Strategic Choices of Small States in Asymmetric Dependence: Myanmar - China Relations through the case of the Myitsone Dam

  • Eszterhai, Viktor (Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade) ;
  • Thida, Hnin Mya (School of International Relations and Political Science, Corvinus University of Budapest)
  • Published : 2021.12.31


In the transition to a multipolar international system, the literature has focused on great power competition while little attention has been given to the strategic possibilities of smaller states. However, as a result of globalization, states are so closely interconnected that the primary strategies of even major powers are not to achieve zero-sum solutions but to create asymmetric dependency through which they can influence the behavior of other states and non-state actors. States are assisted in this effort by a variety of tools, including setting up institutions, direct economic influence and through building different forms of infrastructure connectivity networks. By discussing asymmetric dependency situations from the perspective of the great powers, the literature presents smaller states primarily as passive actors, paralyzed by their dependence on great powers. Our paper argues that interdependence allows smaller states to effectively influence larger actors and examines strategies from which smaller states can choose in order to influence the behavior of larger states. Despite an extremely asymmetric relationship between Myanmar and China, actors in Myanmar have sought to influence China's Myanmar policy. We examine a case study of the Myitsone Dam, including Myanmar's strategic aims, chosen strategy and limitations in maneuvering space. Semi-structured interviews with local decision-makers and stakeholders are conducted in order to portray the full picture. Our study concludes that further research on the influencing strategies of small states in response to asymmetric dependence can contribute to a better understanding of the interdependence of states.