Jason Tower joined USIP in late 2019 as the country director for the Burma program based in Yangon. 
 
Prior to USIP, Jason served in senior positions with several other peacebuilding organizations in China and Southeast Asia. From 2009 to 2017, Jason worked to establish the Beijing office of the American Friends Service Committee and initiated programming across north and southeast Asia on the impacts of cross-border investments on conflict dynamics. He also led a series of research initiatives relevant to China’s role in peacekeeping operations in East Africa and on China’s evolving role in international conflict dynamics. During this time, Jason also worked extensively in Burma on peace and security issues. From 2018 to 2019, Jason served as Southeast Asia program manager for the PeaceNexus Foundation, managing a portfolio of grants and partnerships in China, Burma, and Cambodia.    

Jason completed his undergraduate work in economics and international studies at St. Louis University, and his graduate studies in political science and Asian studies at the University of Michigan. He later earned a graduate certificate in company-community mediation from the Graduate School of Business at Cape Town University. He has been named a Fulbright research student, a Fulbright-Hays scholar, and a Harvard-Yenching fellow.

Jason is fluent in Mandarin and has published widely on China’s involvement in peace and security issues, with recent publications on the Belt and Road Initiative and a report based on years of experience working with Chinese corporate stakeholders.

Publications By Jason

Myanmar Elections 2020: Ethnic Tensions and a Military Hand

Myanmar Elections 2020: Ethnic Tensions and a Military Hand

Saturday, November 7, 2020

By: Jason Tower

The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) is expected to win Myanmar’s general elections on November 8, but the 2020 race is much more hotly contested than 2015. The growing political frustration of the country’s non-Burma ethnic nationalities is fueling insurgencies and the military-affiliated Union Solidarity and Development Party, and its armed forces patrons, are criticizing the government and attacking the country’s feeble electoral institutions. The way Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities experience the process will have major implications for peacemaking efforts moving forward.   

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Electoral Violence

Election Cancellations in Rakhine State Could Signal Trouble for Myanmar

Election Cancellations in Rakhine State Could Signal Trouble for Myanmar

Thursday, November 5, 2020

By: Priscilla A. Clapp; Jason Tower

On October 16, when it took the stunning and sweeping decision to cancel most of the vote in Rakhine State on November 8, the Union Election Commission (UEC) disenfranchised an estimated 73% of Rakhine voters, in addition to the Rohingya who had been stripped of voting rights in 2015. The UEC justified its decision on the grounds that the election could be neither free nor fair because of ongoing armed conflict in the state. When critics asked why the elections had not been cancelled in war-stricken Paletwa, where security concerns are most acute, the UEC called off elections in parts of that Chin State town and restored them in a few village tracts in Rakhine.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance

Is China Getting Serious About Crime on the ‘Belt and Road’?

Is China Getting Serious About Crime on the ‘Belt and Road’?

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

By: Jason Tower; Jennifer Staats

As China’s leading foreign policy project, its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) should be easy to understand. Yet since its inception in 2013, the BRI has remained remarkably opaque. The government publishes no criteria for approving BRI projects or comprehensive lists of authorized ones. Consequently, a range of Chinese investors—including some linked to organized crime—claim an association with the signature program of China’s leader, Xi Jinping. In host countries, this free-riding identification can threaten governance and stability, while further damaging the international community’s ability to check the spread of related criminal activity.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

The Dangers of Myanmar’s Ungoverned Casino Cities

The Dangers of Myanmar’s Ungoverned Casino Cities

Thursday, August 6, 2020

By: Jason Tower; Priscilla A. Clapp

As a struggling, incomplete democracy, Myanmar and its elected leaders face challenges that would confound any country. The best-known involve the military’s uneven loosening of a 50-year dictatorship; ethnic tensions and armed conflicts; the lack of a common national identity; entrenched poverty; and the complications of borders with five nations, including China. Less well known is an emerging threat that touches each of these vital concerns. Over the past three years, transnational networks with links to organized crime have partnered with local armed groups, carving out autonomous enclaves and building so-called “smart cities” to tap into the huge, but illegal, Chinese online gambling market. Myanmar’s leaders at every level and in every sector should pay serious attention to the alarming national implications of these developments.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment; Democracy & Governance

Myanmar: Casino Cities Run on Blockchain Threaten Nation’s Sovereignty

Myanmar: Casino Cities Run on Blockchain Threaten Nation’s Sovereignty

Thursday, July 30, 2020

By: Jason Tower; Priscilla A. Clapp

On January 20, a young venture capitalist named Douglas Gan sat down in a Philippine television studio to discuss, in part, an exciting new “Smart City” project his firm had become involved in. Sporting a black hoodie over a white tee-shirt, Gan described how one of his companies, Building Cities Beyond Blockchain, was already at work in Myanmar’s Yatai New City, recording instantaneous property transfers and showing the potential of blockchain technology. It’s a start, the anchor said. Gan agreed.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Economics & Environment

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