Hein Htet / Irrawaddy

Mai Ja Yang, Burma’s ‘Little Hong Kong’

Hein Htet The Irrawaddy

With ruined and neglected buildings across the town, Mai Ja Yang on the Sino-Burma border has a lifeless appearance.

Previously, the border town’s main livelihood was poppy cultivation. But after the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—granted 25-year casino licenses to Chinese businessmen in 2002, the village developed and was later dubbed “little Hong Kong” by visitors and gamblers.

As the casino industry thrived, crime increased and attracted the attention of Burma’s central government. Under pressure from the Burmese authorities, China got out of the industry in 2008.

The KIO is currently opening colleges in Mai Ja Yang, which houses a population of around 8,000. The KIO plans to establish universities, in the hope that the area will become an important seat of education on the border.

The once crime-ridden Mai Ja Yang recently earned its place in history as host to a milestone in Burma’s peace process when ethnic armed groups gathered there in July to work toward lasting peace.