Former Peninsula Hotel Shareholder Eyes $1.6-Billion Project in Rakhine 

By Moe Myint 24 July 2019

YANGON—Singapore firm Huacheng International Resources Ltd and China’s Shanghai Bright Industry have jointly proposed a US$1.6-billion (2.41-trillion-kyat) development project to the Rakhine State cabinet.

Representatives from the two firms visited Sittwe, the capital of conflict-ridden Rakhine State, on July 12 and met with National League for Democracy (NLD)-appointed Chief Minister U Nyi Pu.

The state government has yet to provide any details of the project.

The Singapore business delegation’s visit was in defiance of its own government’s advisory discouraging travel to Rakhine State, and comes on the heels of the city state’s recent deportation of six Arakanese people, which attracted criticism and prompted protests outside Singaporean embassies in Japan and the US.

The six deported Arakanese, who included the brother of the Arakan Army (AA)’s chief, were all arrested upon their arrival in Yangon. As of Wednesday, their family members had no idea where they were being held or if they were being interrogated. Neither the Myanmar military, the Home Affairs Ministry or the government have commented on the situation regarding the six detainees.

The Irrawaddy has learned that the founder of Huacheng International Resources is Chua Hwa Por, whose headquarters are located in Singapore’s Suntec Tower Three. He used to be the second-largest shareholder in the iconic Peninsula Hotel Group, which operates a global hotel and luxury residence business that earns multi-million-dollar revenues annually.

An op-ed briefly published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) claimed that Chua Hwa Por has close ties to mainland China, and linked him to Politburo member Li Zhanshu, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s right-hand man. The daughter of Li was spotted in a luxury hotel of Chua Hwa Por in 2017. Li’s official position is head of the Communist Party’s General Office.

The article was later removed from the SCMP’s website. The official explanation was that it contained unconfirmed information, though journalists criticized the decision as an example of self-censorship.

Chua Hwa Por is a former shareholder in HongKong & Shanghai Hotels, which owns the Peninsula Hotel. In 2017, HongKong & Shanghai Hotels jointly implemented the Peninsula Yangon luxury hotel project in the heart of Yangon with influential businessman Serge Pun, the founder of the First Myanmar Investment (FMI) group. Chua Hwa Por is believed to have sold his shares in HongKong & Shanghai in 2018. The hotel, a 26-floor high-rise building on 10 acres of land, is part of a US$700 million mixed-development project being developed by FMI group and due for completion in 2021.

According to  representatives of  Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels and the Yoma Group of Companies, of which FMI is a part, Huacheng International Resources Ltd’s proposed investment in Rakhine State is not related to the Peninsula project in Yangon.

Three major foreign investment projects from Malaysia, China and Singapore are currently awaiting initial approval from the Rakhine State government, which is expected to submit them for final approval by the Union government in Naypyitaw, led by the de facto national leader, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The AA, which is currently fighting the Myanmar military in Rakhine, last week extended a hand of welcome to foreign developers.

Note: This article was edited on July 25, 2019 to clarify the nature of Chua Hwa Por’s involvement in the Peninsula Yangon hotel project, and to add Yoma Group’s comment that there is no relationship between the Peninsula project and the proposed development in Rakhine. It was edited again on July 30 to further clarify that Chua Hwa Por is no longer a shareholder in HongKong & Shanghai Hotels.