Military Capitalism in Myanmar: Examining the Origins, Continuities and Evolution of Burmese ‘Khaki Capital’



About the Seminar

Long-running popular and elite resistance to purely profit-seeking enterprises, especially foreign companies, has shaped Myanmar’s post-colonial economic development. Military businesses, ostensibly set up to feed and supply military personnel, were some of the earliest and largest Burmese commercial conglomerates, established in the early 1950s. The state military, or Tatmadaw, established two profit-seeking enterprises, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) after the dissolution of Ne Win’s socialist dictatorship in 1988. They remain major players in Myanmar’s economy, deliver significant off-budget revenue for the Tatmadaw and are an important employer of retired military personnel. Yet, compared to those of Thailand and Indonesia, the Myanmar case has received little research assessing the continuities and evolution of ‘khaki capitalism’ (Chambers and Napisa 2017). This seminar will examine the origins of military capitalism in Myanmar and assess the ways in which contemporary conglomerates are evolving with the transition to partial civilian rule since 2011. In particular, it probes whether military companies deliver the social welfare outcomes that they claim to achieve; examines how revenue generated and taxation arrangements shape civil-military relations in a more democratic period; and assesses the potential implications of military capitalism for the ongoing peace process. The seminar is informed by more than forty interviews with veterans, civil servants, business-people, policy-makers, researchers and others with experience of military affairs and conglomerates conducted between September and November 2018.

About the Speaker

Gerard McCarthy is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak, Singapore and Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Centre at the Australian National University (ANU). His doctoral dissertation in the ANU Department of Political and Social Change examined the historical and contemporary dynamics of market reform and state-society relations in Myanmar. His writing and commentary have appeared and is forthcoming in journals including Conflict, Security and Development, The Journal of Contemporary Asia and SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia and through outlets such as The New York Times, the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute and New Mandala. He has advised and consulted for a range of agencies including the International Growth Centre, the United States Institute of Peace, the Carter Centre and TechChange. He was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Yangon’s Department of International Relations throughout 2015.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 14 December 2018.


Dec 17 2018


10:30 am - 12:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2