ST Lee Lecture 2019

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

For a few fleeting years in the early 2010s, Burma seemed set on a path to democracy, peace and prosperity. In many in the West, the story began with the 1988 uprising and the emergence of Aung San Suu Kyi, first as a courageous fighter against a a vile military junta, then as a global icon for universal values and human rights. Her landslide victory in 2015 appeared to mark the beginning of an uplifting final chapter but then the story appeared to dramatically change course, with the Rohingya violence and exodus of 2016-17 capturing headlines around the world and leading many outside to scratch their heads and wonder what they missed.

Dr Thant Myint-U will offer an alternative story of Burma in the 21st century, set within the deeper context of colonialism and anti-colonialism as well as the the more recent past of war, dictatorship, and isolation. He will examine the evolution of thinking on issues of race and identity as well as the evolution of the country's peculiar political economy, tied intimately since the early 1990s to the anarchic borderlands between Burma and China.

He will suggest that Burma, rather than being a simple morality tale between dictators and democrats has become instead a stage for many of the world's contemporary challenges, from the impact of social media and shifting balances in global power, to soaring inequality, climate change and the rise of ethno-nationalism.

Reception from 5.30pm followed by the lecture commencing at 6.30pm.

About the speaker

Dr Thant Myint-U is an award-winning historian, writer, conservationist and a former adviser to the president of Myanmar. He was educated at Harvard and Trinity College, Cambridge, completing his PhD in history at Cambridge in 1996 and teaching British imperial and Asian history as a Fellow of Trinity College until 2000.

Dr Thant Myint-U has served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations, in Cambodia (1992-1993) and the former Yugoslavia (1994-1996) and at the UN Secretary in New York (2000-2007), including as Director of Policy Planning in the Department of Political Affairs. From 2003-2005 he was primarily responsible for Secretary-General Kofi Annan's High-Level Panel on UN reform and inter-governmental negotiations leading to the 2005 World Summit.

Dr Thant Myint-U has been living and working in Burma for the past ten years. He is the founder and chairman emeritus of the Yangon Heritage Trust, chairman of U Thant House (a leading discussion centre), and a founding partner of the Ava Advisory Group. He has also served on the president of Myanmar's National Economic and Social Advisory Council (2011-2015), as a special adviser on the peace process to the government of Myanmar (2012-2015), and in several other advisory roles.

He has lectured widely and is the author of numerous articles as well as four books, including Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (2012). His newest book, The Hidden History of Burma: A Story of Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century, will be published this autumn.

About the ST Lee Lecture on Asia and the Pacific

The ST Lee Lecture series was established following an endowment from Dr Seng Tee Lee (ST Lee) of the Lee Foundation in Singapore. It supports an annual lecture that provides the opportunity for a distinguished figure from the Asia Pacific to speak on developments or trends in the region.

Image courtesy of ANU College of Asia and the Pacific student Tony Gu.