The U.S Election: Implications for Myanmar


US President-elect Donald Trump looks out at the press during a press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, New York, USA, 11 January 2017. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA

Trump’s victory as 45th president of the United States has caused deep concern and anxieties about the future of the United States and the world order. Given Trump’s foreign policy approaches that favour a business-like minded, isolationist stance and “inward-looking” foreign policy, it is widely expected that the U.S’s strategy on global politics will bring new dynamics to the world order. One of the most significant dynamics is the rise of nationalism that unites nationalist leaders as a “league of nationalists,” where world top leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump have come to agree on several issues.

The rise of nationalism has brought protectionism, isolationism and conservatism as the recommenced fashion of the world order. Just like other nationalist leaders, Trump has proposed foreign and trade policies that favour an isolationist, anti-intervention and anti-trade stance based on his “America first” agenda. Trump’s proposed foreign policies, for example, lean towards an “inward-looking” foreign policy with the possible consequence of withdrawing the U.S’ power balance act against China in Asia region. As for trade policies, he has promised to cancel TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), signed by 12 Pacific Rim countries alongside the U.S. Moreover, Trump has also proposed to withdraw the U.S’ role in the negotiations with TTIP and its membership from NAFTA. He argues such a move is to stop American manufacturing jobs relocating to foreign countries because of the cheaper labour costs.

Hence, there are possible effects of Trump’s policies and the future of the U.S-Myanmar relations. Trump’s victory has an impact on Myanmar at the social, political, economic and development level. 

In terms of social factor, Trump’s rhetoric on Islam has emboldened ultra-nationalist and anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar, which raised tension in society and this leads to significant political complication. The widespread anti-Muslim sentiment among the majority of Burmese is posing a great amount of tension in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine state. Consequently, the foreign press speaks of the government’s inability to deal with issues related to human rights and ethnoreligious tensions; and the international community seeks to pressure Myanmar on this issue.

On a more political level, the U.S’ future disengagement from Asia also affects Myanmar’s politics as one can assume the U.S’ support to Myanmar’s transition will reduce. The relations and support of the U.S play a vital role in Myanmar’s democratisation. Without it, Myanmar would not face any pressure from U.S for not meeting democratic values. This may have the effect of weakening the National League for Democracy’s legitimacy. Moreover, the lack of contacts at the personal level between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the U.S’ leaders would leave her less powerful internally. The military will as a consequence keep its stronghold on the country.

As for the economic and development level, the interest rate of US dollar increased rapidly since the U.S election. This could affect Myanmar in the development factors like building infrastructures, as the rise of US dollar would bring the increase of the costs for these projects. Although Obama lifted the trade embargo and economic sanctions, Myanmar currently does not have a lot of U.S investment in the country. Trade between the two countries is also minimal in comparison with other neighbouring countries such as China and Thailand where border trades occurs.

In order to deal with the uncertainties that Trump’s victory has brought, Myanmar should consider the following policy recommendations. 

  • Myanmar should focus on the 21st-century Panlong peace negotiation process, a nationwide ceasefire agreement that has selective ethnic armed groups participate, in order to reduce the internal tension and the external pressure Myanmar faces. 
  • Myanmar should pay close attention to the matters in Rakhine state through a peaceful negotiation at both domestic and international levels. At the domestic level, the government should put efforts in the security of both Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim people to reduce the current violence rate. This would ease the bilateral tensions with Muslim nations in ASEAN and Malaysia in particular. This will further prevent other ASEAN countries from using Myanmar’s domestic problems for their own political agenda.
  • Myanmar should put more efforts into retaining a good relationship with the US, regardless of who is the leader of the United States as institutional relationships are the basis on which countries actually build their binding relationships. While people to people approaches can be effective, it can also be limited as they are not legally binding.
  • Myanmar should embrace the strategic weight of China by engaging more towards ASEAN as the disengagement of the U.S in Asia is in a clear picture. In order to hedge against China, Myanmar should diversify its strategic options by encouraging its regional partners to build a stronger regional order.
  • Myanmar should endorse peaceful regional environment by promoting nuclear-free zone in Asia in order to prevent the destabilisation of an Asia regional order. 
  • As for global counter-terrorism, Myanmar should pursue a cooperative approach with the member states of ASEAN, propose the regional security policy implementation, and find solutions towards international terrorism through ASEAN Regional Forum.
  • Myanmar should focus on its economy with sound economic policies and practices including monetary policies to assess whether any impacts from external and unforeseen forces such as the U.S election and the unexpected victory of Donald Trump would have created a lot of uncertainties internationally. Myanmar should develop good policies accompanied by concrete action plans based on solid numbers and statistic rather than political rhetoric.

Authors’ Information

Ziwa Naing was the Research Project Coordinator at Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Study (MISIS), where he took a leading role in developing research projects and supervising young researchers.  He is the former Director of National Economic and Social Advisory Council (NESAC) and Secretary General of Myanmar Agriculture Network.  He is a keen observer of Myanmar politics and a strong supporter of on-going reform initiatives in Myanmar.  He holds two masters degrees in International Relations specialising in Human Rights, International Laws and Peace and Security.  He is also a certified career ICT professional with many years of experience and holds an MBA.  His research interests include political economy, geopolitics, regional security and development.  He is currently based in Sydney.  

Saw Tha Wah completed his International Relations master degree at Assumption University, Thailand in November 2016. He was part of the MISIS – NUPI research project as an independent researcher.  He is interested to become an IR scholar and further studies in international politics. He contributes research papers to this project and his research interests include Myanmar’s foreign-policy behaviour, security and geopolitics, strategies, China–Myanmar relations, and the linkage between domestic politics and foreign policy. He also has a keen interest in research capacity building in the field of politics through academic training and research. He is currently planning to start a not-for-profit study centre in Myanmar. He is currently based in Yangon. 


The views expressed in this paper are authors’ own.  The full policy brief on “The U.S Election: Implications for Myanmar” has been published online by the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) as part of a joint project by MISIS and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It can be accessed through www.myanmarisis.org.

More Articles