Myanmar’s Liberalization and North Korea: Transforming “Outposts of Tyranny”? Lessons and Cautions

In Western popular parlance, North Korea and Myanmar have been inextricably linked through designate Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s memorable phrase, “outposts of tyranny.” The totalitarian/authoritarian nature of the two governments, at least through 2010, gave superficial credence to that juxtaposition.1 This association has been reinforced by historical events. These include: the attempted assassination of President Chun Doo-hwan in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1983 by three North Korean agents followed by the de-recognition of the DPRK by the Burmese; the alleged technical assistance in the digging of tunnels and underground facilities by North Koreans in Myanmar’s new capital of Naypyitaw and other sites: the North’s reported supply of missiles and other armaments to Myanmar; the secret (later leaked) visit of the Myanmar military commander to the North’s military installations; and, perhaps, the inspiration of North Korea’s development of its nuclear capacity as a deterrent to the perceived threat of a US invasion. Head of State Senior General Than Shwe may have wished to emulate the North as he also feared an invasion to enforce the US policy of “regime change” under presidents Clinton and Bush. There is, however, no hard evidence that Myanmar has had an internal nuclear weapons program, although it had trained nuclear engineers in Russia. With the explicit approval of South Korea, Myanmar, toward the close of President Roh Moo-hyun’s tenure, “re-recognized the North. Now, there is even a North Korean restaurant in Yangon.

President Park Geun-hye called for North Korea to follow Myanmar’s example and model of reform. Some observers have more closely juxtaposed the Korean Peninsula with Myanmar, not only advocating that the North emulate Myanmar politically, but that Myanmar should emulate South Korea in its economic development policies and trajectory. Indeed, South Korea in 2012 signed a memorandum of understanding for the formation of a Myanmar Development Institute on the model of the famed Korea Development Institute. More germane to the development of democracy, however, would be the example of peaceful, quiet retreat from political power by the ROK military—a remarkable, generally unrecognized world accomplishment. The differing colonial experiences of the two matter. Although both resulted in bouts of xenophobia and prioritization of independence and national sovereignty, the British instilled pluralistic and democratic views together with social ties with the West (no matter how poor their racial policies), while the Japanese isolated Korea, treating it autocratically and as an appendage of an expanding Japanese empire.2

North Korea and Myanmar until recently shared the dubious distinction of officially proclaiming a utopian present or future while sinking in a dystopian swamp. Myanmar shed that fiction and admitted major socio-economic and political deficiencies after the inauguration of President Thein Sein on March 30, 2011; Kim Jong-un has yet to acknowledge stress in the North and instead basks in the additional internal legitimacy (and external opprobrium) of a successful missile cum nuclear agenda even as modern technology slowly pries open a reclusive state.

North Korean-Myanmar past relationships aside, however, there are important issues to be analyzed in determining whether the North could-might-would emulate some of the massive reforms begun in Myanmar. As South Korea very rapidly transformed itself from a backward, marginal economy into the world economic power that it is today, so in the space of about two years Myanmar has begun the most rapid and profound peaceful attempt at political and economic reform of any modern state, and this has astonished the world, and indeed most of its own population. Why and how that occurred and whether there are lessons for North Korea, is the subject of this article.

Authoritarian Change

The confluence in the popular press resulting from the “tyranny” designation between North Korea and Myanmar masks important differences. Generally, totalitarian regimes are defined as those with a singular power with all institutions controlled by the state under a state-enforced ideological umbrella. North Korea would seem to fit that description. Under General Ne Win, a single-party, ideologically driven state of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) may have been so defined, but under the continuing military government from 1988 to 2011 that ideology was abandoned, civil society existed within strictures,3 and a legal but controlled and emasculated opposition party did exist. So totalitarian does not seem applicable in that period. Even under the BSPP, Burma was not the brutal state of the North Korean example.

Both North Korea and Myanmar have in the past (the former still today) justified the military role as protection against foreign predators. Sanctions have been the most obvious of foreign pressures for change. Some have been targeted in terms of their reform objectives, some toward specific individuals or institutions, and sometimes aimed at a government as a whole. US sanctions against North Korea (contrasted with the policies of South Korea toward the North over certain periods) have not been overtly aimed at regime change, but rather policy changes in both weaponry and human rights, while those directed against Myanmar (and also Cuba) were specifically aimed at regime change—in Myanmar, the military giving up power to a civilian opposition party that won an election (the election was not for a new government, but for a constitutional convention) in May 1990, but whose victory went unrecognized. That era ended with the 2009 re-evaluation of policy of the Obama administration.4

In only two cases in modern East Asia has change been instituted from the top of the political hierarchy. In Taiwan, President Chiang Ching-kuo in the 1980s opened up the political process; and in Myanmar, Thein Sein was the first leader in Myanmar in half a century to be publicly self-critical. Even though Senior General Than Shwe in 2004 set forth a seven-stage plan toward what he called “discipline-flourishing democracy,” few believed that this would result in any real popular government. Indeed, the military devised a constitution (passed by a manipulated referendum in 2008 and then November 2010 controlled national elections) that will ensure that ultimate authority rests with them and they will lead the society, the autonomy of the tatmadaw (armed forces), and control over their parochial and national interests. Change in Myanmar is apparent, but an unqualified use of the term “democracy” is still inappropriate.

The Myanmar Reforms: Emergence from an Authoritarian Chrysalis

In spite of skeptics who have continuously vilified the junta in Myanmar, from whom they believed nothing good could possibly come, the attempts at reform, led by Thein Sein, are real. They encompass macro and micro economic policies, health, education, corruption, minority affairs, labor, the courts, human rights, media and censorship, to begin the litany. He has reorganized the leadership in the cabinet to support his vision and reform agenda. Although there is opposition to the reforms among various groupings, important questions of the state’s capacity to implement reforms and how far and deep they might extend, and ambiguity whether the writ of the presidency extends to the geographic periphery of the country and into the bowels of the military and bureaucracy, his reform motivation is evident. Even though most of the leadership (including Thein Sein) were chosen from the former military, and the United States often uses “quasi-civilian” to refer to the new government, Than Shwe was no longer head of state. Even his top leadership could not raise new issues with him before he himself did so, let along disagree with his views. This was reinforced by the Burmese concept of a-na-de, or the avoidance of making another uncomfortable by, for example, bringing bad news or raising difficult issues.5 But in his inaugural address Thein Sein set the tone by a searing criticism of national conditions and the need for change.

Thein Sein and his closest advisors have traveled abroad and know how far behind Myanmar has fallen even compared to countries (e.g., Laos, Cambodia, and Bangladesh) where it would have been unthinkable that their per capita income could surpass Myanmar, which had been predicted a half century earlier to become the richest country in the region. In foreign policy, it seemed evident, even to Burmese, that Myanmar had become too close to China, which had become the largest investor (over USD 15 billion officially, but more unofficially), the site of much Chinese illegal migration (perhaps some two million), and the source of its own Southeast Asian “pivot” in access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. In May 2011, the two states signed a “comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.” China has two vital oil and gas pipelines and several dozen hydroelectric projects, all designed to benefit Yunnan and other Chinese provinces. Myanmar military capacity has been enhanced through USD 2-3 billion (the figures are obviously inexact) in military assistance. Two-thirds of all Burmese officers who went abroad for training went to China.

China was disturbed by the resultant opening to the United States and the West; Global Times called Secretary of State Clinton’s visit in December 2011 “undermining the [Chinese] wall in Myanmar,” but some cautioned the Burmese that US assistance was going to be like “beautiful moonlight on the river”—ephemeral unreality—while China was there for keeps. Thein Sein, by his own statement, said he bowed to public opinion when on September 30, 2011 he suspended for the duration of his term (2015) the USD 3.6 billion Chinese construction of the highly controversial Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River (Myanmar’s lifeline) in northern Myanmar, undercutting simplistic views that Myanmar was China’s “client state.”6 Anti-Chinese popular sentiment is growing.7 Yet, rather than leaning towards the United States, Myanmar will likely reinvent its old, foreign policy neutralism that was so obviously useful to such a strategically located state and that resulted in U Thant becoming secretary general of the United Nations (1961-1971).

The tatmadaw may have recognized that their acclaimed historic role in attaining independence, which they have stressed, may have been in jeopardy through the inept management of the country for over half a century. Reclaiming pride in the military may also have been a motivating force. The tatmadaw had refocused regime legitimacy away from socialism (1962-1988) to an inchoate but strong sense of the military and its role as the singular force within the society (1988-2011, and perhaps beyond).

Some human rights activists and others have claimed that sanctions and the opprobrium heaped on the previous junta forced the reforms. In such a highly charged nationalistic environment there is no evidence that this was the case—regime-change policy had failed since 1990, arguably driving the government closer to China and perhaps prompting greater repression. Those who argue that the reforms were primarily a result of foreign pressure exhibit a type of hubris that denigrates the Burmese capacity for self-induced change. Although the poor reputation of the Burmese state, even without sanctions, clearly prompted foreign companies to either pull out or not to invest, cabinet members have indicated that their previous isolation for a generation demonstrated that Myanmar did not need the West and they could still function.8

The North Korean-Myanmar Milieux: Shared Attributes and Contrasts

Perhaps the most basic, but unarticulated, shared trait of the North and Burma/Myanmar has been one common among many societies. Rights and advantages are not administratively determined, but are prebends, as Weber noted, given from above as rewards for loyalty. This trait, changeable over time as South Korea has illustrated, is still prevalent in both Myanmar and North Korea. The “cult of the personality” is perhaps nowhere more evident today than in North Korea and the adulation of the Kim family.9 To a lesser degree, it was prevalent in Burma/Myanmar under U Nu, Ne Win, Than Shwe, and even with Aung San Suu Kyi within her party and among her supporters. This stress on personalized power is reflected in the decision-making patterns of unilateral authority by the leaders of both states. Thein Sein has challenged the assumption that this trait is a necessary attribute of the political culture in Myanmar.

Differences as well as similarities are significant. Most prominent is that of the dynastic succession cavalcade in North Korea. The Kim family line is not only unique in communist regimes, it is virtually unknown outside of hereditary monarchies. In contrast, Myanmar succession will be controlled by the military for the foreseeable future, and in which there will be rivalries for leadership that are becoming evident. If a civilian, such as Aung San Suu Kyi, assumes the presidency (or a vice-presidency), it will occur not simply because the people desire it, but because the tatmadaw have allowed it to happen.

The Korean Workers Party is in virtual command, but its role is dependent on the Kim’s family continuous emphasis on a military-first policy; and the military have been assiduously cultivated by the Kims through ideological stress and provision of resources. The Kims may, in large part, rule because of such support. In Myanmar, the military government formed and controlled the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), constituted from a mass movement of over 24 million people (over half of the adult population). It failed miserably in the freely held by-elections of April 2012, swept by the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). What will happen in the November 2015 national elections is critical. The NLD, in contrast, is held together by the image and support of Aung San Suu Kyi, and her views are rarely contested. Even though her party is a strong advocate of democracy, and included in its 1989 party platform civilian control over the military (anathema to the tatmadaw), in both states political parties are subservient to their leadership and indirectly to the military.

Much speculation in foreign circles has occurred on whether the North’s nuclear and missile testing has occurred to assuage elements of the DPRK military. What is evident in Myanmar is that splits between the military-controlled BSPP and the active duty military in the 1974-1988 period became evident, perhaps caused both by different institutional roles and also the personalization of power, which is characteristic of both Myanmar and North Korea. Ne Win (1962-1988) was able to control the military because he personally was responsible for the appointment and promotion of the senior officer corps, many of whom were his juniors in the Fourth Burma Rifles, which he commanded before independence in 1948. Stories abound that Kim Il-sung told Kim Jong-il to cultivate the military and not worry about the economy.

Both North Korea and Myanmar experienced economic deprivation, although the famines in the North were far more severe, since Myanmar has ample natural resources in a benevolent climate. Yet in Myanmar, some one-third of the population is below the poverty line. Any potential disturbances in the North have been smothered, but they have broken out in Myanmar (e.g., the “saffron revolution” of 2007) because of frustration. Both states have witnessed extensive illegal migration from economic and political repression—in the North, perhaps 200,000 to China’s Northeast provinces, and from Myanmar to Thailand, where over two million Burmese (mostly minority peoples from the border regions) have escaped fighting and economic loss. An additional estimated half-million educated Burmese have sought some sort of asylum.

Ideological conformity has been in evidence in both states. Juche (self-reliance, autonomy) was the North Korean contribution to “world philosophy,” as the state liked to believe. Myanmar rigidly advocated “The Burmese Way to Socialism” (a document circulated in April 1962), and followed in January 1963 by an abstruse mixture of Buddhism and socialism, “The System of Correlation between Man and His Environment”—its own ideology until 1988, when, after the disgrace of the state in economic performance, it was replaced by an inchoate concentration of the role of the tatmadaw itself as the focal point of history and ideology. Buddhism remains a critical element of the legitimization equation, and the administration has excluded Christians, Muslims, and animists from senior military and civilian posts and exacerbated minority tensions.10 Religion has been suppressed in the North, or rather has been reincarnated into adulation of the Kim family.

North Korea is ethnically homogenous—a common language and culture cross class and geographic differences, while Myanmar, with one-third of its population split among dozens of ethnic and linguistic groups many of which have been in continuous revolt, has essentially been torn asunder by this issue. However deplorable North Korean policies may have been, the North is a nation with a unifying identity. Class distinctions in the DPRK have been salient in the distribution of power and resources; the upper classes and the bourgeoisie had essentially been removed through emigration and/or elimination, while in Burman areas there remains a remarkably mobile society in terms of class, if not of military control. Myanmar, while a state, has never been a nation with an overarching national ethos since independence in 1948.11

A parallel concentration on the fear of the United States was evident in both countries, although in Myanmar it seems to have been gradually resolved with the shift in Obama’s “Burma” policy to what might be called “regime modification” or reform from the hardline approach of both Clinton and Bush. North Korea was, in part, a model of how to stand up to the United States, in Myanmar’s view, by having a nuclear capacity. This was a misinterpretation by the Myanmar junta, for the North’s real defensive insurance against any aggression from either the United States or South Korea was that Seoul is still held hostage to North Korean artillery. Whatever other motivations existed for moving the capital from Yangon to Naypyitaw—and there were a number—one was the strategic vulnerability of Yangon to naval attack. This also was likely the reason from the movement of the air command from Mingaladon (Yangon) to Meiktila in central Myanmar, and the naval command from the port of Sittwe inland to An, both in Rakhine State.

The imposed isolation of both from the West because of the latter’s insistence, was offset by the reliance of both states on China.12 Chinese policy toward both is similar: requirements for a tranquil border throughout its periphery, no refugees entering China, and ample opportunities for Chinese business. Obviously, North Korea looms far larger in importance, although Myanmar is an important “hedge” in obviating the Chinese strategic problem of the Malacca Straits and its dependence on foreign energy sources. But Korea’s far more strategic proximity to the heart of the Chinese state and capital, in addition to North Korea’s military potential, means China has to pay closer attention to North Korea as a buffer against the ROK-US forces and also Japan. Myanmar is vital to the economy of Yunnan Province (over 50 percent of Yunnan’s exports), but no comparable situation exists in China’s Northeast. The DPRK has been more dependent on China than has Myanmar, but China needs the DPRK more than it needs Myanmar.

Myanmar and North Korea: How Extensive the Changes?

From the policies of Thein Sein, North Korea could learn a great deal. The dominant role of the military is enshrined in the Constitution, and as long as the command system demands policy loyalty, its critical role will not diminish. It need not rule directly to have the legal and coercive means to enforce compliance should it wish. Although the intent of the reformers is evident, there are strong, internal obstacles. These include elements of the tatmadaw who do not want to compromise with civilian politicians, including Aung San Suu Kyi; those who would lose important perquisites of office or access; civilian business leaders who have benefitted from the personal and institutional military relationships; and some three to four percent of the Burman ethnic group who rely on the military through family or economic relationships. Certain military conglomerates, which are not part of the public sector and are wholly owned by the military—the Myanmar Economic Holdings Corporation and the Myanmar Economic Corporation—, employ hundreds of thousands of workers, have numerous joint ventures with foreign firms, and can influence the economy under any civilian administration.

Obstacles include a lack of capacity to implement reforms that have been articulated. The Burmese educational system has declined to a degree that few are trained to levels necessary for running a modern state, and talented and educated people are retired, older, or have left the country. The president has invited them to return, and some have done so, but there still is a lack of legal protection for those who do return and who left through illegal procedures or who engaged in opposition politics. In the past year, there is growing concern over what might become the “Cambodian syndrome,” i.e., the influx of foreign public and private, humanitarian and economic, relief that could sap the state’s efforts at reform, replacing them with uncoordinated and ineffective assistance. Some have discussed the “asset curse,” a country so blessed with natural resources that it attracts extractive investment but does little for the people. The remarkable influx of foreigners led to escalating prices of real estate and hotel rooms.

North Korea has a different set of problems, including reluctance to open markets, lack of civil society or groups beyond the intrusive ken of the state, and rigidity of ideology. Yet, it seems far superior to Myanmar, at least in terms of technical training. Differences are apparent in agricultural policies. In an area marginal in producing agricultural surpluses, nationalization of land and communes has been a major structural impediment to food self-sufficiency. Although all land in Myanmar is residually owned by the state, communes were avoided and even producer cooperatives were marginal under the BSPP. State procurement policies even made Burma, the world’s largest rice exporter before World War II, barely self-sufficient at various times. Ne Win said in 1967 that the country could not feed itself.

Of major concern for reform is the expansion of channels of social mobility in both North Korea and Myanmar. In North Korea, social mobility is controlled by the Workers Party. Avenues of advancement are dependent on relations with the institutions of the state, which has complete control. In Myanmar, the military has controlled all avenues of mobility—education, civil society, mass organizations, the sangha hierarchy (Buddhist clergy), and the private sector. This control must be lessened, and there are beginning indications that this is happening. Yet, a real danger is that the private sector, a critical element of such mobility, will be essentially controlled by the indigenous and external Chinese, who have access to private capital flows lacking in the Burmese private sector, and higher-level retired military. If they become the new middle class in Myanmar, there could be dangerous ethnic tensions, as in other Southeast Asian states, if the Burmese feel that their economy is once more in foreign hands, as it was in the colonial era. Chinese restraint in either support of or objection to changes, coupled with judicious assistance, would assist both societies, and would, arguably, be in China’s national interests—ensuring economically growing countries along its periphery that would strategically be helpful and would engender economic growth in the Chinese border provinces, which are a priority.

Burmese Lessons

If the North were to open, the inundation of those seeking licit and illicit gain would be extensive, as it has been in Myanmar. There is a need, therefore, for local economic risk analyses to assess not the risk in country for the external investor, but the risk to the country from foreigners solely bent on economic gain to the detriment of social, environmental, or other factors. The proliferation of visitors, advisors, sightseers, academicians, and hordes of foreigners has preempted the time and talents of many in Myanmar’s senior positions and created opportunities for corruption, which could overwhelm a regime. If the North were effectively to open its doors, it should develop systems capable of coping with the likely influx. Problems are compounded when local custom conflicts with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Opening a state such as Myanmar raises questions of the internal capacity to implement changes. Although North Korea has obviously far greater numbers of trained individuals at advanced technological levels, it lacks the administrative experience to deal with an expanded private sector and the development of a relatively autonomous legal system and dispute settlement mechanisms that are required. Myanmar still lacks these essential components in spite of plans for their development. The rule of law issue, which donors have wanted to address in Myanmar and would no doubt wish to support in North Korea, is of vital concern.13 Is the build-up of rather rudimentary labor-intensive industries, as has been suggested for Myanmar, the path for far more industrialized North Korea?14 This seems unlikely.

One should also consider what the foreign reaction has been to each country, and what this might mean for the future. Legally (and bizarrely), the United States used exactly the same language in imposing sanctions, i.e., each was a threat to US security and foreign policy. This was a bureaucratic necessity for obscure legal reasons unrelated to policy reality. (Even after relations improved, in August 2012 the United States reiterated that charge, as must be done on an annual basis.) The US responses to the regimes were polar opposites. On North Korea, the effort was to open the government to the outside world, but in Myanmar’s case it was to close off Myanmar from external benefits and positive examples. The Congress and administration were subject to intense pressure from a well-organized lobbying force advocating isolation and indirectly led by the iconic Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi that wanted to bring her and the opposition to power and replace the junta.15 She essentially controlled US policy toward Myanmar until the Obama administration. There was no such sympathetic figure, for North Korea. The United States pressured Japan to adhere to its isolationist policies, which it half-heartedly did, while South Korea pursued its own agenda there. How donors would respond to efforts by the DPRK to reform on a Myanmar model could be a major issue in the North’s pursuing such reforms.

Should the North agree to reforms, what conditions for assistance might South Korea or other potential donors place? If Myanmar is an example, these are likely to be highly significant to eliminate the sanctions that have been imposed. They not only might include nuclear inspections and adherence to international norms, but human rights and other liberalization that would be difficult for the highly sensitive, nationalistic leadership to endorse.


The Myanmar experience is rooted in culturally specific problems, at points in time unique to their situation, and in a geographic milieu that brooks no slavish imitation. Myanmar will not be able to copy the economic successes and programs of South Korea, and North Korea—even should it wish to do so, which is highly unlikely—will not copy, and cannot copy the still unsatisfied Myanmar reforms ranging through economic and political processes.

An internal argument in Myanmar for some two decades was whether political reforms had to precede economic reforms (the opposition’s position), or whether the reverse was true (the government’s viewpoint), or indeed whether they could proceed in parallel. Thein Sein seems to have opted for a type of parallelism. China under Deng Xiaoping placed emphasis on the economy; so too did Vietnam. But such economic reforms in North Korea might raise the specter of regime or leadership (not necessarily state) collapse. Why does North Korea not follow the Chinese model, as many have suggested? Would it be more successful than the example of Myanmar? Is there a fear that even the slightest opening would create a political tsunami against the government? Is the example of a dynamically successful South Korea too close for comfort to the North? Whatever happens in the North, the strong sense of nationalism would not likely allow public acknowledgement that any external model was justified. If the North’s juche was the greatest philosophical contribution to policy, admitting any foreign model would be inappropriate.

North Korea desperately needs change, but Myanmar is unlikely to offer more than a highly generalized example of a listing state in need of reform, rather than a model of how to right it. Reform in North Korea, as in Myanmar, under present circumstances must come from the leadership, rather than from the masses. However beneficial and necessary these reforms are in Myanmar, they are likely to be occurring under sui generis conditions and cultural constraints that may excite international enthusiasm, but offer few specific lessons beyond the most general ones: authoritarian regimes need reform, but, prospective donors proceed with caution.


1. In this essay, North and North Korea refer to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and South and South Korea to the Republic of Korea (ROK). In 1989, the military changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar, a thirteenth-century written form. The opposition, regarding the regime as illegitimate, refused to accept it, and along with the United States and several countries continued to use Burma. The United Nations and most states adopted the change, which had become a surrogate political indicator. Here, and without political connotation, Myanmar is used since 1989, Burma for previous periods, Burma/Myanmar for continuity, and Burmese as the language, for a citizen of that country, and as an adjective. On independence, the state was called the Union of Burma, and since March 30, 2011, after several permutations, it is now known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

2. This point was suggested by Yun Sun (Brookings Institution).

3. In 1988, the junta issued a decree (#6/88 “Law Related to Forming Organizations”) establishing procedures for registration of civil society organizations. See Robert H. Taylor, The State in Myanma (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2009), 445. Its purpose, in part, was to prevent their political activities. This may have been based on a Chinese model decree of 1987.

4. For a summary of the sanctions, their complexity informally described by a high-ranking US official as “bizarre,” see Michael F. Martin, U.S. Sanctions on Burma (CRS Report No. R41336) (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2012). In the fall of 2012, sanctions against Burmese imports into the United States were lifted, but sanctions remain in place against individuals and certain institutions and companies.

5. This gave rise to a “Potemkin Village” predilection of manipulating economic statistics to please the leadership, as indicated by a high-ranking Myanmar official. Personal Interview, Yangon.

6. David I. Steinberg and Fan Hongwei, Modern China-Myanmar Relations: Dilemmas of Mutual Dependence (Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, 2012).

7. Min Zin, “Burmese Attitude toward Chinese: Portrayal of the Chinese in Contemporary Cultural and Media Works,” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, no. 1 (2012): 115-131.

8. Several personal interviews with ministers, Yangon. I responded that although this was once true, globalization processes would prevent this from continuing.

9. It is significant that at no time under Ne Win or Than Shwe has the cult of the personality been evident through painting and portraits, as has been the case in North Korea and China, especially in the Mao era. If there has been such a trend in Burma/Myanmar, it has been with pictures of Aung San, which were ubiquitous until the junta forced them underground.

10. David I. Steinberg, Turmoil in Burma. Contested Legitimacies in Myanmar (Norwalk: EastBridge 2006); and David I. Steinberg, “Legitimacy in Burma/Myanmar: Concepts and Implications,” in N. Ganesan and Kyaw Yin Hlaing, eds., Myanmar: State, Society and Ethnicity (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2007).

11. David I. Steinberg, “The Problem of Democracy in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar: Neither Nation-State Nor State-Nation,” Southeast Asian Affairs 2012 (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012).

12. As Hahm Chaibong has reminded us, Lu Kun, a Ming Dynasty official, wrote in 1596 that “Korea is closest to our [China’s] left armpit.” Perhaps, Myanmar is closest to China’s right ankle.

13. Nick Cheesman, “What Does the Rule of Law Have to Do with Democratization (in Myanmar)?” (paper from the Myanmar (Burma) Update Conference, Australian National University, Canberra, March 15-16, 2013).

14. Vikram Nehru, “Myanmar’s Economic Policy Priorities,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, accessed November 2012,

15. David I. Steinberg, “Aung San Suu Kyi and U.S. Policy Toward Burma/Myanmar,” Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs (March,2010). Until January 2010, she was mentioned 1,598 times in the US Congressional Record.



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