Ceasefire capitalism: military–private partnerships, resource concessions and military–state building in the Burma–China borderlands

TitleCeasefire capitalism: military–private partnerships, resource concessions and military–state building in the Burma–China borderlands
Annotated RecordAnnotated
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsWoods K
Secondary TitleJournal of Peasant Studies
Key themesDispossession-grabbing, FDI, MarginalisedPeople

Since ceasefire agreements were signed between the Burmese military government and ethnic political groups in the Burma–China borderlands in the early 1990s, violent waves of counterinsurgency development have replaced warfare to target politically-suspect, resource-rich, ethnic populated borderlands. The Burmese regime allocates land concessions in ceasefire zones as an explicit postwar military strategy to govern land and populations to produce regulated, legible, militarized territory. Tracing the relationship of military–state formation, land control andsecuritization, and primitive accumulation in the Burma–China borderlands uncovers the forces of what I am calling ‘ceasefire capitalism’. This study examines these processes of Burmese military–state building over the past decade in resource-rich ethnic ceasefire zones along the Yunnan, China border. I will illustrate this contemporary and violent military–state formation process with two case studies focusing on northern Burma: logging and redirected timber trade flows, and Chinese rubber plantations as part of China's opium substitution program.


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Document Type

Journal Article


Overall relevance: 

The article examines how the cessation of hostilities between the Burmese military and the country’s several ethnic-based insurgencies coupled with the country’s opening up to foreign investment, has led to a surge in large scale agricultural concessions (particularly rubber) in Burma’s northernmost states bordering China. In the new ceasefire zones, the Burmese regime has forged new political and economic allegiances that include Chinese and Burmese business people and political leaders of former ethnic insurgency groups, all of whom are now implicated in land grabbing in the new concession economy. The author coins the term “ceasefire capitalism” to describe the Burmese central State’s co-optation of former political foes by enfolding them into new (trans)national capitalist networks centred on land deals and resource extraction. Ceasefire capitalism, he argues, is a counterinsurgency development strategy deliberately employed by the Burmese military-state to control ethnic people and territories in a post war context.

Key Themes: 
  • Land dispossession/land grabbing - Allocating land and resource concessions to private investors as part of the Burmese regime’s broader strategy to territorialize ceasefire spaces has led to the dispossession of mainly ethnic groups from their lands in northern Burma.
  • FDI and land access: economic land concessions, contract farming, short term and long term renting - Attracting domestic and foreign investment in agriculture by granting large scale land concessions was a key strategy of the Burmese military-state to gain territorial control in the country’s ethnic peripheries. Large landholdings have been acquired by private companies allegedly to grow rubber and other cash crops for export, although much of the land granted to concessions has remained unplanted. Most concessions in northern Burma are joint ventures between domestic and foreign (mainly Chinese) companies. Domestic companies have often acted as covers for Chinese investors so as to avoid high taxes for 100 per cent foreign-owned concessions. The Chinese state has also subsidised Chinese businesses to invest in rubber and other cash crops through the opium substitution program on the China-Myanmar borderlands.
  • Marginalized people's land rights and access: ethnic minorities, poor and women - Ceasefire agreements signed between Burmese military and ethnic-based insurgents offered new opportunities for business deals that allowed the central military-state to gain greater territorial control in the ethnic border uplands. The land concessions granted by the military-state to private parties after ceasefire arrangements has mostly been upland swidden land previously held by ethnic communities under customary arrangements. National land laws that fail to recognise customary land tenure arrangements have facilitated the dispossession of ethnic minorities from their land. Furthermore, the rubber plantations established on large scale concessions in the north of the country have not led to employment opportunities for those who have been dispossessed.
Research basis: 

The article is based data collected over several years by the author working collaboratively with local researchers and national and international organisations.