Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection is ubiquitous worldwide and is associated with multiple cancers, including nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC). The importance of EBV viral genomic variation in NPC development and its striking epidemic in southern China has been poorly explored. Through large-scale genome sequencing of 270 EBV isolates and two-stage association study of EBV isolates from China, we identify two non-synonymous EBV variants within BALF2 that are strongly associated with the risk of NPC (odds ratio (OR)?=?8.69, P?=?9.69?×?10-25 for SNP 162476_C; OR?=?6.14, P?=?2.40?×?10-32 for SNP 163364_T). The cumulative effects of these variants contribute to 83% of the overall risk of NPC in southern China. Phylogenetic analysis of the risk variants reveals a unique origin in Asia, followed by clonal expansion in NPC-endemic regions. Our results provide novel insights into the NPC endemic in southern China and also enable the identification of high-risk individuals for NPC prevention.