Seminar: Does Urbanization Equal Development in Myanmar?




About the Seminar

With the opening up of the country’s economy in its development drive, reforms in post-2011 Myanmar have linked urbanization with development.  In his speech inaugurating Myanmar’s Urban Research and Development Institute (URDI) in January 2012, then Union Minister of Construction Khin Maung Myint expressed his hope that the “URDI will assist the Government’s endeavours of building a new, modern and developed nation.” This fixation on modernization and development is not new for Myanmar, but it has taken on increased urgency since 2011. The country’s leaders have pursued economic integration with ASEAN and adopted a number of international standards, including the UN Millennium Development Goals, as near-term targets. In this drive to catch up with Myanmar’s neighbours and to reconnect with the global economy, these leaders see cities as the engines for economic development. But in the rush to make the country competitive there has been no discussion of what the urban is or what constitutes development. Other cities in the global South and postcolonial countries have encountered similar challenges, leading scholars to question the uncritical application of the tenets of development and neoliberal globalization to so-called developing nations. This seminar will focus on the making of the urban in Myanmar as a contingent and contested process that is increasingly subject to international circuits of authoritative knowledge. In particular, it asks, what is a city if it is not the production of space undertaken by its inhabitants? What are the roles and functions of cities in a reforming Myanmar? And what is Myanmar urbanism in a rapidly globalizing country?

About the Speaker

Jayde Lin Roberts is a spatial ethnographer and interdisciplinary scholar of the built environment. Her book, Mapping Chinese Rangoon: Place and Nation among the Sino-Burmese, was published by the University of Washington Press in June 2016. She is a tenured faculty member at the University of Tasmania and is currently in Myanmar as a Fulbright Scholar. Her ongoing research in Yangon examines discourses of development as presented by the British colonial government and the governments of independent Burma/Myanmar, as well as the current representation of development, which is strongly influenced by international standards and universalized expertise.


For registration, please fill in this form and email it to by 23 March 2017.

Seminar: Democratizing Myanmar’s National Security State




About the Seminar

The reforms of the past five years in Myanmar have often been described as surprising or insincere. Yet, by considering the nature of the military-led state that was established in the 1950-60s and has changed little since, we may discover that they are neither. The conceptualisation of the Myanmar state as a National Security State charts a middle ground in the highly polarized debates about Myanmar’s recent past, present and future by focusing sharply on the military core of the state and the significance of the Tatmadaw’s corporate interests, values and worldviews. Importantly, it offers both hope and some clear warnings for the country’s democrats and their well-wishers abroad.

About the Speaker

Dr Morten Pedersen is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of New South Wales Canberra (Australian Defence Force Academy). He previously spent six years in Myanmar with the International Crisis Group and has worked as a policy advisor also for the United Nations, the World Bank and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari. His major publications include Promoting Human Rights in Burma: A Critique of Western Sanctions Policies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008); with Anna Magnusson, A Good Office: Twenty Years of UN Mediation in Myanmar (International Peace Institute, 2012); and Democratising Myanmar’s National Security State (East-West Center, forthcoming).

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 23 May 2016.

Myanmar Forum 2016



ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, in partnership with the University of Michigan’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, will convene the Myanmar Forum 2016 on 20 May 2016.

This one-day Forum will engage Myanmar country specialists, business and government practitioners with an international audience of public and private sector actors interested in Myanmar’s development, to discuss the road ahead for Myanmar in 2016 and beyond. The Forum’s value over other discussions on Myanmar lies in the informed assessment by those involved in various aspects of the country’s reforms, and their candid discussion of the challenges it faces.The Forum will be a public event, open to registration by members of government, academia, research, business and civil society.

Click here for more info on the Myanmar Forum 2016.


Seminar: Myanmar Foreign Policy since 2011: Continuities and Changes





When the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) came to power in March 2011 and formed the government, one of the first activities was the official public announcement of its various policies, including a statement on Myanmar foreign policy. This seminar will examine continuities and changes in Myanmar foreign policy under the USDP government from a broader historical perspective. It raises the following questions: How do we explain and understand Myanmar foreign policy under the USDP government? Is there a continuality or change in Myanmar foreign policy and if so what are the factors that contribute to it? Who and which institutions are key driving forces behind Myanmar foreign policy at present?

This paper argues that the USDP government has adjusted its foreign policy without undermining the fundamental principles long practiced by successive governments in Myanmar. However, as it sets a foreign policy goal of reintegrating Myanmar within international community, the USDP government has pursued a foreign policy strategy based on multilateralism, with special attention to regional institutions and cooperative security, and reorientation of Myanmar’s foreign relations in the context of strategic competitions among great powers. While the foreign policy adjustment was driven by leadership, with the president as a prime mover, the military plays an influential and indispensable role in shaping and making it a reality and a success.


Dr Maung Aung Myoe is a Visiting Senior Fellow under the Myanmar Studies Programme at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.  He teaches at the International University of Japan (IUJ). He is also the Director of International Relations Program in the Graduate School of International Relations at IUJ. He earned his PhD in Political Science and International Relations from Australian National University. His research interests are civil-military relations, regional security in Southeast Asia, and the government and politics in Myanmar. He teaches Security and Strategy in International Relations, Foreign Policy Analysis and Southeast Asian International Relations.


To register, please complete this reply form and return it by fax: 6775-6264 or email: by 23 October 2015.


Seminar: Myanmar Elections 2015: Issues and Concerns




Myanmar is in the midst of three challenging transitions started by the reform process initiated in 2011.
These challenges are in 1) negotiating a lasting end to the decades-long conflict; 2) transitioning to
democracy from decades of authoritarian rule; and 3) most importantly, opening up the economy with
diversified external partnerships.
A defining point on the trajectory of this process is the general election set for 8 November 2015, where
voters in more than 300 constituencies countrywide will cast their votes for the one thousand or so
seats in the upper and lower houses of Myanmar’s parliament (Hluttaw) and for the national or local
assemblies in the country’s 14 administrative states and regions. The seats up for grabs do not include
the 25% of the total of seats; these are occupied by serving military officers appointed by the
Commander-in-Chief. The November 8 election results will set the stage for a second election in
parliament in early 2016 which will choose the top three executive positions (President and two Vice-
Presidents). Thus, even with a parliamentary win, the main opposition party, the National League for
Democracy (NLD) led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, will need at least two-thirds majority to counter the
military vote in choosing the next President. Under the current 2008 constitution, Daw Suu is not
eligible to be nominated or selected as such.
The 2015 general election is the first openly-contested election since 1990. Over 90 political parties are
competing for seats, but interest is focused on the two dominant large parties: the NLD and the
incumbent Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The NLD is tipped the most likely to win a
majority of seats in a country thirsty for change from military-dominant rule. Losses are predicted for
the ruling USDP, which is running on a “performance” platform. But the recent ousting of the Speaker
of Parliament Thura Shwe Mann from the USDP’s leadership indicates a determination on the part of
the incumbent to consolidate power bases. The USDP is now focused mainly on achieving a
nationwide ceasefire agreement with ethnic armed groups and start “political dialogue” towards
constitutional change. The other deliverable of economic growth and poverty reduction has largely
been urban-centric, and oriented towards attracting investments. The ambitious target of reducing the
country’s poverty rate to the regional (ASEAN) average of 16% by September 2015 now seems
The election campaign period started on August 8, amidst an atmosphere of anticipation. Myanmar’s
Union Election Commission has opened the election to international observers, some of whom are
already in the country to monitor the campaign. There is a widespread view that the 2015 election will
be freer and more credible than past elections (1990 and 2010), and hopes are high for a “genuinely
civilian government” that will carry through Myanmar’s political, administrative and economic transitions
successfully. However, observers and citizens alike are still hard-pressed to distinguish the nuances
and piece together the picture as a whole. This seminar will attempt to dissect the issues at stake, to
inform objective assessments on Myanmar’s future.



Dr Kyaw Yin Hlaing is a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council to president of
Myanmar; member of the Myanmar Peace Centre Secretariat; director of Myanmar Egress, an NGO
concerned with political change in the country; and former Associate Director of the Southeast Asia
Research Centre at City University of Hong Kong.

Mr Kyaw Zwa Moe is editor of the Irrawaddy magazine (English Edition). After spending eight years in
prison for publishing an underground newspaper critical of military rule, Kyaw Zwa became part of the
exile media based in Thailand, starting 2000. He joined the Irrawaddy, established since 1992 by his
brother Aung Zaw. Kyaw Zwa now heads the Yangon bureau of the Irrawaddy, as part of initial steps to
build up the Irrawaddy’s reporting presence in the country.

Dr Ma Thida is one of Myanmar’s leading public intellectuals. She is a medical doctor, a writer, a
human rights advocate and former prisoner of conscience who now has an important role in helping
societies and communities in Myanmar play a part in the current reform process. She founded Pen
Myanmar Centre in 2014, with a threefold mission to: conduct a media watch on issues related to
freedom of expression; organise public discussions about literature and develop a culture of literature
in Myanmar; and to make literature a part of the educational curriculum in the country, promoting
creative writing.


To register, please complete this reply form and return it by fax: 6775-6264 or email: by 1 October 2015.

The Ethnic Chinese of Myanmar: A Multidisciplinary Workshop



With the opening up of Myanmar to foreign researchers over the last decade, more recent empirical research has also emerged concerning the ethnic Chinese of Myanmar. This workshop serves as a platform for reviewing the latest research on the topic from a multidisciplinary perspective.

The workshop covers issues related to political and social history, cultural identity, citizenship and subjectivity, and the impact of the rise of China on the Chinese community. At the same time, the workshop will facilitate networking and the exploration of further collaborative efforts to fill pertinent gaps in research on the Myanmar Chinese.

View Programme

Best wishes,

Dr Hui Yew-Foong
Co-coordinator of Workshop & ISEAS Senior Fellow


All registrations are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Admission to the workshop can only be taken as confirmed upon receiving written acceptance from the Institute.

To register, please complete and email this Registration Form to, latest by Tuesday, 25 August 2015.