Stalemate reveals the history and contemporary politics of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Asia's strongest insurgent army on Myanmar's border with China. This ethnographic tale recounts how a highland group, often dismissed as rebels or narcotraffickers, maintains a relational autonomy between two powerful lowland states. The Wa polity engages rather than evades these surrounding states, yet struggles to fit into their registers of sovereignty and statehood.
Andrew Ong examines political culture among Wa elites and people, UWSA external relations, and capital flows with neighboring China, showing how Wa autonomy is enacted through careful navigation of complex borderland geopolitics and the shadow economy. He analyzes the seeming stalemate between the Myanmar state and the UWSA as one of tactical dissonance--adopting simultaneous postures of authority and subordination and creating disruptions and connections. Stalemate illuminates how seemingly ambiguous and disorderly practices of political signaling, economic regulation, and military governance produce relative stability, challenging our assumptions about state-like processes at the peripheries.
About the Author
Andrew Ong is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.