In 2015, the isolated border region of Kokang in Myanmar experienced armed conflict reported around the world. Most of the estimated 100,000 refugees from the conflict crossed the border to China, while hostilities continued for six months. Unlike other ethnic minorities fighting Myanmar's government forces all along the extensive, mountainous border with China, the Kokang is largely of Han Chinese origin with a well established and nurtured relationship with China. Based on 458 questionnaires and interviews, media reports and official government releases, this article explores the varying imaginaries of territory, security and geopolitics of distant Kokang, from refugees now in China, Chinese from adjacent Yunnan and other provinces, as well as analysts viewing the conflict from afar. The study offers a lens for border studies to view the multi-scalar and extended geopolitics of nation states and their peripheral sub-national components. Specifically, the article addresses the changing role of the border under conditions of conflict and security enhancement and the malleable definition of borderlands territory. The study reveals how borders are utilised creatively by territorial inhabitants, their neighbours and their governments, how borders work in remote places, and how cross-border culture operates even in conflict situations to mediate borders. It enlarges our understanding of evolving borders in the space between exception and integration emerging in simultaneous globalisation and localisation.