Since 2019, the narrative about private Chinese investment in Myanmar’s illicit economy, especially casinos and online gambling in Kayin State, has become increasingly rampant, holding China responsible for the audacity of private Chinese investors.
However, a careful examination of the identity of the investors, their business background and registrations, as well as the management structure and funding sources of their operations, reveals a different reality: that these investments involve overseas ethnic Chinese through companies registered in Hong Kong with funding from outside China. Despite their efforts to paint their projects as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the investments are outside China’s jurisdiction and China should not be held accountable for their existence. Nevertheless, China should be wary of the damage that these projects pose to its national interests. It should distance itself from the projects and where possible take measures to oppose them.
Since 2019, three allegedly private Chinese investment projects in Kayin State’s Myawaddy Township have captured the attention – and imagination – of many Myanmar observers. The first and the most sensational is the Yatai New City Project at Shwe Kokko. More recently, the Saixigang Industrial Zone Project and the Huanya International City Project have emerged.
Despite their grandiose mission statements about tourism and industrial development, it is widely agreed that they are actually casino resorts and will host online gambling scam operations that primarily target Chinese users. These projects are the latest chapter of the broader spread of casinos and online gambling schemes throughout Southeast Asia, which came to Myanmar partially because of a government crackdown on such operations in Cambodia in 2019.
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