Princeton University Library Catalog

Democracy as a Tool to Sovereignty: Myanmar’s Democratic Reforms as a Means for Greater Autonomy in the Face of Growing Chinese Influence

Zhao, Jennifer [Browse]
Senior thesis
Centeno, Miguel [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
117 pages
Summary note:
Myanmar’s military government was subjected to a number of economic and diplomatic sanctions after the violent repression of peaceful democracy activists in 1988. Subsequent human rights abuses only increased Myanmar’s estrangement from the international community. In 2010, Myanmar’s junta government made the surprising decision to transition into a parliamentary democracy and implement a series of liberal reforms. This paper examines the reasons behind the junta’s decision to democratize. It argues that Myanmar’s political transition diverges from the conventional political theory that state sovereignty is a prerequisite to democratization. Instead, in the case of Myanmar, democracy is used as a tool to gain sovereignty in the face of growing Chinese influence. After the junta seized power in 1988, China became one of the few countries willing to engage with Myanmar. This led to a dramatic increase in Chinese influence in Myanmar’s social, political, and economic affairs over the course of the junta’s regime. Though Western media painted the junta as a close ally to Beijing, this paper will analyze how the junta’s decision to democratize acted as a response to cut back Chinese influence on Myanmar domestic and foreign policy. It will analyze how the democratic reforms allowed Myanmar’s central government to gain greater autonomy by increasing the number of its potential economic partners, thereby lessening the importance of Chinese interests in Myanmar policies.