SIA student presents original research at major international conference

SIA student Prajakte Gupte at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference in Chicago

UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State School of International Affairs student Prajakta Gupte recently traveled to Chicago to present her original research at one of the world’s largest and most prestigious academic conferences for the study of political science.

Gupte, who has focused her degree on the study of international security in south and southeast Asia, presented her SIA master’s thesis paper entitled “The Effect of China’s Interests on Levels of Illegal Trade, Instability and Ethnic Conflict in Myanmar” at last month’s Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference in Chicago.

Gupte became interested in this topic while reading about the international drug trade, in which certain factions in Myanmar export opium around the world to fund the ethnic and civil conflicts in the Southeast Asian nation. This led Gupte to examine another, less widely known source of funding for these insurgency groups: the illegal jade trade, which she likens to the blood diamond industry in Africa.

“But whereas the drug trade, or the trade of blood diamonds, is more spread out around the world, jade has value primarily in China, creating a much more limited market,” Gupte said. “So the illegal sale of this resource by insurgent groups across the border with China is a major revenue source for funding the ongoing civil war.”

China, however, despite the estimated billions of dollars in jade entering the country illegally, denies that this trade exists—while at the same time also supplying weapons and training to the insurgency groups in Myanmar, thereby perpetuating conflict and undermining the authority of the newly installed democratic government.

“China doesn’t want stability, and instead wants to extract Myanmar’s resources for their own, as the country is rich in oil and gas,” Gupte said. “And the international community is paying little attention to these issues, so China is easily able to accomplish this in the region.”

Her presentation, one of many over the course of the four-day conference, was warmly received by the international audience of professors, students, and policymakers, many of whom offered additional insight on the subject and recommendations for expanding her research for journal publication. In between taking in presentations on a wide array of issues in political science and international affairs, Gupte was also able to spend some her three days in Chicago enjoying the Windy City, visiting some of its world-famous sites and attractions.

“On every level, it was a fantastic experience,” Gupte said.