Population: 53.7 Million
GDP Growth: 6.5% in 2019; 1.8% forecast in 2020
Life Expectancy: 66.9 years
Median Age: 29 years
Myanmar’s democratic opening during the past decade has brought with it the promise of prosperity that eluded it during five decades of repressive military rule. Strategically located next to the great powers of China and India, Myanmar has abundant natural resources and appears primed to emerge as a major regional trading hub.
Historic elections in November 2015 ushered in a new civilian government led by former political prisoner and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. But the political opening, which brought media freedoms, protest rights, and prisoner amnesties, has faltered.
There has been democratic backsliding, and the government has failed to bring peace to this ethnically diverse nation despite making that a priority. Its international standing has been sullied by allegations of genocide perpetrated by Myanmar’s still-powerful military against the Rohingya Muslim minority. About 750,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh during a 2017 crackdown.
As Western powers have distanced themselves from Myanmar, also known as Burma, the government has strengthened its relationship with China, its largest trade partner and investor.
Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Myanmar in January 2020 for his first international trip of the new decade, ushering in a “new era” in relations between the neighbors. China has defended Myanmar against international attempts to hold it to account for atrocities.
Xi’s visit cemented infrastructure projects along the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, a key plank in the One Belt, One Road initiative. That includes a $1.3 billion deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu in Rakhine state that offers access to the Indian Ocean - potentially giving China a more direct sea route Europe, Africa and other points in Asia.
However there has been a backlash to Chinese projects in Myanmar due to displacement and pollution. Most notorious has been the Myitsone dam, a massive hydropower project that would alter the flow of the Ayeyarwaddy, Myanmar’s mother of rivers. The project has failed to get back off the ground due to unrest and its deep unpopularity among people locally and nationwide.
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Editing: H. Leo Kim, Mat Pennington
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