This article examines the casting of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) as an intransigent and dangerous actor in the Myanmar peace process. It analyses how media narratives express two simultaneous yet contrastive qualities of the Wa Region and the UWSA: rigidity and fluidity. Fluidity in access to illegible shadow networks is perceived as untrustworthiness and threat, while the rigidity of their military might and disengagement from the peace process is read as an uncompromising and hostile stance. These narratives frame interpretations of UWSA political practice, ultimately accentuating rigidity and downplaying fluidity, producing a widely-accepted misconception of UWSA intransigence that forecloses possibilities for compromise. Yet the UWSA is hardly reclusive and isolated, nor stubbornly opposed to engagement. Engaging the UWSA requires an understanding of the organization's political culture, especially its self-image of autonomy and self-reliance. A careful contextualization of its actions suggests that seeking ways to integrate it into the Union of Myanmar should be a central form of engagement, in which the international community should play a more significant role.


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pp. 449-474
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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