1. Geographical Location
Myanmar is located in South East Asia bordering the People’s Republic of China on the North and North East, Laos on the East, Thailand on the South East, Bangladesh on the West and India on the North West. It is also strategically located between South Asia and South East Asia. More interestingly, Myanmar is sandwiched between the two most populous nations in the World– China and India. Bangladesh, 5 times smaller in size with a population 3 times larger than Myanmar, is another of her neighbours. The former, unlike Myanmar is not blessed with abundant natural resources, in addition to which she has the misfortune to be battered by natural disasters almost every year.
The Length of Borders with Immediate Neighbouring Countries
China – 2192 km (1362 miles)
India – 1331 km ( 827 miles)
Bangladesh – 256 km ( 157 miles)
Thailand – 2096 km (1302 miles)
Laos – 224 km ( 139 miles)
Coast Line – 2276 km (1414 miles)
2. People And Religion
Myanmar comprises eight major national ethnic races with some 135 ethnic groups. The major national races are Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine and Shan. The Bamar form the largest national race constituting 70% of the whole population. In the religious sector, 89.2% of the population is Buddhist, while Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Animism are also practised.
3. Pre-Independence Days
The divide-and-rule policy with which the British had ruled Myanmar for over 100 years paved the way to the outbreak of insurrections as soon as she regained independence. Moreover during the years of struggle for independence, a variety of conflicting ideologies and ideas had proliferated and infused the thought of those who had participated in the struggle and bred differences in outlook and attitudes. All this eventually caused the disintegration of the national unity and solidarity just prior to independence. Myanmar’s national hero General Aung San and his ministers were assassinated in July 1947 through the complicity of the colonial conservative government. It was the most damaging act in the history of Myanmar. It left the country almost leaderless on regaining her independence from Britain in January 1948. The British also forcefully introduced the production of opium in the northern Myanmar states in the 19th Century with the aim of increasing the opium trade with China. Myanmar inherited these problems which have remained an entrenched and a current issue.
4. Confusion Over The Name Of The Country – Myanmar or Burma
Refusing to call a nation by its proper official name may seem insignificant to some but generates resentment among a very high majority of the Myanmar population. The subject is concerned with the recognition of the country by its original name. Of course, there are a few politicians in Myanmar who for certain political reasons prefer to retain the name Burma given by the former British Colonial Administration. Myanmar and its capital Yangon are not new names created by the State Law and Order Restoration Council. In fact, Myanmar and Yangon are the original names that were renamed Burma and Rangoon by the British Colonial Administration. In spite of the fact that in the Myanmar language people use the names Myanmar and Yangon, unfortunately, none of the successive Myanmar Governments took the trouble of reinstating the original names. The SLORC administration did so with two main purposes: to provide a feeling of release from the British colonial past and to give a previously divided and fractious country a sense of national unity under the new banner of “The Union of Myanmar”.
In the Union of Myanmar there are 8 major national races with some 135 ethnic groups and among the 8 major nationalities Bamar is the largest national race constituting 70% of the whole population. In this regard, when the British Colonial Administration colonized Myanmar in the late 1800’s it is presumed that Britain renamed it Burma since Bamar or Burmans (the British usage) were the majority in the country which they occupied. In a cave temple built in the Bagan area is a stone tablet bearing a date equivalent to AD 1190. It is one of the first known references to ‘Myanmar’. In contrast, the name ‘Bamar’ did not appear during this and subsequent periods. The first reference to Bamar was only found in artifacts and buildings dating from the KONBAUNG Period (18th and 19th centuries). Moreover, it is quite interesting to know that China since ancient times has referred to Myanmar as Myan-Tin in the Chinese language. It never referred to Myanmar as Burma-Tin or Bur-Tin as the British Colonial Administration had re-named it. A few years ago in Yangon there was an interview between members of the media and some of the leaders of the ethnic races (former insurgent groups) and the question of name-change was raised by some of the media. The ethnic leaders’ response was that they now feel they are not left out but are being equally given a national identity under the name Myanmar. Naturally, the ethnic group still opposing the Myanmar Government will say things differently because they have aligned themselves with the political party which refuses to recognize the country by its original name. The party (National League for Democracy) stated that the name-change is not a priority and it has to be carried out with a vote. It is quite amazing for someone to say such a thing since national unity is and always would be a top priority in any country in the world. It would be highly pertinent to ask, if the British Colonial Administration implemented the name-change with a vote. If General Aung San, Myanmar national leader, had not been assassinated in 1947, before Myanmar regained her independence, the national leaders of the time would have definitely reinstated the original names. The new names imposed by the British are not only phonetically wrong but nationally and historically misrepresentative. Anyhow, since the United Nations has recognized Myanmar by her original name it is the obligation of all U.N. member countries to accept it whether they approve of it or not. If the situation had been reversed, certainly, these same nations would be urging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions and embargoes on countries not recognizing and implementing the U.N. resolution or mandate.
5. Insurgency After Post-Independence Days
After regaining independence from Britain in 1948 a civilian government (Parliamentary Democracy Government) ruled the country. Because of internal party conflicts and clashes with the then 2 other opposition parties the government in power gave priority only to it party affairs and means and ways to get re-elected in the coming election. To cite one glaring example to show the extremes they went to, the then prime minister proclaimed Buddhism, which has over 80% of the population as its followers in the country, to be the State Religion of Myanmar to canvass votes for his party from the Buddhist majority of the population. At the same time the needs and requirements of the ethnic races were ignored and neglected.Unfortunately, his move created rebellion among the ethnic races professing other religious faiths and automatically led to armed insurrection in the country. Although, it was clear from the very beginning that the then government was wrong in their steps in the first place, the military had neither voice nor choice but to follow orders in fighting all the insurgent groups the government had created. The fighting lasted 45 years.
11. Myanmar’s Foreign Policy
Since Myanmar regained her independence from the British in 1948 she chose to pursue an active and independent foreign policy from the very beginning. She left the British Commonwealth and adopted a neutral and later a non-aligned policy throughout the Cold War period. In pursuance of such a policy she has been accorded some pluses mainly enabling her to stay out of the regional conflicts. The minuses are that she has neither developed capitalist nor communist alliances. When Myanmar became a socialist country after the end of its parliamentary era the Western World regarded her as a pro-communist state while the Socialist World upheld her as a sort of a pseudo socialist country. During this period Myanmar more or less stayed away from the regional and international crisis with doors partly closed eventually leading her to a self-imposed seclusion in pursuit of her own ideals.
12.Composition of the Different Ethnic Groups under the 8 Major National Ethnic Races in Myanmar
There are a total of 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar.
(8) Maru (Lawgore)
(10) Lashi (La Chit)
(B) Kayah comprises 9 different ethnic groups.
(15) Ka-Yun (Padaung)
(18) Bre (Ka-Yaw)
(19) Manu Manaw
(20) Yin Talai
(21) Yin Baw
(C) Kayin comprises 11 different ethnic groups.
(25) Mon Kayin (Sarpyu)
(32) Shu (Pwo)
(D) Chin comprises 53 different ethnic groups.
(34) Meithei (Kathe)
(36) Ka-Lin-Kaw (Lushay)
(38) Awa Khami
(41) Kaung Saing Chin
(43) Kwangli (Sim)
(44) Gunte (Lyente)
(49) Saing Zan
(54) Zahnyet (Zanniet)
(56) Tiddim (Hai-Dim)
(62) Dai (Yindu)
(69) Miram (Mara)
(72) Lushei (Lushay)
(78) Wakim (Mro)
(84) Asho (Plain)
(E) Bamar comprises 9 ethnic groups.
(F) Mon comprises 1 ethnic groups.
(G) Rakhine comprises 7 ethnic groups.
(98) Kwe Myi
(H) Shan comprises 33 ethnic groups.
(104) Yun (Lao)
(113) Kaw (Akha-E-Kaw)
(115) Khamti Shan
(120) Man Zi
(121) Yin Kya
(122) Yin Net
(123) Shan Gale
(124) Shan Gyi
(134) Maw Shan