Of course, there are a few politicians in Myanmar who for certain political reasons prefer to retain the name Burma given by the former British Colonial Administration. Myanmar and its capital Yangon are not new names created by the State Law and Order Restoration Council. In fact, Myanmar and Yangon are the original names that were renamed Burma and Rangoon by the British Colonial Administration. In spite of the fact that in the Myanmar language people use the names Myanmar and Yangon, unfortunately, none of the successive Myanmar Governments took the trouble of reinstating the original names. The SLORC administration did so with two main purposes: to provide a feeling of release from the British colonial past and to give a previously divided and fractious country a sense of national unity under the new banner of "The Union of Myanmar".
In the Union of Myanmar there are 8 major national races with some 135 ethnic groups and among the 8 major nationalities Bamar is the largest national race constituting 70% of the whole population. In this regard, when the British Colonial Administration colonized Myanmar in the late 1800's it is presumed that Britain renamed it Burma since Bamar or Burmans (the British usage) were the majority in the country which they occupied. In a cave temple built in the Bagan area is a stone tablet bearing a date equivalent to AD 1190. It is one of the first known references to 'Myanmar'. In contrast, the name 'Bamar' did not appear during this and subsequent periods. The first reference to Bamar was only found in artifacts and buildings dating from the KONBAUNG Period (18th and 19th centuries). Moreover, it is quite interesting to know that China since ancient times has referred to Myanmar as Myan-Tin in the Chinese language. It never referred to Myanmar as Burma-Tin or Bur-Tin as the British Colonial Administration had re-named it. A few years ago in Yangon there was an interview between members of the media and some of the leaders of the ethnic races (former insurgent groups) and the question of name-change was raised by some of the media. The ethnic leaders' response was that they now feel they are not left out but are being equally given a national identity under the name Myanmar. Naturally, the ethnic group still opposing the Myanmar Government will say things differently because they have aligned themselves with the political party which refuses to recognize the country by its original name. The party (National League for Democracy) stated that the name-change is not a priority and it has to be carried out with a vote. It is quite amazing for someone to say such a thing since national unity is and always would be a top priority in any country in the world. It would be highly pertinent to ask, if the British Colonial Administration implemented the name-change with a vote. If General Aung San, Myanmar national leader, had not been assassinated in 1947, before Myanmar regained her independence, the national leaders of the time would have definitely reinstated the original names. The new names imposed by the British are not only phonetically wrong but nationally and historically misrepresentative. Anyhow, since the United Nations has recognized Myanmar by her original name it is the obligation of all U.N. member countries to accept it whether they approve of it or not. If the situation had been reversed, certainly, these same nations would be urging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions and embargoes on countries not recognizing and implementing the U.N. resolution or mandate.
5. Insurgency After Post-Independence Days
After regaining independence from Britain in 1948 a civilian government (Parliamentary Democracy Government) ruled the country. Because of internal party conflicts and clashes with the then 2 other opposition parties the government in power gave priority only to it party affairs and means and ways to get re-elected in the coming election. To cite one glaring example to show the extremes they went to, the then prime minister proclaimed Buddhism, which has over 80% of the population as its followers in the country, to be the State Religion of Myanmar to canvass votes for his party from the Buddhist majority of the population. At the same time the needs and requirements of the ethnic races were ignored and neglected.Unfortunately, his move created rebellion among the ethnic races professing other religious faiths and automatically led to armed insurrection in the country. Although, it was clear from the very beginning that the then government was wrong in their steps in the first place, the military had neither voice nor choice but to follow orders in fighting all the insurgent groups the government had created. The fighting lasted 45 years.
11. Myanmar's Foreign Policy
Since Myanmar regained her independence from the British in 1948 she chose to pursue an active and independent foreign policy from the very beginning. She left the British Commonwealth and adopted a neutral and later a non-aligned policy throughout the Cold War period. In pursuance of such a policy she has been accorded some pluses mainly enabling her to stay out of the regional conflicts. The minuses are that she has neither developed capitalist nor communist alliances. When Myanmar became a socialist country after the end of its parliamentary era the Western World regarded her as a pro-communist state while the Socialist World upheld her as a sort of a pseudo socialist country. During this period Myanmar more or less stayed away from the regional and international crisis with doors partly closed eventually leading her to a self-imposed seclusion in pursuit of her own ideals.
12.Composition of the Different Ethnic Groups under the 8 Major National Ethnic Races in Myanmar
There are a total of 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar. For details click here.
13. Development During The Period The Military Government Assumed State Responsibilities
Today after the Military Government (state law & Order Restoration Council - SLORC) assumed state responsibilities in September 1988 the Government has managed to bring 17.5 of the 18 armed insurgent groups into the legal fold and also has achieved success in bringing the drug warlord Khun Sa to surrender unconditionally. This is an astounding major achievement for Myanmar since it is the first time in her modern history she has managed to establish national unity, peace and stability. Even though Myanmar is very rich in natural resources, due to the lack of peace and stability, Myanmar has lagged behind in development compared to other ASEAN countries. During the crisis in 1988 over 65% of the industry in Yangon(capital city) was destroyed and looted while 118 policemen were injured, 35 policemen killed and 15 police stations were overrun by the unruly mob. Simultaneously, 52 innocent civilians were tried by kangaroo courts and beheaded by the unruly mob while an infantry platoon guarding a ministry building was also overrun. Moreover, the weapons, ammunition and explosives from the police stations and the infantry platoon, were taken away by the disorderly mob while the insurgents managed to bring explosives and weapons into the cities as well. Anarchism was therefore rampant in the country. the Burmese Communist insurgents were attacking the Government troops in the North East and Eastern borders while the Kayin insurgents attacked the South Eastern borders.
During this chaotic period the Armed Forces of Myanmar had no choice but to use whatever means available to restore Law and Order in the nation while repelling the attacking insurgent groups. In fact, the Armed Forces of Myanmar managed to save the country from disintegrating and from becoming a war zone. But unfortunately the international media and the western world portrayed a different picture of the Myanmar Armed Forces depiciting it as a ruthless trigger-happy bunch of thugs shooting and killing civilians and repressing democratic activities. Their so-called heroes of democracy were at that time not only helpless but were staying well out of the way from the scene of rampage. The military government, the then State Law and Order Restoration Council after assuming the state responsibilities suspended the One-Party Socialist System and the Socialist Economy to pursue a Multi-Party Democratic System with a Market-Oriented Economy. In the transition period the Market-Oriented Economy was introduced and implemented in the economic sector while on the political sector, priority was given to an emergence of a new Constitution which will be compatible with the Multi-Party democratic system and which will also ensure peace and stability among the national races in the country. With this in mind the 1990 elections were held with the sole objective of electing the representatives to draft a new constitution.
Unfortunately, after the election the party winning the majority of the seats, instead of meeting its obligations changed its tune and demanded the immediate transfer of power. Logically, the country at that time had no constitution in place so the military as a transitional and a caretaker government ran the country by imposing martial law. But for a political party to run the country imposing martial law would not only be inappropriate but also impossible and even the very basic questions posed by people from all walks of life went unanswered. These were; (a) How would the National League for Democracy (NLD) party form a government? (b) For how many years will the NLD run the country as a government in the interim period? These are very simple basic questions to which the NLD never had an answer yet it still went on demanding the handing over of state power overnight. In Myanmar at that time, most of the armed groups which have now returned to the legal fold were still very active as insurgents and the situation was very fluid and tense. In Myanmar today security in her cities is fully guaranteed for the people while peace and tranquillity prevail even in the border areas for the first time in her modern history. Starvation is a word alien to the people of Myanmar and Myanmar does not have homeless people who die of neglect by their own Government. Myanmar today is implementing the project called "From Huts To Proper Houses Scheme." All her citizens are being taken care of by the Government to have a proper home to live in. The Government of Myanmar is also in the process of promoting her economy for the benefit of her people. Priorities are given for the promotion of the economy so that a strong middle class will emerge. The Government of Myanmar foresees the situation that only when a strong middle class emerges will a functioning democracy prevail in the country. The Western Nations' theory of democracy first, democracy second and democracy third has not only failed in many developing countries but has created instability and chaos, and for how long those countries will continue to suffer we do not know.
In Myanmar, since the country is in the process of rebuilding a new nation, unity, stability and the promotion of all-round development are being given priority. The full right to practise party politics is not high up on her agenda because the nation needs all her strength for nation-rebuilding and national unity at the moment. The time will come after the new constitution is drafted, and before the elections, for political parties to do party politicking but not at this stage where party politicking by 10 political parties will affect the national unity and drain away her strength. Trying to force Myanmar to deviate from her original path and pressuring her to accept the interests of foreign governments under the pretext of democracy and human rights is very much detrimental to the national interests of the Myanmar people. Imposing sanctions and other pressures on her indicates the West's real intention which is, "hypocrisy but not democracy and might is right but not human right". Myanmar must and will start to build up her democratic institution with a solid foundation first and from there on it will expand and develop into a much higher level. No country in the world can expect to achieve a functioning democracy in the reverse. It is like expecting or forcing a child to run before first learning how to walk properly. It would be interesting if the so-called democracies would only look back on the stages they had to go through to become what they are at present. It will be more interesting to know how long it took for them to become what they are now.
25. Why The Change From State Law & Order Restoration Council (SLORC)
To State Peace & Development Council (SPDC)
The change itself indicates that the military government regards itself as a transitional or a caretaker government exacting a step-by-step transformation to the democracy it cherishes for the entire nation. If the military government intends to hold on to the power as has been accused of by the western governments, changes to the name of the government or members of its administration are not necessary. It is a change of substance, entity and identity. The military government is systematically moving towards her main objective of a modernized, well-developed and peaceful nation within a consolidated union and supportive economic infrastructure. To reach her ultimate goal, Myanmar intends to move phase by phase. The first phase during the SLORC administration in 1988 was to restore and establish Law and Order in the country, with a view to national reconciliation, stability, tranquillity and to initiate the transformation to a multi-party democratic system with a market-oriented economy from a socialist one-party system and a centralized economy. Now, in phase two the SPDC will strengthen and reinforce the maintenance of peace and stability while reinvigorating all-round development in the country. Myanmar is also very much interested in meeting her commitments to become as developed as the senior ASEAN countries. With this in mind she intends to give high priority to the promotion of her economic sector. Myanmar also believes that in order to become a functioning and disciplined democracy in the near future, she will first have to create a strong infrastructure for economic and security enabling the emergence of a middle class. This is one of the main reasons for her priority in the development of her economic sector in this second phase. Simultaneously, in the process of spearheading the peace and development initiatives as the name implies, the drafting of the new constitution will also be completed and elections will take place in the next phase. Unfortunately, we have been inescapably stuck in the first phase much longer than we initially had expected, due to unnecessary pressures and problems created from within the country and abroad. The economic sanctions and embargoes imposed on Myanmar by the western countries are like putting obstacles and hurdles in our path to democracy. Ironically, these are the same western nations that are criticizing Myanmar for not being a democracy. The essence of the change is nothing but a systematic step-by-step process in meeting her preparedness for the transition to a disciplined and functioning democracy.