CHINA’S THAI-MYANMAR BORDER INVESTMENT: Shwe Kokko Chinatown mega-project

As buildings after buildings spring up in Shwe Kokko, a remote Karen border town bordering Thailand, many wonder whether this mega-project real estate development is just an ordinary undertaking spearheaded by the Jilin Yatai Group of China, together with Colonel Saw Chit Thu, chief of the Karen Border Guard Force (BGF), or not.

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The Jilin Yatai Group was registered with the Ministry of Planning and Finance under the name Myanmar Yatai International Trading Co Ltd in February 2017.

Shwe Kokko, a former garrison town of Karen National Liberation Army formerly known as Kawmoora or Wangkha, is controlled by Saw Chit Thu, who is the chief of Karen BGF recognized by the government and affiliated to the Myanmar Army or the Tatmadaw.

Myanmar Times of September 18, 2018 reported the signing of agreement between Saw Chit Thu and the Chinese company in September 2017, organized by the China Federation of Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurs.

This project, dubbed as Chinatown by the locals is in fact so ambitious that it is touted as an equivalent of being second only to Hong Kong, China’s special administrative region under one country two system. Reportedly, a 70-year lease from the Myanmar government has been secured, which may be extended up to 99 years.

Photo Credit : / From left: The Chinese developer of Kokko Chinatown has secured a 70-year lease from the Myanmar government; Kokko Chinatown will be equivalent to a Chinese special administrative region, second in size only to Hong Kong. (Photos courtesy of Jilin Yatai International Holding Group)

Accordingly, the project plan will include luxury housing and homes, an entertainment complex, supermarkets, department stores, a police station, an airport, cargo depots, a one-stop-service center, a hotel comprising of 1,200 rooms, casinos, an industrial zone and much more.

This project believed to be the largest ever overseas investment project by Jilin Yatai Group is expected to be finished in 2027.

Myanmar Times September 2018 reported, 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 Saw Chit Thu of the BGF.

Myanmar Investment Commission announced that it granted permission for part of the initial phase of the project on July 26, 2018, 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.

A Cambodian businessperson had invested 67.68 percent and a Malaysian invested 12.31 percent. There were no Chinese investors, even though Myanmar Yatai is Chinese-owned and China-based company, according to Aung Naing Oo.

Although the joint undertaking wanted to get the whole project approval in one go, it was not granted by the government. Thus, the first phase which did not include the building of casinos, airport and international universities are still unclear but presumed to be already approved by the observers and media. The first phase is said to be finished within three years according to the Chinese engineers.

Source: The Shan Herald Agency for News