Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific


Myanmar’s COVID-19 response banks on Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi pays her respects to her late father during a ceremony to mark the 73rd anniversary of Martyrs' Day in Yangon, 19 July 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Ye Aung Thu).

Author: Kyaw San Wai, Yangon

With an official total of 351 cases and six deaths four months after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed, Myanmar appears to be weathering the pandemic. Despite limited testing, the combination of government responses, community involvement and arguably sheer luck has so far spared the country’s long-neglected and under-resourced health system from being overwhelmed. Read more…

Debt relief boosts Myanmar’s COVID-19 recovery

Person waving a Myanmar flag at Kyite Ka San Football Stadium in Yangon, Myanmar, 29 November 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun).

Author: Sean Turnell, Macquarie University

On 1 July 2020, the European Union and six of its member governments announced a moratorium on debt repayments due from Myanmar. The agreement allows Myanmar to ‘focus efforts on economic recovery from COVID-19’ and is worth almost US$100 million — 20 per cent of Myanmar’s current debt payments schedule.

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Track II diplomacy in solving Asia’s refugee crisis

A Rohingya refugee walks at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, 7 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain).

Authors: Melissa Conley Tyler and Tiffany Liu, Asialink at the University of Melbourne

In February, experts from government, think tanks, civil society and academia met in Bangladesh for the ninth meeting of the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration (ADFM) to address the challenge of people movement and displacement in the region. The dialogue has already seen some positive outcomes, and it highlights an important role for non-official actors in diplomacy.

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Myanmar’s unsteady exit from China’s orbit

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar 17 January 2020 (Photo: Reuters)

Author: Thomas Bernhardt, Vienna

When Myanmar’s military regime began opening up the country politically and economically in 2010, one motive was to alleviate the country’s overreliance on China. Ten years down the road, in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the threat of new Western sanctions triggered by human rights violations against the Muslim Rohingya minority, China’s influence appears hardly diminished. Read more…

COVID-19 threatens democracy in Southeast Asia

A soldier wearing a face mask holds on his weapon as he guards an empty street following the lockdown imposed to contain the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manila, Philippines, 25 April 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Eloisa Lopez).

Author: Murray Hiebert, Bower Group Asia

COVID-19 has been tough on the health and economies of Southeast Asia, but the region’s fledgling quasi-democracies are also under threat. Efforts to control the virus are giving authoritarian rulers the perfect cover to adopt draconian levers to rein in their opponents and critics. Read more…

The COVID-19 pandemic pulls at the seams of Southeast Asia

A worker cleans a plastic barrier after customers had lunch at the Penguin Eat Shabu hotpot restaurant that reopened after the easing of restrictions with the implementation of a plastic barrier and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok, Thailand, 8 May, 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha).

Author: Hunter Marston, ANU

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be yet to come for many Southeast Asian countries, though some, such as Vietnam, have seen relative success in containing the virus. Read more…

What the NLD’s top-down party structure means for Myanmar

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi leaves the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top United Nations court, after court hearings in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, in The Hague, Netherlands 12 December, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Eva Plevier).

Author: Richard Roewer, Oxford University and GIGA

Myanmar’s governing National League for Democracy (NLD) receives frequent criticism for failing to repeal repressive legislation and for supporting the military’s persecution of the Rohingya ethnic minority. The NLD still fails to understand the grievances of ethnic minorities throughout Myanmar and its national reconciliation process lacks transitional justice mechanisms. But the party’s increasing centralisation and inability to institutionalise internal democratic processes adds further repercussions for Myanmar. Read more…

China’s post-COVID-19 woes to flow through the Mekong

Checking body temperatures for people at a station for COVID-19 prevention and control in Tu Ky district, the northern province of Hai Duong on 5 April, 2020.

Author: Heidi Dahles, Griffith University

As China shows signs of recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak, speculations abound about what a post-COVID-19 future will look like. Amid the cacophony of voices, consensus is gathering that global power balances will shift. What this shift might entail is fiercely debated. Some see China rising to global leadership and offering resources and experience to those currently battling the pandemic. Others suspect that China is engaging in a sinister campaign to push other countries further into dependency. Read more…

The folly of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ‘bad apple’ defence

Gambia's Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou talks to the media outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ), after the ruling in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, in The Hague, Netherlands 23 January, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Plevier).

Author: Adam Simpson, University of South Australia

Since the communal pogroms of 2012 razed the villages of Muslim Rohingya across Myanmar’s Rakhine State, there have been debates about how to protect Rohingya populations through international legal mechanisms. The search for legal avenues gathered pace following insurgent attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in August 2017 that resulted in a disproportionate collective punishment response from the Myanmar military. Read more…

Is the ICJ ruling on Myanmar a new route to accountability?

Authors: Champa Patel and Ruma Mandal, Chatham House

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the genocide case against Myanmar in January is refocusing attention on the desperate situation facing the Rohingya. It is also raising questions about whether the ICJ might be an effective route for pursuing accountability, given that the case was brought by a state not directly affected by the alleged violations of international law. Read more…

Lessons from ASEAN’s Rakhine response

Protesters from Amnesty International display banners regarding the the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar as they sail a boat near the venue for the one-off summit of 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) being held in Sydney, Australia, 16 March 2018 (Photo: REUTERS/David Gray).

Author: Kilian Spandler, University of Gothenburg

At the 35th ASEAN Summit held in Bangkok in November last year, the ASEAN Prize 2019 was awarded to Jemilah Mahmood, founder of Mercy Malaysia and a high-level official at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. By honouring a luminary of humanitarian activism in Southeast Asia, ASEAN leaders demonstrated their eagerness to upgrade their organisation’s profile as a linchpin in regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

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Bangladesh’s authoritarian shift

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina before their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, 5 October 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Altaf Hussain).

Author: Ali Riaz, Illinois State University

In Bangladesh the ruling Awami League has established total control over state machinery and politics since the managed election of December 2018. Simmering popular discontent found expression in agitations against the killing of a student, price hikes and government-appointed university administration corruption in 2019.

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Prospects for Myanmar’s development and governance

Author: Soe Nandar Linn, Yangon

Myanmar’s efforts to reverse a legacy of isolation began with the quasi-civilian government led by then-president U Thein Sein. From 2011–2015, his government undertook a series of political, economic and social reforms that built the foundation for future democratic development. Read more…

Bangladesh’s regional majoritarian challenge

Rohingya refugees gather to mark the second anniversary of the exodus at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, 25 August 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Rafiqur Rahman).

Authors: Champa Patel, Chatham House, and Rudabeh Shahid, University of York

Bangladesh is a country often subjected to the whims of its geography. Being surrounded by India and Myanmar means that ensuring good relations with its neighbours is paramount to maintaining regional cohesion but these relations are coming under strain as India’s and Myanmar’s majoritarian impulses resonate across their borders.

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Comparing Myanmar and North Korea’s resentful reliance on China

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives to meet Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 24 April 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Fred Dufour).

Authors: Jonathan T Chow, Wheaton College, and Leif-Eric Easley, Ewha Womans University

Myanmar and North Korea were long known as Asia’s ‘pariah states’ — internationally sanctioned and ostracised for human rights violations, authoritarian repression and, in North Korea’s case, persistent efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But in 2011, Myanmar’s ruling junta surprised observers by making a strategic decision to reform and open, ushering in a quasi-civilian government. Meanwhile, North Korea pressed ahead with its nuclear and missile programs, hardening its pariah status. Read more…