Myanmar’s Ethnic Conflicts and the U.S. and China

17 January 2014
17 January 2014


Alan Romberg, Director, East Asia program, Henry L. Stimson Center


Tom Kramer, Researcher, Ethnic Conflict in Myanmar Program and Drugs & Democracy Program, Transnational Institute

Yun Sun, Fellow, East Asia Program, Henry L. Stimson Center

Since 2011, Myanmar has made substantial progress in its democratic process. Among the key tasks for the political reform, the national reconciliation with the country’s multiple armed ethnic groups has been the most challenging. The lack of trust, goodwill and willingness to make concessions all undermine the prospect of a sustainable peaceful solution. Currently, the ongoing Kachin conflict has resulted in thousands of casualties and tens of thousands of internally displaced refugees.  The Kachin Independence Organization and the Myanmar government are yet to reach a formal ceasefire agreement, which casts a shadow over the nationwide ceasefire accord proposed by the government and the national reconciliation process in general. 

Myanmar’s ethnic conflict affects the prospect of Myanmar’s political reform and therefore, the assessment of U.S. policy toward the country. Issues such as the border ethnic groups and the Kachin conflict also touches the sensitive national interests of China on border security, stability and economic investment. The overlapping interests of the two powers, however, have not translated into cooperation.  Instead, China’s concern over the “internationalization” of the Kachin issue has obstructed a more active role by the U.S. and other countries.

At the event, Tom Kramer, a researcher based in Myanmar will discuss the development of the peace process, the obstacles to the national reconciliation and how the success/failure will affect the reform and the 2015 elections. Yun Sun, Fellow at Stimson Center, will focus on the Kachin conflict and the interest groups that undermine the prospect of peace.  In particular, she will present findings on the U.S.-China competition in the Kachin issue from her recent trips to the Kachin state.


Tom Kramer (1968) is researcher for the Drugs & Democracy Programme of the Transnational Institute (TNI), focussing on Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, and the coordinator of the TNI project on Ethnic Conflict in Burma/Myanmar. He is also a writer and freelance consultant, specializing on ethnic conflict and civil society in Burma/Myanmar. He has carried out field research and written reports for a wide range of international NGOs, institutes and UN organisations. His publications include ‘Access Denied: Land Rights and Ethnic Conflict in Burma’ (co-author, TNI 2013), ‘Developing Disparity, Regional Investment in Burma’s Borderlands’ (co-author, TNI 2013) and ‘Ending 50 Years of Military Rule? Prospects for Peace, Democracy and Development in Burma’ (Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center - NOREF 2012).


Yun Sun is a fellow with the East Asia program at Stimson. Sun was previously a visiting fellow at the Center for Northeast Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC in 2011, where she focused on the analysis of China's national security decisionmaking system. Yun was also the China Analyst for International Crisis Group (ICG) based in Beijing from 2008 to 2011, specializing in China's foreign policy toward conflict countries in Asia and Africa. Prior to ICG, she worked in the Asia policy circle in Washington DC for five years. Her expertise is in Chinese foreign policy, US-China relations, and China's relations with neighboring countries and authoritarian regimes. Yun earned her master's degree in international policy and practice from George Washington University, an MA in Asia Pacific studies, and a BA in international relations from Foreign Affairs College in Beijing.

Alan D. Romberg is distinguished fellow and the director of the East Asia program at Stimson. Before joining Stimson in September 2000, he enjoyed a distinguished career working on Asian issues, both in and out of government, including more than 25 years in the State Department. Romberg was the principal deputy director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs and deputy spokesman of the department. He served in various capacities dealing with East Asia, including director of the Office of Japanese Affairs, member of the Policy Planning staff for East Asia, and staff member at the National Security Council for China. He served overseas in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Additionally, Romberg spent almost 10 years as the CV Starr Senior Fellow for Asian Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and was special assistant to the secretary of the navy. Romberg holds an M.A. from Harvard University, and a B.A. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.


photo Wikipedia