The Struggle for the Shan State

Authors: Jill Martin*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Asia, China, Political Geography
Keywords: Political Geography, Chinese investment, Civil War, Myanmar, Defacto Statehood, South China Sea
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2020
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Plaza Court 8, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Shan State has for almost its entire history fallen outside the political control of Myanmar who legally controls the territory. The region has been engaged in a long-standing civil war encompassing dozens of competing groups. In addition to the central government, and numerous ethnic groups, the region is also a major supplier of narcotics, further complicating regional dynamics. With the history of distrust between the Shan State and the central government of Myanmar, China looms large funding infrastructure and promoting Chinese immigration into the region as part of the One Belt, One Road initiative. Chinese investment in this region is of particular interest as it would provide China with a trade route which would circumvent the Malacca Strait. As tensions rise in the South China Sea, China may be seeking a trade route that avoids the area. The most direct route geographically and politically would be to exploit Myanmar’s access to the Indian Ocean a plan which would necessitate passage through the tumultuous Shan State. This paper looks at literature published on the subject to understand the history of the conflict in the Shan State, reasons why the conflict has continued, and what may happen in the future as China gains international standing and makes moves in the Shan State.

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