Myanmar’s Wa, Mongla Fall on Hard Times Amid Chinese Exodus

By The Irrawaddy 17 August 2021

The economy has been slowing in Wa and Mongla in Myanmar’s Shan State after Chinese nationals there were ordered by Beijing to return to their home country, local residents said.

Wa State, officially the Wa Self-Administered Zone under the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, covers six townships split between two districts, and is fully controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the most powerful ethnic armed group in Myanmar. Mongla on the Chinese border is controlled by the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), better known as the Mongla Group.

Business was already slow in Mongla due to a ban on gatherings amid COVID-19, and the departure of Chinese citizens has further weakened the local economy, a Mongla resident told The Irrawaddy.

“Business has declined further with the Chinese leaving the town. I am afraid the economy has declined by more than 60 percent. All business sectors have been hit. Income and tax revenues have declined as shops have had to close,” he said.

More than 20,000 Chinese citizens had left Mongla for China by the second week of August and more are following them, said another resident. Chinese nationals are being forced to leave northeastern Myanmar amid Beijing’s crackdown on internet fraud and scams, Chinese media agencies reported.

A supermarket in Panghsang / The Irrawaddy

“The returnees are quarantined for 21 days in Dalou, the Chinese border town [in Yunnan Province] opposite Mongla. They don’t have to undergo quarantine in Mongla. I heard that over 200 quarantine centers have been opened in Dalou where Chinese citizens wait for their turn to return. The Chinese government doesn’t provide food at the quarantine centers,” he said.

The same number of Chinese citizens might have left Wa State, with a similar impact on its economy, he suggested.

The Irrawaddy was unable to obtain comments from the UWSA or Mongla authorities about how Chinese citizens’ departure has affected their economies.

Observers believe there may be as many as 100,000 Chinese citizens in Wa State, most of them migrant workers and small-scale business owners.

A Chinese-owned massage parlor in Panghsang / The Irrawaddy

According to Chinese media outlets, Bao Youxiang, leader of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), the political wing of the UWSA, wrote a letter to Chinese authorities on June 17 complaining that China’s move to combat telecom fraud by recalling its nationals in northeast Myanmar had significantly affected normal businesses.

“All the supplies and technologies we need depend on China,” the 71-year-old Bao said in the letter. “To survive and develop, we cannot go against China’s policy. Therefore, I have decided to entirely ban the online gambling industry within the state,” the UWSP chairman was quoted as saying.

Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw, a political analyst based in China, confirmed that Chinese citizens’ departure has negatively affected economies in Wa and Mongla.

“It is because only Chinese people can invest there. And they have left everything behind. So, all the people including daily wage earners employed in their businesses such as banana plantations have lost their jobs,” he said.

According to a widely circulated but unverified leaked spreadsheet compiled by Chinese public security authorities, more than 141,000 Chinese nationals have been listed as individuals who should be “persuaded to return”, and most of them are from Fujian, Hunan, Guizhou and Guangxi provinces.

Mongla pictured at night in 2020 / The Irrawaddy

In a July 18 article headlined “Chinese crackdown on online fraud forces citizens to leave Myanmar’s Little China”, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said Beijing is ordering its citizens to return from southeastern Myanmar on suspicion that they have ties to criminal gangs involved in internet scams.

As many as 100,000 Chinese nationals from Wa State, Mongla, the major China-Myanmar border trade town Muse and the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in Shan State are expected to leave for China, according to the article.

Most of them do not want to return, leaving behind their businesses and possessions, but the Chinese government has warned that those who refuse to do so would find themselves and their family members denied welfare, subsidies and public services in China.

“I can guarantee with my life and reputation that over 90 per cent of people on the list are just ordinary civilians who do business honestly. They lead a tough life abroad and have invested all their savings. Some provinces demolished those people’s homes, painted ‘home of frauds’ on their houses, or threatened to stop their children from going to school. This is just too much,” the SCMP quoted a Chinese businessman as saying on condition of anonymity.

During his visit to Myanmar in September last year, Yang Jiechi, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, held talks with ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on joint efforts to combat illegal activities at the border, including gambling.

Sex workers in Mongla / The Irrawaddy

Pensioners have been targeted by internet scams in China, and some have committed suicide after losing their money, Dr. Hla Kyaw Zaw said.

“Some were cheated out of millions. The situation seems quite bad. The scammers are not foreigners, but overseas Chinese who have taken the citizenships of other countries. Those with mainland Chinese accents were recruited to cheat [Chinese people]. The Chinese government seems to be quite serious about handling those crimes. China is recalling its citizens because the [COVID-19] pandemic is occurring now, [in addition to] cross-border crimes and political instability, as well as anti-Chinese sentiment in Myanmar,” he said.

Chinese authorities have started revoking the citizenship of those who refuse to return, as well as blacklisting and confiscating their assets in China, according to Chinese media outlets.

Mongla residents hope Chinese nationals will return to their town after three years.

“We heard Chinese nationals will be allowed to return after three years. It might depend on the [COVID-19] pandemic. Local authorities of course would like to have them back. It is good they return and things return to normal. In the meantime, we will have to scrape a living,” a Mongla resident said.

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