The Most Popular Stories of 2020

By The Irrawaddy 30 December 2020

YANGON—As 2020 draws to a close, The Irrawaddy takes a step back and presents a compilation of the year’s most noteworthy stories as chosen by you, our readers. The following articles were the most read among the many features, commentaries, analyses, interviews and lifestyle pieces we published throughout 2020. The topics are diverse, but our readers’ attention was dominated by two issues: COVID-19 and the election. You also showed a strong interest in our take on Chinese investment in its various forms, from the huge BRI scheme to a shady gambling hub in Karen State. The broader, and related, topics of Myanmar’s relations with the two rival giants on its borders, India and China, were of consistent interest. And while the pandemic forced us to scale back our usually lively art and restaurant coverage, readers’ curiosity was aroused by profiles of an artist who turned his attention to the frustrations of lockdown and a company that acted quickly to offer food delivery services to stranded Yangon residents, among many others. We hope you enjoy this in-depth look at a difficult year gone by, and extend our best wishes for the year to come.


In Myanmar’s Karen State, Ex-Insurgents Create a Haven for Chinese Casino Bosses

Myanmar’s military and government have looked the other way as a megaproject backed by shadowy Chinese interests threatens peace and social stability in Karen State.

The Myanmar Govt Has Been Spared a Real Test on Coronavirus—but No One’s Luck Lasts Forever

The government has been slow to act on coronavirus, on both the health and economic fronts; so far only luck has spared it a real test of its crisis-management skills.

In Myanmar, It’s Time to Stop the Senseless War and Fight COVID-19

Myanmar’s military and the country’s ethnic armed groups now face a common enemy in COVID-19, but this fact has yet to be grasped in all parts of the country.

Myanmar’s Ruling NLD Must Address Its Achilles’ Heel: Choosing the Wrong People

As the National League for Democracy prepares for this year’s election, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains popular, but voters see few other figures in the party to admire.

Western Media Fail to Grasp Meaning of Myanmar Ruling Party’s Election Win

While insulting voters, Western media dismissed the NLD’s election win as a display of blind faith in Suu Kyi; the world’s understanding of Myanmar is the poorer for it.


Mysterious Signs of Impending China-Backed Railway Worry Villagers in Myanmar’s Shan State

Strange markers in villages along a planned China-backed railway in Shan State suggest the project is proceeding without input from locals, who fear for their futures.

Weaving Local Threads: How A Myanmar Designer Built Her Brand, Art Che Lone

A local Yangon clothing designer has built a made-in-Myanmar brand selling trendy, colorful and simple clothes for women, made entirely from Inle Lake cotton.

Westerner Behind the Wheel

In the first of six articles about touring by car outside Yangon, Oliver Hargreave describes his first experience driving in Myanmar.


While Elephants Enjoy Some Rest, Humans Suffer as COVID-19 Hits Thai Tourism

At one of Thailand’s biggest elephant parks in Chiang Mai, the pachyderms and Myanmar migrants wait in vain for tourists to return.

Myanmar Migrants Flock to Bangkok to Vote

Registered voters based in Thailand are taking time off work, traveling overnight and braving COVID-19 restrictions to take part in the Nov. 8 general election.


Myanmar’s Generals Aren’t Happy With China—and It’s No Longer a Secret

In a clear signal to China, Tatmadaw commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing has warned that ‘strong forces’ are backing insurgent groups in Myanmar.

Has Myanmar’s Submarine Purchase From India Hit a Nerve in Beijing?

A recent Chinese state media article mocking the Tatmadaw’s ‘outdated’ new submarine suggests feathers are being ruffled in Beijing over closer India-Myanmar ties.

Incoming Myanmar Govt Must Tackle Chinese Casino Haven in Myawaddy

The presence of a Chinese-backed gambling and illicit trade hub in Karen State makes a mockery of Myanmar’s sovereignty; the incoming government must clean it up.

What’s in Store for Myanmar in 2020 and Beyond?

In this election year, we must be honest about the scope of the challenges that Myanmar faces, but let’s also continue to hope for progress toward peace and prosperity.

Myanmar Will Benefit From Deeper Ties With India

As China’s influence grows, Myanmar would do well to seek stronger contributions from India to the country’s development, democratic transition and military capacity.


When Yangon’s Avenues Traded Colonial English Names for Burmese

On this day in 1989, the then-military government changed the names of 165 streets in Yangon, dropping their English colonial names in favor of Burmese language replacements.

The Building that Dominated Inland Water Trade in British Burma

The Irrawaddy Flotilla Company dominated river trade during the colonial period from its headquarters on Strand Road, which is the Myanma Port Authority building today.

Standing for Nearly 170 Years, This Yangon Monastery Has Been a Key Site for Two Religions in Myanmar

One of the oldest structures in Yangon, the Norman Kyaung Kyi Htaik has been a place of learning—first for Christian missionaries and later for Buddhist monks—since 1852.

The Site That’s Still Publishing Myanmar’s Official Documents After More Than a Century

Yangon’s Government Press Building played a key role in the official life of British Burma, and has continued printing documents for Myanmar’s governments ever since.

Singaporean and Myanmar Artists Blend Photos and Poetry at ‘Tempo(rary)’

“Tempo(rary)” is an exhibition by Myanmar artist Maung Day and Singaporean artist Marc Nair, featured at Singapore Festival 2020 and now on display at Rosewood Yangon.


Flashpoints: Myanmar’s Eight Most Hotly Contested Constitutional Amendment Proposals

Parliament will vote on constitutional amendments next week. The most contentious are those put forward by NLD and ethnic MPs seeking to oust the military from politics.

Chinese Electricity: Blessing or Curse for Myanmar?

Hungry for electricity, Myanmar is accepting China’s offers of cheap LNG stations and crossborder transmissions. But relying on Chinese power poses dangers, experts warn.

Man With Shady Background Behind a Political Party in Myanmar

The United Democratic Party is fielding more than 1,000 candidates in November’s election but its leader, U Kyaw Myint, has failed to answer questions about his past.

Two Possible ‘Keys’ to Unlocking Charter Reform in Myanmar

Among more than 100 proposed amendments submitted by the NLD, two in particular have the potential to remove the military’s power to block constitutional reform.

In Western Myanmar, State Counselor’s Praise for Tatmadaw Causes Unease

In Rakhine and Chin, where many people have been killed or displaced by air strikes, the majority do not share the State Counselor’s view of the army as their protector.


Taiwan’s Representative Vows to Help Myanmar Build Capacity to Fight COVID-19

Taiwan’s representative in Myanmar talks to The Irrawaddy about Taipei’s success in fighting COVID-19 and offers his thoughts on the post-pandemic investment landscape.

Nation Building in Myanmar an ‘Ongoing Process’: Outgoing EU Ambassador

Outgoing EU envoy Kristian Schmidt praised Myanmar people’s willingness to sacrifice for democracy and conceded the Rohingya issue dominates Western views of the country.

Suu Kyi Economic Adviser: National Interest Must Come First When Deciding Large Chinese Investments in Myanmar

Unlike its predecessors, the NLD govt is ensuring deals with China benefit Myanmar, Sean Turnell, adviser to the State Counselor, tells The Irrawaddy in an interview.

COVID-19 Response ‘a Chance to Reimagine Myanmar’s Future’

The government’s COVID-19 strategy should aim for long-term structural change to the economy, historian and policy-planning expert Thant Myint-U told The Irrawaddy.

‘I Can See the UEC Does Not Want Elections’ in Rakhine, Japanese Envoy to Myanmar Says

Japanese envoy Yohei Sasakawa tells The Irrawaddy he is disappointed with the Union Election Commission for not acting on his advice that voting can be held in Rakhine.


Photos Reveal Impact of Illegal Banana Plantations on Workers, Land in Myanmar’s Kachin State

At the Yangon Photo Festival, Hkun Li’s exhibition ‘The Price of Bananas’ chronicles the human and environmental cost of illegal banana plantations in Kachin State.

Yangon Photo Festival Spotlights Some of Myanmar’s Pressing Issues

Showcasing work by photographers from Myanmar and beyond, the 12th Yangon Photo Festival addresses issues like environmental threats, peace-building and social justice.

Yangon Photo Festival Awards Address Myanmar’s Pressing Issues

The Yangon Photo Festival awards have honored photographers who brought attention to the poor and forgotten across Myanmar.

Myanmar Artist Captures Frustration, Isolation of COVID-19 Lockdown on Canvas

Artist Ko Sid’s latest series of paintings depict the feelings of confinement and estrangement he has experienced at home during the COVID-19 restrictions.

Myanmar’s Green Future Art and Environment Festival Moves Online Amid COVID-19

Marking its 10th anniversary—and the 50th Earth Day—amid the COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s Green Future Art and Environment Festival has moved online.


TIMELINE: China-Myanmar Relations

This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the People’s Republic of China. The Irrawaddy presents a timeline of key events.

Timeline: Irregularities & Significant Events from Toddler Rape Case in Myanmar

The Irrawaddy provides an overview of key events and controversies in the prominent child-rape case while the culprit is still at large.

The Untouchable Articles in Myanmar’s Constitution

The Irrawaddy presents what the military and its proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party did not want to be changed in the 2008 Constitution.

Six BRI Projects in Myanmar to Monitor During Chinese President Xi’s Trip

President Xi Jinping is likely to secure agreements on six key BRI projects when he makes the first visit by a Chinese head of state in nearly two decades this week.

In the News: Revisions for 2020

The Irrawaddy offers a selection of analyses, commentaries and interviews published in 2019 that shed light on key issues likely to continue shaping the nation this year.


What Will 2020 Mean for Myanmar’s Democracy?

The Irrawaddy talks with writer U Kyaw Win and member of Parliament Ma Zin Mar Aung about the challenges facing Myanmar in 2020, from the Constitution to the election.

Myanmar’s Lawyers Made Feeble Case at ICJ: Legal Expert

Dr. Salai Ngun Cung Lian of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Study says Myanmar’s lawyers failed to challenge genocide charges at the International Court of Justice.

Can Myanmar’s Police Force Be Reformed?

The Irrawaddy talks to Hnin Hnin Hmwe of the Democratic Party for a New Society and advocate Kyee Myint about police reform and a recent blunder in the Victoria rape case.

Is Myanmar’s Democracy Lost in a Labyrinth of Constitutional Amendment?

As the long process to amend Myanmar’s Constitution appears lost, The Irrawaddy sits down with lawmakers U Aung Thein and U Sai Tun Aye to look for a way out.

NLD Missteps and What They Would Herald for 2020 Election

The Irrawaddy talks to National League for Democracy information secretary Monywa Aung Shin about the NLD’s missteps since 2015 and how it can clean up its act before November


Tha Gyi Thamee Restaurant: Serving Upper Myanmar Cuisine

Tha Gyi Thamee, a restaurant opened last year in Yangon, serves simple, home-style cuisine from Upper Myanmar’s ah nyar region and offers unique, sustainable to-go boxes.

Plenty of Food Delivery Options for Yangon Residents Practicing Home Quarantine

To cater to the many people who are choosing to self-isolate amid the coronavirus outbreak, a number of Yangon eateries are providing food delivery services.

Myanmar’s Food Delivery Boosted by COVID-19 Restrictions

Food deliveries are becoming increasingly popular as coronavirus restrictions limit Myanmar’s culinary options.

Parami Pizza Adjusts Well to Downtown Hotspot

Parami Pizza Downtown is serving up a storm on Strand Road with authentic Italian dishes and an intoxicating range of drinks.

Yangon’s Italian Food Festival Returns With Wine, Cheese and Culture

The Italian Embassy throws its second Italian Food Festival on Feb. 23 with fine food and wine as well as activities including chances to make your own pizza and mozzarella.

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