Asian Perspectives Series: “Asian Regional Architecture: Steps Towards ASEAN Integration”

Program Year: 2015

Myanmar’s historic transition process has brought about great change. On February 4, 2015, The Asia Foundation held an Asian Perspectives event exploring the challenges and opportunities that have arisen from Myanmar’s transformation. An audience of over 100 scholars, professionals and students heard from six experts on three panels.

Reflections on Myanmar’s Changing Society

The first panel focused its discussion on the social changes that are happening in Myanmar. Kim Ninh, The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Myanmar evaluated findings from the nationwide survey Myanmar 2014: Civic Knowledge and Values in a Changing Society. The survey found that while most people in Myanmar have little knowledge of government structure and the political process, there is a very high intention to vote in the 2015 elections and the elections will be free and fair. The survey also highlighted the strong degree of political polarization that exists in society and the correspondingly low trust levels. In his remarks, Sai Sam Kham, Executive Director of the Metta Development Foundation, spoke about trends he has seen emerging in Myanmar noting labor migration to China, social media and the proliferation of civil society organizations are all changing the fabric of Myanmar. While Sai Sam Kham questioned what would come after the peace process, he was optimistic that Myanmar is on the road to becoming a more prosperous disciplined democracy.

Panel Presentations:

Kim Ninh

Sai Sam Kham

Assessing Governance and Public Sector Reform in Myanmar

In the second panel, discussion formed around the public sector reform being pushed by the Thein Sein government. Tin Muang Than, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Training and Communication at the Myanmar Development Resource Institute gave an instructive overview of the Myanmar President’s ambitions of political and economic liberalization. His vision is to work across ministries domestically and increase Myanmar’s international participation. Matthew Arnold, The Asia Foundation’s program director in Myanmar, looked closer at the sub-national governance reform. He said one of Thein Sein’s reform efforts has focused on getting all 14 state and region governments up and running successfully while insisting on people-centered development to ensure community participation in government processes— representing an initial step for participation in local governance.

Panel Presentations:

Tin Muang Than

Matthew Arnold

Perspectives on Myanmar: The Dynamics of an Evolving Polity

The event’s final panel considered broader issues for Myanmar and the region, drawing on insights from the forthcoming volume of Myanmar: The Dynamics of an Evolving Polity. David Steinberg, Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Distinguished Emeritus at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service discussed the potential long-term impact of the persistence of military domination, Myanmar’s evolving rule of law and the role of religion for Myanmar people. Yun Sun, East Asia Fellow at the Stimson Center, looked at the evolving relations between Myanmar and China on the one hand, and Myanmar and the U.S. on the other hand. Yun Sun commented that while China’s strategic demand on Myanmar has increased, tensions have emerged from ethnic conflicts on the border and controversies surrounding the Sino-Burma pipelines which deliver oil and natural gas to China from Myanmar.

Related locations: Myanmar, Washington DC
Related programs: Strengthen Governance