New city project by Chinese firm raises hackles in Kayin

The Kayin State Border Guard Force and Jilin Yatai Group of China launched the Shwe Kokko new city project in Myawady township in the first week of August over the objections of local residents.

The residents are worried that the project’s gambling houses and entertainment establishments could have a corrupting influence on young people, and that its airport, hotels and shopping centres could harm local businesses.

Jilin Yatai Group was registered with the Ministry of Planning and Finance under the name Myanmar Yatai International Trading Co Ltd in February 2017. In mid-April, ground clearing and fencing work began, said Saw Aung Myo, who lives in Shwe Kokko Myaing, Myawady.

“We don’t know if it was approved by the government or the border guard. Since it is in the area controlled by the border guard, they were able to start just by informing the border guard, but they should have also informed local residents. Now, we can’t even go near it,” Saw Aung Myo said.

The project, which covers over 2000 acres along the Thaungyin River and will cost an estimated US$15 billion (K23.35 trillion), applied for permission to build from the Myanmar Investment Commission in April 2017 and the state government, according to Colonel Saw Chit Thu of the border guard.

Colonel Saw Chit Thu and Myanmar Yatai International Trading Company signed a partnership agreement in September 2017, organised by the China Federation of Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurs, before the plan received permission from the commission.

The commission announced that it granted permission for part of the initial phase of the project on July 26 this year, specifically 25.5 acres with a $22.5 million investment.

According to figures released by the commission, the border guard contributed 20 percent of total investment.

However, the papers submitted to the commission did not include plans for gambling halls, an airport, and international universities, said U Aung Naing Oo, commission secretary.

“Moreover, it stated that, as mutually beneficial investors, a Cambodian businessperson had invested 67.68pc and a Malaysian invested 12.31pc. There were no Chinese investors, even though Myanmar Yatai is Chinese-owned and China-based company,” said U Aung Naing Oo.

“The company plans to add casinos, but its first application did not mention casinos. Because gambling is not yet legal in Myanmar, casinos are not possible at present,” said Saw Min Min Oo, a member of the border guard in the area.

Gambling is illegal in Myanmar, but five casinos are operating in Myawady and the Thailand border area with the protection of the border guard.

Under the first phase of the plan, hotels, housing, shopping centres, and golf courses will be built, which can be linked to Thailand through the Asian Highway Network.

The first phase will be finished in three years by Chinese engineers. After that, the second phase will be implemented, said Saw Min Min Oo.

“We wanted permission for the whole project in one go, but it didn’t go well when we sought comments from the state government, so permission was only requested for the first phase,” he said.

The project will not bring many benefits for locals, said U Win Maung, who lives in Shwe Kokko Myaing.

“All the workers and engineers are from China, and the profits will go to their organisations and business owners. Also, we could experience an increase in crime and environmental damage,” he said.

The project site is on the border guard’s land, and as the government has given permission, it might not be easy to stop, he said.

“Border guard members say the local people will get job opportunities from the project, but we will only be doing unskilled labour for Chinese people and foreigners,” he said.


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