The Wa of Myanmar and China’s Quest for Global Dominance

Bertil Lintner

Lintner Book Cover

  • Published: 2021
  • Pages: 280 pp.
  • 1 illustration, 1 map (B&W)
  • Series: NIAS Monographs
  • Series number: 156
Available in Europe from NIAS Press
ISBN Paperback: 978-87-7694-306-6, £19.99 (March 2021)
  • A compelling account of ethnic conflict, drug barons and Chinese geopolitical ambitions.
  • A rare, close-up look at the Wa of northeast Myanmar, a little-known hill people whose armed forces are the largest and best-equipped military non-state actor in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Reveals how the Wa have come to play a pivotal role in Beijing’s current efforts to extend its influence in Myanmar.
  • Maps how China’s Belt and Road Initiative intersects with the Golden Triangle.

Shan State in the north-eastern corner of Myanmar has long been plagued by conflict in various forms – political insurrection, ethnic strife and drug wars. It is also part of the Golden Triangle, one of the main global centres of illicit drug production. The region is home to the Wa, a tribal hill people straddling the Chinese border who in the past three decades have built a military force (the United Wa State Army). Originally a Maoist insurgent army under Burmese leadership, from 1989 it became the vehicle for Wa power and is now the largest and best-equipped military non-state actor in the Asia-Pacific region. Chinese economic, political and military support also ensure the Wa have retained their autonomy. Today, they continue to dominate the local drug trade, which feeds half of Asia’s consumption of amphetamines, and operate a lucrative cross-border casino industry.

In The Wa of Myanmar and China’s Quest for Global Dominance, Lintner provides a rare, close-up look of this little-known people. He was the only foreign journalist to visit the Wa areas when controlled by communist insurgents and has returned there since. In a book relevant to current debates about geopolitics in Asia, the illicit drug trade, Myanmar’s decades-long civil wars and ongoing efforts to negotiate a settlement, Lintner traces the history of the Wa Hills and the struggles of its people.

The author then demonstrates the global relevance of the Wa, revealing how they have come to play a pivotal role in Beijing’s current efforts to extend its influence in Myanmar. He also maps how China’s Belt and Road Initiative intersects with the Golden Triangle.

This is, then, a compelling account of ethnic conflict, drug barons and Chinese geopolitical ambitions that will appeal to anyone interested in these issues, be they students or scholars of Burma; diplomats, policy-makers or security professionals; or the general reader.

Bertil Lintner

Bertil Lintner is an award-winning Swedish journalist, author and strategic consultant who lives in Thailand and has been writing about Asia for nearly four decades. Mainly focusing on organized crime (including the drug trade), ethnic and political insurgencies, and regional security, he has written extensively about Myanmar to which he returns with this study. He first visited the Wa area when it was controlled by communist insurgents, the only foreign journalist to do so, and has returned since.

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