It is easy to forget that Burma, or Myanmar as it is now called, is a huge country. It is smaller than Turkey but bigger in size than France. It is a country that is home to sixty million people, and the country is unusually rich in natural resources. Despite this it has long been a country closed to the outer world—in this respect somewhat similar to North Korea. To state that an opening up towards democratic reform came suddenly to this nation is both self-evident and a bit of an exaggeration. When Burma—or Myanmar—used to be mentioned in international media it was often in connection with how in Aung San Sun Kyi’s days the political opposition was being harassed, or how she herself was sentenced to yet another period of house arrest. There has always been a democratic movement surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi, one that can count its beginnings back to 1988 to the student demonstrations that were brutally suppressed by the military regime. Since then, in the quiet, there has been a resilient and persistent opposition movement at work.
How might this new opening up towards democratic rule be understood? In a highly interesting text here on the Dissident Blog, James Byrne, an expert on Burma, writes about how the growing Chinese economy is making an imprint on the whole region, and that this economic superpower in the East is inspiring counter-reactions even from staunchly unwilling and authoritarian regimes. It would of course be an extremely happy outcome if merely economic growth in the region were to automatically result in the development of democratic movements—reality though is not quite that simple.