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Myanmar (officially: Pyidaungsu Thamada Myanmar Naing-Ngan Daw) was called until 1989 Burma, named after the largest ethnic group of the country, the Burmese. The country lies in Southeast Asia and, with an area of 676 578 km², is the second largest country in this region after Indonesia (almost twice as large as Germany). Myanmar borders the Indian Ocean to the south, Bangladesh and India to the west, the People’s Republic of China to the north and Laos and Thailand to the east.

In the south of the country, Myanmar has an approximately 80 km wide area (Tenasserim) share of the Malacca peninsula. This part of the country is mountainous and reaches altitudes of over 2 000 m. Off the coast lies the Mergui archipelago with more than 800 islands.

In the west of Myanmar mountains form a landscape border to the Indian subcontinent, the Patkai mountains (Pahkaing Bum) rises up to 3 800 m, the mountain range of the Arakan Yoma up to scarcely 3 000 m. In the extreme north of the country, the Patkai Mountains merge into the marginal mountains of the eastern Himalayas, where the Hkakabo Razi rises, which at 5 881 m is the highest mountain in Myanmar. The eastern part of the country is occupied by the karstified Shan Highlands, which are about 1,000 m above sea level on average.

Between this highland in the east and the mountain ranges in the west lies the fertile plain of the Irrawaddy Basin, which is about 160 km wide and has a north-south extension of about 1 100 km. The Irawadi is the longest river in Myanmar with a length of around 2 000 km and forms a delta of around 47 000 km² at its mouth in the Indian Ocean in the south. The capital of Myanmar, Yangon (Rangoon), is located in the southern part of the country.

Political System

Myanmar is a presidential republic with military influence under the 2008 constitution. The president (Thein Sein, since March 2011) is head of state and government and is elected by parliament every five years.

The parliament is divided into the National Chamber (Amyotha Hluttaw) and the People’s Chamber (Pyithu Hluttaw). The National Chamber has 224 members (169 elected, 56 appointed military personnel), the People’s Chamber has 440 members (330 elected, 110 appointed military personnel). Both parts of parliament are elected for a term of five years. Myanmar is divided into seven states (pyi ne-myar) and seven provinces (taing-myar).

Economy

Myanmar was one of the wealthiest Asian countries until the early 1960s. However, the socialist planned economy caused the economy to suffer severe setbacks. At the end of the 1980s, the first measures towards a free market economy were taken, such as the reprivatization of state-owned enterprises. The government has initiated comprehensive economic reforms since 2011.

The annual per capita income amounts to only about 900 US dollars. The reasons for this are the cumbersome and corrupt administrative apparatus and the outdated infrastructure. In addition, the pronounced black market in drugs, precious woods and precious stones weakens the Myanmar economy.

Agriculture continues to be the most important sector of the economy, accounting for 35% of gross domestic product. Many of the farms are organised as cooperatives. Rice, sugar cane, pulses and millet are grown to meet the population’s food needs. In addition to rice as an important export product (Burma was the world’s largest exporter of rice until 1945), peanuts, jute and cotton are grown for export. Myanmar also cultivates poppy, the raw material for opium and heroin. The focus is on the so-called Golden Triangle in the border region with Laos and Thailand. The export of teak wood is important in forestry. Due to the predominant belief (Buddhism) cattle breeding is almost without importance.

Myanmar is a resource-rich country (ores and oil, lead and zinc, precious stones such as sapphires, rubies, jade), but so far only a part of the mineral resources is mined. Rich natural gas deposits are the main source of economic growth. The underdeveloped industrial sector employs about 10% of the labour force. The food and textile industries are predominant, and the capital Yangon (Rangon) also has chemical and petrochemical industries. Income from tourism is increasing, but still plays a subordinate role.

All ten member states of ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and thus also Myanmar belong to the Asian Free Trade Area (AFTA), which was founded in 1994. The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement came into force in 2002. Exports (natural gas, clothing, wood products, fish and rice) are supplied to Thailand, India and China. The required machinery, consumer goods, vehicles, building materials and food come from China, Singapore and Thailand.