Ruled by a military dictatorship since the early 1960s, much of the world has long considered Myanmar a pariah state. However, change is afoot. A falling out with its Chinese sponsors nudged a political opening. A representative government was installed in 2011, starting Myanmar down the uncertain road to integration with the rest of the world.
Decades of isolation and poor policy have taken its toll, and underdeveloped Myanmar is one of Asia’s poorest countries. But the bones are good: as a rural and heavily forested country, Myanmar has a wide array of natural resources. It is the world’s leading exporter of teak, and a prolific producer of precious stones, including 90 percent of the world’s rubies. Additionally, it has significant offshore oil and natural gas deposits. As the country transitions away from a command economy, it will be able to more efficiently produce its resources and compete globally. Most important, Myanmar sports a lengthy, usable coastline as well as the Irrawaddy, Southeast Asia’s only navigable river. Moving bulky goods – whether lumber or textiles – should prove child’s play. The country has the potential to be the fastest-growing economy in the world over the next 50 years.
Myanmar’s rise is not inevitable, however. The country faces significant ethnic tension. The largest ethnic group, the Bamar people, dominate the government in large part because they also dominate the coast and Irrawaddy. A range of opposing ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar’s tropical upland regions resist the Bamar with protests and rebellions.
For more on how Myanmar is about to remake itself and become a significant player in Southeast Asia’s coming boom, see Chapter 9 of The Accidental Superpower.