Yangon [Myanmar], September 2 (ANI): The Chinese developer of a "new city" project on the Myanmar-Thailand border, has said the project is a part of China's controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), despite the Chinese Embassy in Yangon denying the same earlier.
The project in Karen State, locally known as Shwe Kokko New City after the village in which it is situated, was launched in 2017 by Yatai International Holdings Group (YIHG) following the company's deal with a local ethnic Karen armed group, the Border Guard Force (BGF), The Irrawaddy reported.
Locals have criticised the project citing lack of transparency, confusion over scale of construction and growing influx of Chinese migrants. Also, the company is believed to be having links to illicit cryptocurrency and casino operations, raising suspicions among the people.
From the beginning, the developer has asserted that the USD 15 billion project along the Myanmar-Thailand border was part of the BRI, which includes several projects in Myanmar.
In response, the Chinese Embassy in Yangon claimed the project is a third-country investment and has no connections with the BRI.
But the YIHG, in its bizarre statement, released on its WeChat account said, "This project is not the act of the Chinese government, but is still in service of the Belt and Road Initiative."
YIHG also said the company was not involved in gambling or related industries, although the investors are accused of engaging in illegal casino activities in Cambodia and the Philippines. However, the statement said the firm "has determined" to try its luck in the casino sector after the Myanmar government recently completed the process of legalising foreign investment in the gambling industry, according to The Irrawaddy.
The statement comes following the Myanmar government's recent establishment of a tribunal to probe the project over alleged irregularities. But the tribunal team has not been able to visit the site due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shwe Kokko is among three Chinese-backed projects in Karen State, which poses a challenge to the US interests, US Institute of Peace, a think tank, has said. It alleges that Chinese enterprises involved include individuals with a history of involvement in known triads -- Chinese organised crime groups -- active in the US and now expanding quickly in Karen State.
Before leaving Myanmar, former US Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel had told The Irrawaddy that some Chinese projects like Shwe Kokko needed local consultation and careful analysis as they seemed to bring several social ills.
While the YIHG did not deny the existence of gambling at its new city project, it blamed others, saying the firm leased some properties to other enterprises and did not check their activities and business operations due to lack of experience.
"It may be that some companies got involved in inappropriate activities without the approval of the Yatai IHG," the statement said, claiming that such things would be ended once detected.
The company reluctantly admitted that it "may have introduced some criminals into the Yatai City, but as we perfect our platform, we will remain resolute in our respect for local laws and regulations, and crush all illegal activity so that the Yatai New City can better serve even more law-abiding companies."
Apparently not pleased to confine itself in Myanmar, YIHG also disclosed its plans for a future project in Mae Sot, situated just across the border in Thailand, where a "twin city" will be constructed.
"This new city in Mae Sot will incorporate a large-scale industrial park for the medical industry, which will bring together technology, capital, medicine, medical resources, and establish a comprehensive platform for the incubation of pharmaceutical technology companies," the statement read citing The Irrawaddy. (ANI)