How did one of the world’s "buzzy hotspots" (Fodor’s 2013) become one of the top ten places to avoid (Fodor’s 2018)?
Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves of international support. Progress seemed inevitable.
As historian, former diplomat, and presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U saw the cracks forming. In this insider’s diagnosis of a country at a breaking point, he dissects how a singularly predatory economic system, fast-rising inequality, disintegrating state institutions, the impact of new social media, the rise of China next door, climate change, and deep-seated feelings around race, religion, and national identity all came together to challenge the incipient democracy. Interracial violence soared and a horrific exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fixed international attention. Myint-U explains how and why this happened, and details an unsettling prognosis for the future.
Burma is today a fragile stage for nearly all the world’s problems. Are democracy and an economy that genuinely serves all its people possible in Burma? In clear and urgent prose, Myint-U explores this question—a concern not just for the Burmese but for the rest of the world—warning of the possible collapse of this nation of 55 million while suggesting a fresh agenda for change.
How did Burma's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi go from Nobel Peace Prize laureate to figurehead for a regime accused of genocide? Former UN diplomat Thant (Where China Meets Asia), offers a lucid, albeit complex, answer in this essential analysis of modern Burmese history. According to Thant, the stage was set for the country's racial, ethnic, and religious divisions during 19th-century British colonial rule, when an array of cultures, language groups, and tribal identities were lumped together under an exploitative form of capitalism. With independence in 1948 came the world's longest ongoing civil war. A brutal military dictatorship seized control in 1962 until the early 2010s, when Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and won a seat in parliament. As the military junta loosened its grip on power, Thant explains, the army signed accords with rebel groups, creating a framework in which violence improved the odds of political settlement. That model, and the government's failure to craft a "new and more inclusive" national identity, Thant writes, influenced the rise of the Muslim Rohingaya resistance movement and ensuing military crackdown and refugee crisis, in which Suu Kyi has refused to intervene. Thant briskly synthesizes insider accounts, news reports, and academic research to make his authoritative case. This perceptive chronicle is vital for understanding Burma's transition to democratic rule and sobering future prospects.