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Opium substitution, reciprocal control and the tensions of geoeconomic integration in the China–Myanmar Border

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Kean Fan Lim



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage Publications Ltd., 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Over the past decade, the Chinese state has launched a strategic opium substitution program to support agricultural firms in Yunnan province to invest in northern Myanmar, which is second only to Afghanistan in drug production. These Yunnanese firms are encouraged to collaborate with or hire ex-poppy farmers to plant rubber, sugarcane, tea, corn, and other crops so that these farmers can leave the drug economy successfully. This paper examines the context and challenges of this program through a framework that highlights the tensions between geopolitics and geoeconomics. At one level, the framework demonstrates how the geopolitics–geoeconomics relationship is reinforced by reciprocal control: the promise of monetary profits has become a strategic tool for the Chinese state to implement narcotics control in northern Myanmar. At another level, however, reciprocity is manifested unevenly as not all private producers respond to this strategy in a positive and engaged manner. This unevenness inevitably generates regulatory tensions at multiple scales and underscores, in turn, how border security remains intrinsically unstable vis-a-vis attempts at geoeconomic integration.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Su X, Lim KF

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

Year: 2019

Volume: 51

Issue: 8

Pages: 1665-1683

Print publication date: 01/11/2019

Online publication date: 12/07/2019

Acceptance date: 21/06/2019

Date deposited: 12/08/2019

ISSN (print): 0308-518X

ISSN (electronic): 1472-3409

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/0308518X19863066


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Natural Science Foundation of China
Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, University of Oregon