Myanmar’s ‘China Town’ expands despite Covid-19 crisis, junta chaos

The planned casino hotel in Shwe Kokko

A special economic zone in southeastern Myanmar is expanding its development despite the deep economic crisis in Myanmar caused by the military coup in February and the spiking number of Covid-19 cases in the country which has thrown its healthcare system in disarray.

The so-called Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone in Myawaddy district, Kayin State near the Thai border has been started as a “New City” project a few years ago by Yatai International Holdings Group, a partnership between a shell company of the Kayin State Border Guard Force and Chinese company Jilin Yatai Group, which operates in construction, real estate, mining, pharmaceuticals and via subsidiaries also in hospitality and gambling.

The $15-billion development of what is dubbed Myanmar’s “China Town” will eventually include casinos, hotels, luxury villas, an entertainment complex, supermarkets, department stores, a police station, an airport, cargo depots, a 1,200-room hotel, an industrial zone and a wildlife sanctuary.

Controversial project catering to Chinese gambling tourists

However, it has been controversial since its launch. Shwe Kokko is not an officially sanctioned special economic zone in accordance with Myanmar’s laws, neither is it part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but a private operation which primarily seeks to cater to Chinese gambling and entertainment tourists, The Irrawaddy wrote.

Yatai International Holdings Group’s business plan names casinos and entertainment venues as the top source of revenue, projecting an income of 19 trillion kyats ($11.4 billion) within 10 years. This seems consistent with the firm’s other projects, casinos and spas in the Philippines and Cambodia, all overseen by the Hong Kong-registered company’s headquarters in Bangkok led by Chinese businessman She Zhijiang.

New staff wanted for casino hotels

Currently, the Myanmar project is looking for new casino hotels and senior management staff, the paper referred to Chinese job portals, all this despite the entire country descending into chaos from a double-whammy crisis of Covid and coup,

People familiar with the situation say that the “New City” is going forward because the joint venture partner of the Chinese, the Kayin State Border Guard Force, is backed by the Myanmar military which has strong business interest in it.

This is supported by the observation that after the zone has been shut down by the former democratic government under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, it is back to full swing after the coup.

The NLD in 2019 established a tribunal to look into the business activities of the company operating the zone on the grounds of financial irregularities, alleged lack of transparency, land confiscations, confusion over the scale of construction, an influx of Chinese money, suspected illicit activity and residents’ concerns about the social impacts of the casinos.

However, the tribunal has been dissolved by the new military government and the project seems to move along  unimpeded, apart from a few Covid-19-induced temporary lockdowns.



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The planned casino hotel in Shwe Kokko A special economic zone in southeastern Myanmar is expanding its development despite the deep economic crisis in Myanmar caused by the military coup in February and the spiking number of Covid-19 cases in the country which has thrown its healthcare system in disarray. The so-called Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone in Myawaddy district, Kayin State near the Thai border has been started as a “New City” project a few years ago by Yatai International Holdings Group, a partnership between a shell company of the Kayin State Border Guard Force and Chinese company Jilin...

The planned casino hotel in Shwe Kokko

A special economic zone in southeastern Myanmar is expanding its development despite the deep economic crisis in Myanmar caused by the military coup in February and the spiking number of Covid-19 cases in the country which has thrown its healthcare system in disarray.

The so-called Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone in Myawaddy district, Kayin State near the Thai border has been started as a “New City” project a few years ago by Yatai International Holdings Group, a partnership between a shell company of the Kayin State Border Guard Force and Chinese company Jilin Yatai Group, which operates in construction, real estate, mining, pharmaceuticals and via subsidiaries also in hospitality and gambling.

The $15-billion development of what is dubbed Myanmar’s “China Town” will eventually include casinos, hotels, luxury villas, an entertainment complex, supermarkets, department stores, a police station, an airport, cargo depots, a 1,200-room hotel, an industrial zone and a wildlife sanctuary.

Controversial project catering to Chinese gambling tourists

However, it has been controversial since its launch. Shwe Kokko is not an officially sanctioned special economic zone in accordance with Myanmar’s laws, neither is it part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but a private operation which primarily seeks to cater to Chinese gambling and entertainment tourists, The Irrawaddy wrote.

Yatai International Holdings Group’s business plan names casinos and entertainment venues as the top source of revenue, projecting an income of 19 trillion kyats ($11.4 billion) within 10 years. This seems consistent with the firm’s other projects, casinos and spas in the Philippines and Cambodia, all overseen by the Hong Kong-registered company’s headquarters in Bangkok led by Chinese businessman She Zhijiang.

New staff wanted for casino hotels

Currently, the Myanmar project is looking for new casino hotels and senior management staff, the paper referred to Chinese job portals, all this despite the entire country descending into chaos from a double-whammy crisis of Covid and coup,

People familiar with the situation say that the “New City” is going forward because the joint venture partner of the Chinese, the Kayin State Border Guard Force, is backed by the Myanmar military which has strong business interest in it.

This is supported by the observation that after the zone has been shut down by the former democratic government under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, it is back to full swing after the coup.

The NLD in 2019 established a tribunal to look into the business activities of the company operating the zone on the grounds of financial irregularities, alleged lack of transparency, land confiscations, confusion over the scale of construction, an influx of Chinese money, suspected illicit activity and residents’ concerns about the social impacts of the casinos.

However, the tribunal has been dissolved by the new military government and the project seems to move along  unimpeded, apart from a few Covid-19-induced temporary lockdowns.



Support ASEAN news

Investvine has been a consistent voice in ASEAN news for more than a decade. From breaking news to exclusive interviews with key ASEAN leaders, we have brought you factual and engaging reports – the stories that matter, free of charge.

Like many news organisations, we are striving to survive in an age of reduced advertising and biased journalism. Our mission is to rise above today’s challenges and chart tomorrow’s world with clear, dependable reporting.

Support us now with a donation of your choosing. Your contribution will help us shine a light on important ASEAN stories, reach more people and lift the manifold voices of this dynamic, influential region.

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $10.00

 

 

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