Myanmar country profile Update 04/24/2024 

Flag-Myanmar

Myanmar, also referred to as Burma, is an Asian country situated in Southeast Asia. It shares its borders with Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand.

Approximately one third of Myanmar’s total perimeter is lined by the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. According to the 2014 census, Myanmar has a population of 51 million people Update 04/24/2024 .

Covering an area of 676,577 square kilometers (261,288 square miles), Myanmar’s capital is Naypyidaw, while its largest city is Yangon.

Myanmar Map
Myanmar Map

Early civilizations in Myanmar included the Pyu city-states in Upper Burma, where the Tibeto-Burmese language was spoken, and the Mon kingdoms in Lower Burma.

By the 9th century, the Burmese people had reached the Upper Irrawaddy valley and established the Pagan Kingdom in the 1050s. Over time, the Burmese language, culture, and Theravada Buddhism became dominant in Myanmar.

The Pagan Kingdom eventually succumbed to Mongol invasions, and the region witnessed frequent conflicts between various countries. In the 16th century, Myanmar was reunified under the Taungoo Dynasty and became the largest country in Southeast Asian history.

In the early nineteenth century, the Konbaung Dynasty controlled present-day Myanmar, as well as Manipur and Assam for a brief period. Following three wars in the nineteenth century, the British colonized Myanmar, which led to the country’s loss of independence. In 1948, Myanmar regained its independence but experienced a military dictatorship after a coup in 1962.

Throughout its history as an independent nation, Myanmar has been plagued by ethnic conflicts, making it one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.

Various organizations, including the United Nations, have documented human rights violations in the country. In 2011, the military junta officially dissolved after the 2010 general election, paving the way for a nominally civilian government.

This change, coupled with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and political prisoners, resulted in an improvement in Myanmar’s human rights record, diplomatic relations, and the lifting of trade and economic sanctions.

However, the military still holds significant power in the country, as demonstrated by a political campaign launched on February 1, 2021, to regain control.

Myanmar possesses abundant natural resources such as precious stones, oil, natural gas, and minerals. In 2016, the nominal GDP was $68.277 billion, while the GDP in terms of purchasing power parity reached $6.501 billion.

However, Myanmar faces a wide income disparity, with much of its economy controlled by supporters of the previous military government. As of 2014, Myanmar ranked 148th out of 188 countries assessed in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), indicating a relatively low level of human development.

The origin of the Myanmar name Update 04/24/2024 

The country known as Myanmar has had various names throughout history. In Vietnamese, it is called “Burma” or “Dien Dien,” which is a transliteration of the Chinese name for the country, “Miǎndiàn.”

The Chinese term “Miǎn” means distant or far away, while “Diàn” refers to land located beyond a designated boundary. In Chinese terminology, the inner wall of a citadel is referred to as the “citadel,” the outer wall as the “outer citadel,” and the area beyond the outer citadel is called the “electricity,” denoting a remote suburb situated a hundred miles or more from the city. Thus, “Burma” signifies a distant suburb.

The name “Myanmar” is derived from the local term “Myanmar Naingngandaw.” While it has been in use since the 12th century, its exact origin remains unclear. One possibility is that it stems from the Sanskrit word “Brahmadesh,” meaning “land of Brahma,” the Hindu god of all living things.

In 1989, the military council decided to change the English name of the country from Burma to Myanmar, along with several other English name changes for various parts of the country, such as the capital city’s former name, Rangoon, being changed to Yangon.

Myanmar
Myanmar

However, the official name of the country in the Burmese language remained Myanmar. In the Burmese language, Myanmar refers to the country itself, while Bama (from which Burma is derived) is the more common name.

The name change sparked political controversy, with many groups in Myanmar continuing to use the name “Burma” as they do not recognize the legitimacy of the military junta and the name change.

Some Western governments, including the United States, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, still use the name “Burma,” while the European Union uses both “Burma” and “Myanmar.” The United Nations employs the name “Myanmar.”

The usage of the name “Burma” is still prevalent in the United States and the United Kingdom. In English, the term “Burmese” is still used as an adjective.

Since gaining independence from the British Empire, Myanmar has had several official names:

  • Union of Burma: 1948-1974
  • Federal Socialist Republic of Burma: 1974-1988
  • Union of Myanmar: 1988-2011 (with the English name changing to Myanmar in 1989)
  • Republic of the Union of Myanmar: 2010-present

Additionally, in the past, people in the southwest region referred to the country as “Cu La,” which derived from the Vietnamese term for a type of oil applied to the skin, called “Cu oil.”

History

The lower reaches of the Ayeyarwady River Delta in southern Myanmar were initially inhabited by the Mon people, who migrated there and gained control of the area around the mid-900s BC.

In the 1st century BC, the Pyu people migrated to this region and established city-states that engaged in trade with India and China. Among them, the most influential was the kingdom of Sri Ksetra, but it was eventually abandoned in 656.

Subsequently, efforts were made to reestablish the country, but in the mid-800s, it faced invasion from the Nanchao people.

Prior to the 800s, the Bamar (or Burmese) began migrating from present-day Tibet to the Ayeyarwady delta. By 849, they had established a powerful kingdom centered around Pagan.

Under the reign of Anawratha (1044-1077), the Burmese expanded their influence across present-day Myanmar. By the 1100s, the Pagan kingdom, also known as the First Burmese Empire, controlled significant parts of mainland Southeast Asia, with its capital in Mandalay.

 the reign of Anawratha
the reign of Anawratha

However, the Mongols, led by Kublai Khan, invaded the Pagan Kingdom in the late 1200s. Nevertheless, the Burmese managed to reestablish their kingdom in Ava by 1364, marking a flourishing period of Burmese culture.

In 1527, the Shan people plundered Ava, while the Mon established their new center at Pegu, which became a significant religious and cultural hub.

The Burmese who had fled Ava founded the Kingdom of Toungoo in 1531, under the leadership of Tabinshwehti, who reunited Burma and established the Second Burmese Empire.

Due to increasing European influence in Southeast Asia, the Toungoo Kingdom became a major trading center. Bayinnaung further expanded the empire by conquering territories such as Manipur, Chiang Mai, Ayutthaya, Shan, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Assam, Sikkim, Bhutan, Chittagong, Dhaka, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and some regions in China’s Yunnan province.

However, internal rebellions and challenges in governing the newly acquired territories led to the downfall of the Toungoo Kingdom. Anaukpetlun, who successfully repelled a Portuguese invasion, established a new dynasty in Ava in 1613. However, a domestic rebellion by the Mons, with assistance from France, caused the kingdom to collapse in 1752.

The Konbaung Dynasty, founded by Alaungpaya around the 1700s, marked the beginning of the Third Burmese Empire. In 1767, King Hsinbyushin conquered Ayutthaya and Ceylon, greatly influencing Burmese culture through Thai and Ceylonese cultural elements.

The Qing Dynasty of China was concerned about Burma’s growth and made four unsuccessful invasions between 1766 and 1769.

While later dynasties lost control of Ayutthaya, they gained territories in Arakan and Tenasserim. Under the rule of King Bagyidaw, in 1824, Mahabandoola’s occupation of Assam, close to British territory in India, led to war.

Burma lost some territory to the British during the Anglo-Burmese Wars (1823-26, 1852-53, and 1885-87) and became a province of British India. On April 1, 1937, Burma became a separate administrative colony, gaining independence from Indian administration.

Burma Myanmar
Burma Myanmar

In the 1940s, Aung San and the Thirty Comrades formed the Independent Burmese Army, receiving military training in Japan.

During World War II, Burma became a major front in the Southeast Asian theater. Initially, the British faced setbacks as the Japanese pushed them back from most of Burma, but the Allies launched a counter-attack and recaptured the entire country by July 1945.

Burmese individuals fought on both sides during the war, serving in the British Burmese Army from 1941 to 1942. In 1943, the Chin Levies and Kachin Levies were established in the border districts of Burma under British control.

The Burmese army also participated in the Chindit operations under General Orde Wingate from 1943 to 1945. In the later stages of the war, the Americans formed the Kachin-U.S. Commandos, who fought alongside the Allies.

Many other Burmese individuals served in British SOE forces. The independent Burmese army, led by Aung San and the Arakan National Army, fought against the Japanese from 1942 to 1944 but eventually revolted against them in 1945.

In 1947, Aung San assumed the role of Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee of Burma, a transitional government. However, in July 1947, Aung San and several other government members were assassinated by political adversaries.

On January 4, 1948, the country achieved independence as a republic and adopted the name the Union of Myanmar, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first president and U Nu as the prime minister.

Unlike most British colonies, Myanmar did not join the British Commonwealth since it regained independence prior to the Commonwealth allowing republics to become members.

The country established a bicameral political system consisting of the House of Representatives and the National Institute. The present-day geographical region of Myanmar encompasses the territories defined in the Panglong Agreement, which included Lower Burma, Upper Burma, and the border regions that were formerly under British administration.

In 1961, U Thant, who had served as Burma’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and as Secretary to the Prime Minister, became the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

He was the first non-Western individual to lead an international organization and held the position for ten years. Aung San Suu Kyi, a young girl at the time, worked at the United Nations among other Burmese individuals during U Thant’s tenure.

The democratic period came to an end in 1962 with a military coup led by General Ne Win, who ruled for 26 years and implemented socialist policies.

In 1974, Myanmar adopted the new name of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. During the same year, U Thant’s funeral triggered a violent anti-government protest.

In 1988, the 8888 Uprising pushed the country to the brink of revolution. In response, General Saw Maung staged a coup and established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

The country reverted to the name Union of Myanmar, and the English national title was changed accordingly. Martial law was declared in 1989 following mass protests.

Plans for the National Assembly elections were finalized on May 31, 1989. In 1990, free elections were held for the first time in three decades, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won 392 out of 485 seats.

However, the results were disregarded by the SLORC, which refused to relinquish power. In 1992, under the leadership of Than Shwe, the junta entered into ceasefire agreements with minority guerrilla groups.

The SLORC disclosed plans to establish a new constitution through the National Conference, which commenced on January 9, 1993.

In 1997, the State Law and Order Restoration Council was renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). On June 23, 1997, Myanmar was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The National Conference experienced numerous adjournments and little progress was made, with several major political parties, including the National League for Democracy, being expelled.

On March 27, 2006, the military council relocated the capital from Yangon to a new site near Pyinmana, officially naming it Naypyidaw, meaning “abode of kings.” In 2010, Myanmar’s national name was changed to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

In 2021, following allegations of election fraud, a coup took place in Myanmar on February 1, 2021. The military seized control of the government, overthrowing the civilian politicians who had been elected in the November 2020 general election. As a result, the power to govern the country was transferred to the Tatmadaw, marking the end of Myanmar’s period of democracy that began in 2011.

Politics

Following the 1990 People’s National Assembly elections, elected delegates formed the National Union Government of the Union of Burma (NUGUB) in December 1990.

The NUGUB served as an overseas government with the responsibility of restoring democracy and the country’s economy in Myanmar. Sein Win, who is Aung San Suu Kyi’s cousin, held the position of prime minister within the NUGUB.

However, the NUGUB had limited power and was outlawed within Myanmar. General Than Shwe, known as the “Chairman of the National Peace and Development Council,” held the position of head of state with extensive powers, including the authority to dismiss ministers, make important foreign policy decisions, and remove government members.

Khin Nyunt served as the prime minister until October 19, 2004, and was then succeeded by General Soe Win, who maintained close ties with Than Shwe.

The majority of ministries and government positions were held by military officials, except for the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labor, and the Ministry of Economy and National Planning, which were administered by civilian officials.

The National League for Democracy and the Shan National League for Democracy are among the prominent political parties in Myanmar, although their activities are tightly controlled by the regime.

Other parties, often representing the interests of ethnic minorities, exist but face severe restrictions. The military-aligned National Unity Party receives support from a significant organization called the Association for Solidarity and Development. Myanmar’s political landscape lacks tolerance for opposition, and many parties have been banned.

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized the administration for its poor human rights record. Independent courts are absent, and political opposition to the military government is not tolerated.

Internet access in Myanmar is heavily restricted, with filtering software blocking access to political opposition and pro-democracy websites. Forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor are prevalent, and dissenting political voices are suppressed.

In 1988, the Myanmar military employed force to suppress protests against economic mismanagement and political oppression. The military’s crackdown on protesters, known as the 8888 Uprising, took place on August 8, 1988.

However, these protests paved the way for the 1990 People’s National Assembly elections, whose results were later rejected by the authorities.

In the 1990 election, the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, secured over 60% of the popular vote and 80% of the parliamentary seats, marking the first election held in 30 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi gained international recognition as a democracy advocate and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She has faced multiple periods of house arrest.

Despite appeals from figures like Kofi Annan and pressure from ASEAN, Myanmar’s military council extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest in accordance with the Law to Safeguard the State against the Dangers of Those Desiring to Cause Subversive Acts in 1975, granting the government legal custody over individuals.

The military council faced international isolation, and in December 2005, Myanmar’s situation was informally discussed at the United Nations for the first time.

ASEAN also expressed disappointment with the Myanmar government and established the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Caucus to address the lack of democracy in Myanmar.

Given the support of major regional powers, particularly China , significant political change in the country remains unlikely.

On November 8, 2015, millions of Burmese citizens participated in the first democratic election since 1990 with hopeful aspirations for the future.

The election results were announced on the morning of November 10, 2015, with approximately 10,000 observers monitoring the election process in Myanmar.

The government deployed over 40,000 special forces police to oversee polling stations, and many markets and restaurants in Yangon were closed for safety reasons. In the afternoon of November 10, 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD), declared that her party had won around 75% of the total seats in the National Assembly, including 96 seats in the lower house.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) only secured three seats in the lower house. However, the military in Myanmar retained significant political power.

On March 30, 2016, Htin Kyaw, a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, officially became Myanmar’s first civilian president, marking the end of nearly 50 years of military dictatorship. However, on February 1, 2021, the military launched a coup to regain control and authority.

Foreign Relations

Myanmar has experienced strained diplomatic relations, particularly with Western nations. The United States imposed comprehensive sanctions on Myanmar in response to its military repression in 1988 and the military regime’s refusal to recognize the results of the 1990 People’s Congress elections.

Similarly, the European Union implemented embargoes on Myanmar, including an arms embargo, trade restrictions, and the suspension of all aid except for humanitarian assistance.

The sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union against the military government, coupled with boycotts and direct pressures from individuals in Western countries supporting the democracy movement in Myanmar, have resulted in some US and European companies exiting the country.

However, certain companies have found ways to exploit loopholes in the embargo and continue their operations. Generally, Asian corporations still demonstrate interest in investing in Myanmar and pursuing new projects, particularly in the field of natural resource exploitation.

Notably, French oil company Total S.A. continues to operate the Yadana gas pipeline from Myanmar to Thailand, despite the European Union’s embargo.

Total is currently facing multiple lawsuits in France regarding its alleged involvement in human rights abuses related to a gas pipeline it co-owns with US companies Chevron and Tatmadaw.

Prior to its acquisition by Chevron, Unocal settled a human rights lawsuit for a reported sum of several million dollars . There are ongoing debates regarding whether US sanctions have had the unintended consequence of adversely affecting the lives of citizens rather than the military rulers.

Myanmar maintains a foreign policy of fostering friendly relations with all countries, particularly neighboring nations and regions, based on principles of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, equality, and mutual benefit.

Myanmar is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the United Nations.

Since Myanmar’s admission to ASEAN in July 1997, its relations with ASEAN member countries have steadily strengthened and improved.

Myanmar actively participates in ASEAN’s activities and consistently upholds the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, as well as ASEAN’s consensus, to safeguard its interests.

Currently, the United States and the European Union are adjusting their policies toward Myanmar in a more conciliatory direction, employing a combination of sanctions and engagement to achieve the same objective.

The US plans to gradually ease the embargo and improve relations if Myanmar meets its demands and demonstrates substantial progress.

Despite the significant pressure exerted by the US government and Western countries, Myanmar maintains relations with NGOs and individuals from Western nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

These countries continue to provide assistance to Myanmar through projects focused on building schools and healthcare training for the people…

Military

The military forces of Myanmar, known as Tatmadaw, have a total strength of approximately 488,000 personnel. Tatmadaw encompasses the army, navy, and air force. Myanmar ranks 10th in the world in terms of the size of its military forces.

The military exerts significant influence within the country, with military officers occupying key positions in both the government and the armed forces.

While official figures regarding Myanmar’s military expenditure are not publicly disclosed, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute includes Myanmar among the 15 largest spenders on defense in the world in its annual rankings.

In early February 2011, Myanmar’s National Assembly elected Thein Sein, a former general and the outgoing Prime Minister, as the country’s first civilian president, marking the transition from nearly 50 years of military rule.

Administrative Structure

Myanmar is geographically divided into 7 states and 7 administrative regions. The largest administrative region is Bamar (တိုင်းဒေသကြီး). Each state and region is home to various ethnic groups, and they are referred to as “cantons” (ပြည်နယ်).

Within these administrative divisions, there are additional subdivisions such as cities, townships, and villages. The major cities themselves are further organized into districts.Regions and states of Myanmar are further divided into districts (kayaing). Shan State is the state with the most (11) districts. Chin, Mon and Kayah states have only two districts each.

Geographical Features

Myanmar, spanning a total area of 678,500 square kilometers (261,970 sq mi), is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia and the 40th largest country globally (after Zambia). It is slightly smaller than the US state of Texas and slightly larger than Afghanistan.

Situated in the northwest, Myanmar shares its borders with the Chittagong Region of Bangladesh, as well as Assam, Nagaland, and Manipur of India. Its longest border stretches along China’s Tibet and Yunnan provinces in the northeast, spanning a total length of 2,185 km (1,358 mi).

To the southeast, Myanmar borders Laos and Thailand. The country boasts a coastline of 1,930 km (1,199 mi) along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to the southwest and south, accounting for approximately one-third of its total border length.

The Ayeyarwady Plain, covering an area of nearly 50,400 km², is predominantly used for rice cultivation. In the north, the Hengduan Shan mountains form the border with China.

Mount Hkakabo Razi, located in Bang Kachin, stands as Myanmar’s highest point at 5,881 m (19,295 feet). Within Myanmar, the Rakhine Yoma, Bago Yoma, and Shan Plateau ranges extend from the north to the south, originating from the Himalayas. These mountain ranges divide Myanmar’s three major river systems: the Ayeyarwady, Thanlwin, and Sittang.

The Ayeyarwady River, the country’s longest river, flows for nearly 2,170 kilometers (1,348 miles) before reaching the Gulf of Martaban. Fertile plains are nestled in the valleys between the mountain ranges, with the majority of Myanmar’s population residing in the Ayeyarwady valley, situated between the Rakhine Yoma and the Shan Plateau.

Most of Myanmar lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. The country falls within the Asian monsoon region, with its coastal areas receiving an average annual rainfall of 5,000 mm (197 in).

The delta region experiences rainfall close to 2,500 mm (98 in), while the Dry Region in central Myanmar sees an average annual rainfall of less than 1,000 mm (39 in). The northern regions have a cooler climate, with an average temperature of 21 °C (70 °F), while the coastal and lowland areas have an average temperature of 32 °C (90 °F).

Myanmar’s slower economic growth has contributed to the preservation of its environment and ecosystems. Forests cover 49% of the country’s area, including valuable teak forests in lower Myanmar.

Other tree varieties found in the region include rubber, acacia, bamboo, ironwood, mangrove, coconut, and palm. The northern highlands are characterized by oak, pine, and a diverse range of rhododendron species. The coastal regions are rich in tropical fruit trees, while the Dry Area exhibits sparser and stunted vegetation.

Myanmar is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including notable species such as tigers and leopards. Upper Myanmar is inhabited by rhinos, wild buffaloes, boars, deer, antelopes, and domesticated elephants predominantly employed in the logging industry. Smaller mammals range from gibbons and monkeys to flying foxes and tapirs.

The country boasts a diverse avian population with over 800 species, including parrots, peafowl, pheasants, crows, herons, and woodpeckers (paddybirds). Reptiles found in Myanmar include crocodiles, geckos, cobras, pythons, and turtles. Additionally, numerous species of freshwater fish thrive abundantly, serving as an important food source.

As of 1994, the distribution of land in Myanmar was as follows: arable land accounted for 15.3% (with 2% being irrigated), grassland covered 0.5%, forests and shrubland occupied 49.3%, and other land comprised 34.9%. The country’s significant mineral resources include petroleum, tin, zinc, antimony, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, and precious stones.

Economic Landscape

Myanmar has long been recognized as one of the world’s poorest countries, facing decades of stagnation, mismanagement, and isolation. After the establishment of a parliamentary government in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu aimed to propel Burma towards prosperity.

However, the Two-Year Economic Plan approved during his administration turned out to be misguided. The 1962 coup led to the implementation of the Burmese Road to Socialism, an economic development plan that aimed to nationalize all industries except agriculture.

In 1989, the Myanmar government initiated a process of decentralizing economic control and liberalizing certain sectors. However, profitable industries such as jade, oil and gas, and forestry remain tightly controlled, with some foreign corporations exploiting these sectors through joint ventures with the government.

In 1987, Myanmar was classified as the least developed country. Since 1992, when Than Shwe assumed leadership, the government has encouraged tourism, but the country still receives less than 750,000 visitors annually[67]. Many private businesses are either co-owned or directly owned by the Tatmadaw.

In recent years, both China and India have made efforts to strengthen economic ties with the Myanmar government. Meanwhile, several countries, including the United States, Canada, and the European Union, have imposed trade and investment embargoes on Myanmar. Foreign investment primarily comes from China, Singapore, Korea, India, and Thailand[68].

During the British colonial period, Burma was one of the wealthiest nations in Southeast Asia. It was the world’s largest exporter of rice and a significant supplier of oil and gas through the Myanmar Petroleum Company.

Burma possessed abundant natural resources and a well-educated population, producing 75% of the world’s teak and boasting a high literacy rate. The country was once considered to have a promising future of rapid development.

Today, Myanmar faces challenges in terms of inadequate infrastructure. Trade primarily occurs across the Thai border, which is also a major hub for drug exports, and along the Ayeyarwady River. The railway system remains outdated, with minimal repairs conducted since its construction in the 1800s. Except for major cities, roads are typically unpaved.

Energy shortages are commonplace, even in Yangon. Myanmar is also the world’s second-largest producer of opium, accounting for 8% of global production, and a significant source of precursor drugs, including amphetamines.

Other industries in Myanmar include agriculture, textiles, wood products, construction materials, diamonds, metals, oil, and gas. The scarcity of skilled workers is a growing concern for the country’s economy.

Agriculture contributes to 59.5% of the GDP and employs 65.9% of the workforce. The processing industry constitutes 7.1% of the GDP and 9.1% of employment, while mining accounts for 0.5% of the GDP and 0.7% of employment.

Construction contributes 2.4% of the GDP and 2.2% of employment, trade constitutes 23.2% of the GDP and 9.7% of employment, and finance, services, and the public sector make up 1.5% of the GDP and 8.1% of employment.

As for specific agricultural products, in 1999, Myanmar produced 17 million tons of rice, 5.4 million tons of sugarcane, 1.9 million tons of beans, 562 thousand tons of peanuts, 303 thousand tons of corn, 210 thousand tons of sesame, and 158 thousand tons of cotton.

Livestock numbers include 10.7 million cows, 3.7 million pigs, 2.4 million buffalo, 1.7 million sheep and goats, 6.1 million ducks, and 39 million chickens.

Timber production reached 22.4 million m³ in 1998, while fishing yielded 917.7 thousand tons in 1997. Key industrial products consist of mining resources such as copper (14.6 thousand tons), gypsum (40.6 thousand tons), lead (1.6 thousand tons), and tin (154 tons), as well as processed goods like cement (513 thousand tons), chemical fertilizers (66 thousand tons), and sugar (43 thousand tons) in 1996.

The energy sector encompassed electricity generation of 4.3 billion kW.h, coal production of 72 thousand tons, crude oil extraction of 2.8 million barrels, and natural gas production of 1.6 billion m³ in 1996.

In terms of transportation, Myanmar had a railway network of 3,955 km in 1999-2000 and a road network spanning 28.2 thousand km in 1996, with only 12% of the roads being asphalted.

In terms of trade, exports in 1997-98 amounted to 5.4 billion kyats, with agricultural products accounting for 26.9% and timber and rubber making up 15.7%. Singapore was the largest trading partner at 13.2%, followed by Thailand at 11.9%, India at 22.6%, China at 10.6%, and Hong Kong at 5.8%.

Imports during the same period totaled 12.7 billion kyats, with machinery and transport equipment constituting 28.6%, capital goods 48%, and consumer goods 4.3%. Key trading partners included Singapore at 31.1%, Thailand at 9.8%, China at 9.4%, and Malaysia at 7%.

The official currency of Myanmar is the Myanmar kyat, with an exchange rate of 1 USD to 1,400 kyat as of April 2020. In 2016, Myanmar’s GDP reached 68,277 billion USD, positioning it as the 73rd largest economy in the world, the 25th largest in Asia, and the 7th largest in Southeast Asia.

Population and Diversity Update 04/24/2024 

According to the 2014 census, Myanmar’s population stands at 51,419,420[72]. Thailand hosts over 600,000 registered migrant workers from Myanmar, with millions more residing illegally. Myanmar’s migrant workers account for 80% of all migrant workers in Thailand.

The country has an average population density of 75 people per km², which is one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. Refugee camps can be found along the borders of India-Myanmar, Bangladesh-Myanmar, and Myanmar-Thailand, with thousands more residing in Malaysia. It is estimated that over 295,800 refugees from Myanmar, primarily Rohingya, Kayin, and Karenni, are currently displaced.

Myanmar exhibits significant ethnic diversity. While the government officially recognizes 135 distinct ethnic groups, the actual number is lower.

The Bamar people comprise approximately 68% of the population, followed by the Shan at 10%. Kayin people represent 7% of the population, while Rakhines account for 4%. The Chinese population constitutes nearly 3%.

The Mon people, with ethnic and linguistic ties to the Khmer, make up 2% of the population, and Indians comprise another 2%. The remainder consists of Kachin, Chin, and other minority groups.

The languages of Myanmar can be classified into four main language families: Sino-Tibetan, Austroasiatic, Tai-Kadai, and Indo-European. The Sino-Tibetan family, including languages such as Myanmar, Karen, Kachin, Chin, and Chinese, is the most widely spoken. Shan language belongs to the Tai-Kadai family. The main Austroasiatic language spoken in Myanmar is Mon. Pali, the ritual language of Theravada Buddhism, and English are the two primary Indo-European languages.

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Myanmar’s official literacy rate was reported as 89.9% in 2000. Historically, Myanmar has maintained a high literacy rate.

However, in 1987, the country intentionally lowered the reported literacy rate from 78.6% to 18.7% to meet the criteria for obtaining the United Nations Least Developed Country status. The actual literacy rate, as estimated by the US State Department, is around 30%.

Buddhism, particularly the Theravada sect combined with indigenous beliefs, is the predominant religion in Myanmar. Approximately 89% of the population follows Theravada Buddhism, including the Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Mon, and Hoa ethnic groups.

Christianity represents 4% of the population, primarily among highland communities such as the Kachin, Chin, Kayin, and Eurasian communities, which often receive visits from missionaries.

Protestants, particularly the Myanmar Baptist Convention, form the majority of Christians. Islam accounts for 4% of the population, predominantly among the Indian, Burmese, Persian, Arab, Panthay, and Rohingya communities. Individuals who practice Islam and Christianity often face societal marginalization and live in isolation. Hinduism is followed by a small segment of the population.

Human Rights Update 04/24/2024 

The former military dictatorship in Myanmar (1962–2010) is widely regarded as one of the most oppressive and brutal regimes in the world.

In November 2012, Samantha Power, the special assistant for human rights to US President Barack Obama, highlighted ongoing severe human rights abuses against civilians in certain areas of Myanmar prior to President Obama’s visit.

The United Nations and major international human rights organizations have consistently reported on widespread and systematic human rights violations in Myanmar. The United Nations General Assembly repeatedly called on the military junta in Myanmar to respect human rights. In November 2009, the General Assembly adopted a resolution “strongly condemning the continued violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and urged the junta to take urgent measures to end the violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Prominent international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have consistently documented and condemned the widespread human rights abuses in Myanmar. In July 2013, the Association to Support Political Prisoners highlighted that approximately 100 political prisoners were being held in Myanmar’s prisons.

The Rohingya minority in Myanmar has been subjected to repeated human rights abuses by the government, and they are not even recognized as citizens by the Myanmar government.

Since the enactment of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship in Myanmar. The law established three categories of citizenship: full citizenship, associate citizenship, and naturalized citizenship.

Full citizenship is granted to various ethnic groups, including Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan, Kaman, and Zerbadee.

Associate citizenship is given to individuals who cannot prove that their ancestors settled in Myanmar before 1823 but can provide evidence of a grandparent or ancestor who was a citizen of Myanmar or another country before 1823. Naturalized citizenship is only available to those who have at least one parent with Burmese citizenship or can provide “conclusive evidence” that their parents immigrated and resided in Burma before the country’s independence in 1948. The Myanmar government has pursued policies aimed at expelling the Rohingya from the country and replacing them with non-Rohingya populations[90]. As a result, approximately half of the Rohingya population (around 400,000 people) have been forcibly displaced from Myanmar. The Rohingya have been widely described as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities” 

Furthermore, the Rohingya are restricted from moving freely without permission, are prohibited from owning land, and are required to sign a pledge not to have more than two children.

As of July 2012, the Rohingya are still not officially recognized as one of the over 130 ethnic groups in Myanmar, and since 1982, they have been classified by the Myanmar government as stateless Bengali Muslims of Bangladeshi origin.

The Myanmar government has consistently maintained that the Rohingya are not entitled to Myanmar citizenship.

Despite the transition to democracy that began in 2011, violence has persisted, resulting in the deaths of 280 Rohingya individuals and the displacement of 140,000 people from their homes in Rakhine state.

A United Nations envoy reported in March 2013 that tensions had resurfaced between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar, with violence spreading to areas closer to Yangon.

Rakhine State Riots of 2012

The Rakhine State riots in 2012 were a series of ongoing conflicts primarily between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar.

However, as of October 2012, Muslims from all ethnic groups in the country began to be targeted. The riots emerged after weeks of escalating tensions and were condemned by the majority of people on both sides of the conflict.

The exact trigger for the riots remains unclear, though many observers point to the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by Buddhist Rakhines in retaliation for the rape and murder of an ethnic Rakhine woman as a key catalyst.

In response, the Myanmar government imposed a curfew and deployed troops in the area. On June 10, a state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, granting the military involvement in the region’s management.

By August 22, 2012, official reports indicated 88 casualties – 57 Muslims and 31 Buddhists. Approximately 90,000 individuals were displaced due to the violence.

Among the damages, 2,528 houses were burned, including 1,336 belonging to the Rohingya community and 1,192 to the Rakhines.

The Burmese military and police were accused of leading the targeting of Rohingya through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. Some Buddhist monk organizations, which play a significant role in Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, took measures to prevent humanitarian aid to the Rohingya community.

The 2015 Rohingya Migration Crisis The 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis refers to the illegal migration of thousands of Rohingya people from Myanmar, commonly known as “boat people” in international media, to Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, crossing the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea by boat.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that between January and March 2015, around 25,000 individuals boarded boats to cross the border.

There were reports of approximately 100 deaths in Indonesia, 200 in Malaysia, and 10 in Thailand[109] when they were abandoned at sea by human traffickers.

Following the 2012 Rakhine State riots, an estimated 140,000 out of the 800,000-1.1 million Rohingya sought refuge in displacement camps to escape repression and persecution.

Since 2012, over 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea. Around 3,000 Myanmar and Bangladeshi boat people have been rescued or swam to shore, while several thousand remain stranded on boats at sea, lacking sufficient food and water. The crisis has been exacerbated by human traffickers.

Persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar 2016-17

On October 9, 2016, according to a report from the Myanmar government, a group of armed individuals launched attacks on several border police stations in Rakhine State, resulting in the death of nine police officers.

The attackers also seized weapons and ammunition. The town of Maungdaw in the state of Rakhine was a major target of these attacks. Although the identity of the assailants remains unknown, it has been attributed to a group distinct from the Rohingya Solidarity Organization.

Following the incident at the police stations, the Burmese army initiated a severe crackdown in the northern villages of Rakhine State. The initial wave of repression resulted in dozens of deaths and numerous arrests.

As the crackdown continued, the number of casualties escalated. The military and security forces carried out arbitrary arrests, murders, brutal rapes of civilians, and looting.

Media reports indicate that hundreds of Rohingya have been killed as of December 2016, with many seeking refuge in neighboring areas of Bangladesh.

In late November, Human Rights Watch released satellite images revealing the destruction of around 1,250 Rohingya homes in five villages by security forces.

The Myanmar military has regularly faced accusations of severe human rights abuses from the media and human rights organizations.

In one instance in November, helicopters were reportedly used by the military to shoot and kill villagers. Myanmar has prohibited media and human rights organizations from accessing the persecuted areas, making it difficult to determine the precise number of civilian casualties. The state of Rakhine has become an “information black hole”.

Those who have managed to escape Myanmar and flee persecution have reported horrific accounts, including rape of women, killings of men, burning of homes, and even the throwing of children into burning houses.

Rohingya refugee boats on the Naf River have often been targeted and attacked by the Myanmar military.

On February 3, 2017, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report based on interviews with over 200 Rohingya refugees. The report documented widespread abuses, including gang rape, mass murder, and the massacre of children.

Nearly half of the interviewees stated that their family members had been killed. Half of the women interviewed reported being raped or sexually assaulted, with the report describing sexual violence as “massive and systematic”.

The army and police were reported to have set fire to “houses, schools, markets, shops, and mosques” owned or used by the Rohingya community.

Culture

Myanmar is home to a rich tapestry of indigenous cultures, but the dominant influences are Buddhism and Bamar culture. Bamar culture has historically been shaped by its neighboring cultures, finding expression through language, cuisine, music, dance, and theater.

The arts, particularly literature, have been greatly influenced by the Burmese Southern Buddhist culture. One notable example is the national epic of Myanmar, Yama Zatdaw, which draws inspiration from the Thai, Mon, and Indian versions of the Ramayana. Buddhism permeates every aspect of Myanmar’s culture and serves as its core foundation.

In traditional Myanmar villages, temples hold immense significance as the focal points of cultural life. Monks are held in high esteem, and people express their respect by kneeling before them.

The shinbyu initiation ceremony marks a pivotal moment of maturity for young boys as they temporarily enter the monastery. Similarly, girls undergo an ear-piercing ceremony (နားသွင်း) upon reaching adulthood.

Village life showcases the vibrant essence of Myanmar culture through year-round local festivals, with temple ceremonies being the most prominent and cherished occasions. Each village in Myanmar has its own unique set of customs, traditions, and taboos.

The British colonial era also left a Western influence on Myanmar’s culture. The country’s educational system is modeled after the British system, and remnants of colonial architecture can be observed in major cities like Yangon.

Additionally, Christianity gained traction among several ethnic minorities, including the Karen in the southeast, as well as the Kachin and Chin in the north and northwest, due to the influence of missionaries.

Language

The Myanmar language, spoken by the Bamar people and serving as the official language of Myanmar, has linguistic connections to Tibetan and Chinese.

Its written form utilizes a script composed of circular and semicircular letters, which originated from the Mon script. This alphabet evolved from the south Indian script in the 700s, with the earliest known texts appearing in the 1000s.

The Burmese script is not only used for writing the Pali language, which is sacred to Theravada Buddhism, but also for various minority languages like Shan, different Karen dialects, and Kayah (Karenni). Each language incorporates its own specific characters and diacritics.

Myanmar language includes numerous honorific and age-related terms of respect. Traditional Myanmar society places great importance on education, often conducted within temple premises by the clergy. Government schools cater to secondary and higher education.

Cuisine

Myanmar cuisine reflects strong influences from Indian, Chinese, Thai, and diverse ethnic minority culinary traditions. Rice serves as a staple in Myanmar cuisine, accompanied by dishes such as noodles and bread. Common ingredients include shrimp, fish, fermented fish paste, pork, and lamb.

Beef is considered a less common choice due to cultural considerations. Curries, both masala and those featuring dried chili peppers, are prevalent. A signature dish is Mohinga, often regarded as Myanmar’s national dish, consisting of catfish broth infused with curry spices, mung bean flowers, vermicelli, and fish sauce. Tropical fruits are frequently enjoyed as desserts. Large cities offer a diverse range of cuisines, including Shan, Chinese, and Indian options.

Music

Traditional Burmese music is characterized by melodious melodies rather than harmonies. Instruments used include the pat waing drum set, the kyi waing gong set, the pattala bamboo lute, cymbals, wind instruments like the hnè (oboe) and flutes, bamboo clappers, and stringed instruments, which are often combined in a symphony known as saing waing.

The saung gauk, a boat-shaped stringed instrument adorned with silk and glass strings, has long been associated with Myanmar’s literary culture[134]. Since the 1950s, Western musical instruments have gained popularity, particularly in urban areas.

Sports

Lethwei, Bando, Banshay, and Pongyi are traditional martial arts in Myanmar, and chinlone is a popular traditional sport. Football (soccer) is widely played across the country, even in rural areas.

Myanmar hosted the 2013 Southeast Asian Games in Naypyidaw, Yangon, Mandalay, and Ngwesaung Beach, marking the third time the event took place in Myanmar. The country had previously hosted the SEA Games in 1961 and 1969.

Religion

Buddhism, primarily of the Theravada sect interwoven with indigenous beliefs, is the predominant religion in Myanmar. Approximately 89% of the population follows Theravada Buddhism, including the Bamar, Rakhine, Shan, Mon, and Hoa ethnic groups.

Christianity represents about 4% of the population, predominantly among highland communities like the Kachin, Chin, Kayin, and Eurasian groups due to historical missionary presence.

Protestant denominations, particularly the Myanmar Baptist Convention, are prevalent among Christians. Islam encompasses around 4% of the population, primarily Sunni, among communities such as the Indian, Burmese, Persian, Arab, Panthay, and Rohingya populations.

Individuals practicing Islam and Christianity often face social marginalization and may live in isolation. A small portion of the population adheres to Hinduism.

Myanmar embraces diverse religious beliefs, with Buddhism accounting for 89.3% of the population, Christianity 5.6%, Islam 3.8%, Hinduism 0.5%, and other religions like Judaism, polytheism, animism, etc., making up approximately 0.8% of the population.

Myanmar citizens are free to practice their chosen faith, and despite religious differences, people coexist peacefully, evident in the presence of various religious structures respected throughout major cities.

Buddhism

The people of Myanmar are deeply devoted to Buddhism, with at least one Buddhist temple and monastery present in every city and town.

Buddhism holds significant influence in Myanmar, and Buddhist rituals are intertwined with people’s daily lives. Buddhist Lent, a three-month period during the rainy season corresponding to July to October in the solar calendar, is marked on Myanmar’s calendar. During this time, fasting activities, weddings, and house relocations are often postponed.

Of the Buddhist followers in Myanmar, 99% consist of the Burmese, Shan, and Karen ethnic groups. The country is home to approximately 500,000 monks and nuns.

Myanmar follows the Theravada lineage of Buddhism, which maintains the same activities and practices observed during the time of the Buddha.

Monastic practices in Myanmar are similar to those in Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Monks reside in monasteries rather than temples, engage in daily alms rounds for food, refrain from eating after noon until dawn the next day, and do not partake in fasting practices.

During Prime Minister Ne Win’s tenure, Buddhism was recognized as the state religion in Myanmar’s Constitution. However, subsequent military governments removed this provision to ensure religious equality.

Myanmar is adorned with thousands of temples, pagodas, and towers scattered across the country, earning it the nickname “the country of pagodas” similar to Cambodia.

The city of Bagan boasts the highest concentration of pagoda towers, including over 4,000 temples and pagodas, both large and small, covering an area of approximately 40 square kilometers. Many of these structures were constructed as early as the 11th century during the Bagan era.

In Myanmar, numerous temples are built atop mountain peaks, thousands of meters above sea level, to house and preserve Buddha relics.

These pagodas are monolithic, conical structures with a treasure chamber beneath them. The surrounding platform serves as a space for pilgrims to pray, meditate, chant, or offer incense. Other Buddhist structures include outdoor Buddha statues, Buddha halls for teachings and ceremonies, and various architectural features.

At the entrances of major temples and pagodas, stalls selling fresh flowers, candles, gold, umbrellas, and small paper fans are often found for devotees to offer to the Buddha. Visitors from around the world are required to remove their shoes when entering temples and pagodas.

Monasteries, serving as residences for monks, are plentiful in Myanmar. Buddhists, both local and international, frequently visit monasteries to pay their respects and offer alms, including food, money, robes, and utensils to support the monastic community.

Buddhists may also stay in monasteries for periods ranging from a week to a year to study meditation, listen to sermons, or delve into the teachings of the Buddha.

Monasteries hold various solemn religious ceremonies such as ordinations and kashāya offerings. Certain areas of monasteries may be restricted to women.

Each summer, students between the ages of 6 and 16 gather in monasteries for a month-long retreat, during which they receive haircuts, change their clothes, and engage in precept learning, Dharma lectures, and meditation practice.

The Shwedagon Pagoda, also known as the Golden Pagoda, in Yangon stands as Myanmar’s largest and most magnificent pagoda.

Originating 2,500 years ago, the pagoda has undergone gradual renovation and expansion by successive Burmese feudal dynasties.

Situated on a high and spacious hill, the pagoda is adorned with diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other precious stones, shimmering in the sunlight during the day and illuminated at night.

Yangon also features other notable Buddhist sites such as the reclining Buddha temple, jade Buddha temple, Buddha hair temple, and Buddha tooth temple, each possessing unique characteristics.

In Mon State, the Kyaikhtyo Pagoda stands as a remarkable wonder. Built atop a large yellow rock precariously perched on a high cliff, the pagoda offers a breathtaking spectacle.

Myanmar hosts several Buddhist institutes in major cities, where highly qualified monks are trained in the teachings of Buddhism. The country is also home to an international Buddhist university in Yangon, providing free education from undergraduate to doctoral levels to students from various countries, including Vietnam, China, Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and more.

Christianity

Christianity made its initial entry into Myanmar during the early 17th century and currently represents approximately 5.6% of the country’s population.

The majority of Christians in Myanmar are of Keren, Chin, Kachin, and Burmese Baptist denominations. Catholic missionaries played an active role from the colonial era until the mid-1960s, establishing educational institutions, hospitals, and social relief centers. However, following the nationalization efforts by the Myanmar government in 1962, these facilities came under state control.

Islam Islam constitutes 3.8% of Myanmar’s population, with its primary concentration in Rakhine State, located in western Myanmar.

The Rohingya Muslims primarily reside in the districts of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung within Rakhine State. These regions have unfortunately witnessed prolonged conflicts between different religious sects, particularly between Rohingya Muslims and Christians or Buddhists.

Other Religions

Other religions, including Judaism, polytheism, and animism, account for approximately 0.8% of Myanmar’s population.

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