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Myanmar: Peace or Conflict

Jacob Houston

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country located in Southeast Asia with China to its north, India and Bangladesh to its west, and the rest of mainland and Pacific Southeast Asia to its East.

The country was formerly a British colony in Asia, and one of the main British strongholds during the brutal Pacific campaign during World War II. In 1948, Britain granted Myanmar independence, which also came with a heavy cost. The Burmese military took control of the country and formed a temporary government under U Nu, in order to silence political infighting.

For a time, Myanmar was known as an excellent example of a democracy in Southeast Asia among the growing fear from the Western world over the ‘domino theory’. However, this democracy did not last long, and in 1962, General Ne Win of the Burmese military seized control of the country by taking advantage of political corruption, and threw the country into a dictatorship that lasted over twenty six years.

In 1974, a new constitution, pushed by Ne Win, highlighted isolationist foreign policy, and promotion of nationalism. However, the country plummeted into an economic depression, and was only held afloat by a black-market economy, filled with narcotics smuggling and other vices. As a result, in 1988, massive protests sprung all over the country, which the military quickly suppressed, killing over three thousand protesters.

Ne Win’s new government was also falling apart in the way of massive corruption and major amounts of money laundering by high up military officials. To his detriment, Ne Win could not face these new challenges and resigned. Even so, the military still grasped control of the country, and continued to suppress protests that shook the economy and social standing of the country on a world stage. Simultaneously, the country’s name was officially changed to “Myanmar”, as “Burma” was deemed a relic from the British colonial times.

In 2007, the anti-government Saffron Revolution began, and the military junta’s control of the country crippled. However, the military pushed forward a new constitution, which gave the military more powers even during civilian rule. The revolution, however, caused the military junta to dissolve in 2011, and Prime Minister Thein Sien was elected the new president of Myanmar.

Thien Sien pushed new reforms throughout the country to help aid the people of Myanmar after the revolution, but in the election of 2015, Thien Sien was replaced by Aung Suu Kyi, a veteran of the protests in 1988 and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991. She enjoyed widespread domestic support, but was criticized for defending ethnic abuses against the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar and for hindering freedom of the press.

However, even with the military junta resolved, in 2021, General Min Aung Hlaing and his allies staged a coup d’etat, and charged Aung Suu Kyi with corruption and crimes against the state. Many lawmakers and officials of Aung Suu Kyi’s party were put under house arrest. Massive protests erupted all over the country, and tens and thousands of people refused to work in a form of peaceful disobedience in the hopes that it would pressure the military government to reinstate the elected government.

Eventually, the remainder of Aung Suu Kyi’s party, the ousted National League of Democracy (NLD), formed the National Unity Government (NUG), to foster support from foreign governments and bring the fight to the newfound military junta. In September 2021, NUG founded the People’s Defense Force and declared war on the military junta, and as of now, August 2022, the ongoing power struggle has led to the deaths of many civilians left in the crossfire of the 2021 coup, and the destruction of everything built up since the former military junta was ousted in 2011.

The conflict has been overshadowed by the ongoing war in Ukraine, but is nevertheless as important to the current issues of the world, the Pacific region, and the future of the Far East.


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