Myanmar/Burma 101

In a new episode of the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast, Nonresident Senior Fellow Lex Rieffel discusses Myanmar’s remarkable transition to democracy and the leadership role of Aung San Suu Kyi. Some key facts about Myanmar include:

  • Aung San Suu Kyi, awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1991, has just emerged as the country’s undisputed leader after spending most of the past 25 years under house arrest.
  • Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, leader of Myanmar’s fight for independence from Britain.
  • Curiously, she is the political leader of the country despite being neither president nor prime minister. Myanmar’s new president is Htin Kyaw.
  • Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, borders China, India, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Laos.
  • Its population of 55 million is 20 percent smaller than Thailand’s, and 30 percent smaller than Vietnam’s.
  • “Burma” was the name given to it by the United Kingdom when it was colonized in the 1800s.
  • In 1942, Japan invaded Burma, but its army surrendered to the Allies in 1944.
  • The country gained its independence on January 4, 1948. Tragically, General Aung San was assassinated six months prior to independence.
  • In 1962, a military coup led by General Ne Win seized power and ruled for the next 26 years.
  • A popular uprising in 1988 forced Ne Win out; Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as the leader of the opposition.
  • In 1989, the ruling military junta changed the country’s name to Myanmar, which was quickly adopted by the United Nations, but not accepted by the political opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi. The U.S. State Department continues to use the name Burma.
  • Myanmar’s top export is natural gas. Before World War II, Burma was the world’s largest rice exporter.

Listen to the entire episode below for Rieffel’s expert take on Myanmar’s political development and what to watch for in the future.

Get more episodes from the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast here.

Also, visit our Myanmar page for a complete archive of research and commentary on this country.