Last updated in March 2013
Prior to the suppression of the democracy movement in August 1988, relations between Germany and Burma (since 1989: Myanmar) were close, thanks mainly to Germany’s substantial development assistance. The state visit by Federal President von Weizsäcker in February 1986 and the return visit by President San Yu to Germany in October 1987 were high points in bilateral relations. The GDR for its part maintained close political relations with Burma’s then socialist military government.
The political events of August 1988 and the human rights violations in Myanmar, culminating in the bloody suppression of the mass protests in September 2007, severely strained German-Myanmari relations. Beginning in 1990, the European Union imposed restrictive measures on the country, which from 1996 onwards were subsumed under its Common Position on Burma/Myanmar.
As the country has opened up and EU sanctions have been largely suspended, bilateral relations have intensified. Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s trip to Myanmar in April 2012 represents, for the time being, a high point in the series of frequent high-level mutual visits.
Since the 1990s, economic relations between Myanmar and Germany have stagnated at a low level as a result of the unfavourable overall economic and political situation. In 2012, though, there was overall a marked increase in the volume of bilateral trade, which grew by some 50 per cent compared with 2011. German exports to Myanmar doubled in value, to approximately EUR 99 million. The value of German imports from Myanmar declined, however, to approximately EUR 44 million, compared with some EUR 61 million in 2011. Myanmar’s principal exports to Germany are garments and its main imports from Germany are machinery, paints and lacquers, pharmaceutical products and plastics. The aggregate volume of German direct investments in Myanmar amounts to only about USD 15 million. No new investments by German companies are known to have been made in Myanmar in recent years but German businesses are currently showing a keen interest in Myanmar. There are hopes that the civilian government’s reform course will lead to a further intensification of economic relations. The Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) plans to open a delegate office in Myanmar before the end of 2013.
In August 2012, the Interministerial Committee on Export Credit Guarantees decided to resume offering Hermes export credit guarantees for business transactions with Myanmar – initially limiting such guarantees to private-sector transactions worth a maximum of EUR 250,000 EUR and for credit periods of less than a year.
Development cooperation and humanitarian assistance
In July 2012, it was agreed to resume development cooperation between Myanmar and Germany, which had been suspended for the past 25 years. As part of the priority area Sustainable Economic Development, projects are initially focusing on vocational training, the support of Myanmar’s financial and banking sector and the development of its private sector. Germany is making EUR 12.5 million available for this purpose. In addition, Germany is providing, through non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, some EUR 9 million annually to fund projects in the following areas: humanitarian assistance, poverty reduction, drug crop substitution, health care and education.
Germany’s signing of a joint declaration with Myanmar’s Ministry of Culture during the visit to the country by Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Pieper in September 2012 paved the way for the reopening of the Goethe Institute there, which was closed in 1965, and for an intensification of academic and scientific exchange between the two countries. Myanmar’s Minister of Culture is invited to visit Germany in early March 2013. The minister’s programme will include talks on a cultural agreement and the opening of a Goethe-Institute in Rangoon.
A number of German institutions in Myanmar currently award postgraduate scholarships. Every year, some 15 to 25 Myanmar scientists and academics visit Germany for study or research purposes. There are currently five cooperation agreements between German and Myanmar universities. Various other agreements are at the planning stage. A German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) long-term lecturer has been working at the University of Yangon since October 2012 for what will probably be an 18-month period.
A fixture in Myanmar’s cultural calendar is the annual European Film Festival in Rangoon, organized in cooperation with EU partners. In 2012, numerous concerts and workshops by German musicians are again being held in Myanmar.
German is spoken by some 1,600 citizens of Myanmar and is taught only at the German faculties of the Universities of Foreign Languages (UFL) in Rangoon and Mandalay, with the support of the German Embassy and the regional Goethe Institute. Since August 2009, a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) lecturer has been working at the UFL in Rangoon. The Goethe Institute plans to resume its German language courses some time this year.