Wa State, as claimed by the UWSP (green),
within Myanmar (dark grey).
and largest city
|Official languages||Standard Chinese|
|Government||One-party socialist state|
• Vice President
• Independence declared from Myanmar
|17 April 1989|
• Autonomy granted by Myanmar
|9 May 1989|
• Creation of the Wa Self-Administered Division
|20 August 2010|
|30,000 km2 (12,000 sq mi)|
• Water (%)
|32.8/km2 (85.0/sq mi)|
|Time zone||UTC+06:30 (MMT)|
|Calling code||+86 (879) (de facto)|
Wa State (Wa: Meung Vax; Chinese: 佤邦; pinyin: Wǎ Bāng; Burmese: ဝပြည်နယ်) is an autonomous region within Myanmar (Burma). It is de facto independent from the rest of the country, and is governed by the United Wa State Party as a one-party socialist state. However, Wa State recognises Myanmar's sovereignty over all of its territory, and has, in return, been granted a high level of autonomy by the central government. Under the 2008 Constitution of Myanmar the area is designated as the Wa Self-Administered Division of Shan State. The administrative capital is Pangkham, formerly known as Panghsang. The name Wa is derived from the Wa ethnic group, who speak an Austroasiatic language.
Politics and society
Wa State is divided into northern and southern regions which are separated from one another, with the 13,000 km2 (5,000 sq mi) southern region bordering Thailand and consisting of 200,000 people. The total area of the region controlled by Wa State is 17,000 km2 (6,600 sq mi). The political leaders of Wa State are mostly ethnic Wa people. The Wa State government emulates many political features of the government of the People's Republic of China, having a central committee and a central party known as the United Wa State Party. Whilst Wa State is highly autonomous from the control of the central government in Naypyidaw, their relationship is based on peaceful coexistence and Wa State recognises the sovereignty of the central government over all of Myanmar.
The working language of the Wa State government is Mandarin Chinese. Southwest Mandarin and Wa are widely spoken by the population, with the language of education being Standard Chinese. Television broadcasts within Wa State are broadcast in both Mandarin and Wa. Commodities within Wa State are brought over from China, and the renminbi is commonly used for exchanges. China Mobile has cellular coverage over some parts of Wa State.
For a long time,[timeframe?] headman tribes were dispersed around the Wa mountainous area, with no unified governance. During the Qing dynasty, the region became separated from the tribal military control of the Dai people. British rule in Burma did not administer the Wa States and the border with China was left undefined.
From the late 1940s, during the Chinese Civil War, remnants of the Chinese National Revolutionary Army retreated to territory within Burma as the communists took over mainland China. Within the mountain region Kuomintang forces of the Eighth Army 237 division and 26th Army 93 division held their position for two decades in preparation for a counterattack towards mainland China. Under pressure from the United Nations, the counterattack was cancelled and the army was recalled to northern Thailand and later back to Taiwan; however, some troops decided to remain within Burma. East of the Salween river, indigenous tribal guerrilla groups exercised control with the support of the Communist Party of Burma.
During the 1960s, the Communist Party of Burma lost its base of operations within central Burma, and with the assistance of the Chinese communists, expanded within the border regions in the northeast. Many intellectual youths from China joined the Communist Party of Burma, and these forces also absorbed many local guerrillas. The Burmese communists gained control over Pangkham, which became their base of operations.
At the end of the 1980s, the ethnic minorities of northeast Burma became politically separated from the Communist Party of Burma. On 17 April 1989, Bao Youxiang's armed forces announced their separation from the Communist Party of Burma, and formed the United Myanmar Ethnicities Party, which later became the United Wa State Party. On 18 May, the United Wa State Army signed a ceasefire agreement with the State Law and Order Restoration Council, which replaced Ne Win's military regime following the 8888 Uprising.
Tensions between the central government and Wa state were heightened in 2009. During this time, peace initiative proposals by Wa State were rejected by the Myanmar government. The government warned on 27 April 2010 that the WHP program could push Myanmar and Wa State into further conflict.
Wa State comprises seven districts (townships) of what the Myanmar government officially deems as the Shan State. Internally, Wa State administers 15 districts within its territory.
Wa State's southern exclave is not part of traditional Wa territory, but was granted in 1989 by the then-ruling Burmese military junta for the UWSA's cooperation in their efforts against drug warlord Khun Sa. These territories were originally inhabited by the Austroasiatic Tai Loi peoples, but now include significant Lahu and Shan communities.
Geography and economy
The region is mainly mountainous, with deep valleys. The lowest points are approximately 600 metres above sea level, with the highest mountains over 3000 metres. Initially Wa State was heavily reliant on opium production. With Chinese assistance, there has been a move towards growing rubber and tea plantations. Wa State cultivates 220,000 acres of rubber. Due to the resettlement of residents from mountainous areas to fertile valleys, there is also cultivation of wet rice, corn and vegetables. Dozens died during the resettlement due to disease and road accidents. Wa State is economically dependent on China, which supports it financially and provides military and civilian advisors and weapons. It shares 82 miles (133 km) of frontier with China.
Illicit drug trade
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The United Wa State Army (UWSA) was previously the largest narcotics trafficking organization in Southeast Asia. The UWSA cultivated vast areas of land for the opium poppy, which was later refined to heroin. Methamphetamine trafficking was also important to the economy of Wa State. The money from the opium was primarily used for purchasing weapons.
In August 1990, government officials began drafting a plan to end drug production and trafficking in Wa State. According to an interview with Wa officials in 1994, Bao Youyi (Tax Kuad Rang; also known as Bao Youyu) became wanted by the Chinese police for his involvement in drug trafficking. As a result, Bao Youxiang and Zhao Nyi-Lai went to Cangyuan Va Autonomous County of China and signed the Cangyuan Agreement with local officials, which stated that, "No drugs will go into the international society (from Wa State); no drugs will go into China (from Wa State); no drugs will go into Burmese government-controlled areas (from Wa State)." However, the agreement did not mention whether or not Wa State could sell drugs to insurgent groups.
In 1997, the United Wa State Party officially proclaimed that Wa State would be drug-free by the end of 2005. With the help of the United Nations and the Chinese government, many opium farmers in Wa State shifted to the production of rubber and tea. However, some poppy farmers continued to cultivate the flower outside of Wa State.
Although the Burmese government has begun taking measures to decrease the production of such drugs, it is an arduous task due to corruption at high levels in the government and a lack of infrastructure to carry out operations. In 2005, Wa State was declared by the UWSP a "drug-free zone" and the cultivation of opium was made illegal.
A BBC presentation aired on 19 November 2016 showed the burning of methamphetamine, as well as a thriving trade in illegal animal parts.
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