Burma is making progress toward peace and political reform, although the process is fragile and the advances uncertain. The U.S. Institute of Peace since 2012 has worked to help make security institutions more inclusive and accountable, provided technical assistance to all elements in the peace process, and worked with religious leaders and communities to curb inter-communal and inter-religious tensions and violence. In addition, staff in USIP’s Washington and Yangon offices highlight important dynamics and pressures facing Burma for those following developments, and provide training for peacebuilders.
Learn more in USIP’s fact sheet on The Current Situation in Burma.
From almost the moment Myanmar detected its first case of COVID-19 on March 23, China jumped to aid its neighbor to the south. China’s army, navy, and government agencies, as well as companies, showered nearly every level of Myanmar’s government and military with health assistance. The question for Myanmar civil society groups was whether the help came with strings attached. On May 21, they got their answer: After a phone call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Myanmar’s President U Win Myint about COVID-19 response and Chinese assistance, Xi moved to a second agenda item—the implementation of 33 cooperative economic agreements signed during his historic visit to Myanmar in January. Of particular concern: co-construction of the multi-billion-dollar China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
Like other nations dealing with armed conflicts, Myanmar faces destabilizing risks from the COVID pandemic. The country’s young democratic transition depends on a general election expected in November, yet the government and civil society are overburdened with the struggle against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, signs are growing that the army is using the COVID emergency to strengthen its influence over government and society. Preparing a fair, inclusive election amid this crisis poses the toughest test in years for Myanmar’s democratic transition—and the process must begin in earnest now.
Along the banks of the Moei River that separates southeastern Burma from Thailand, three new cities are emerging on the traditional lands of Burma’s ethnic Karen. Not long ago, the area was wracked by intense combat between the Myanmar army and Karen nationalists. Today, hotels, casinos and condos are sprouting in unauthorized “special economic zones” owned and operated by murky Chinese business networks in partnership with local, mutually hostile armed groups. Of the three deals behind these cities, two were signed between January and March while the world focused single-mindedly on the spreading coronavirus.