But instead the Chinese-backed U.S. $15 billion real estate mega-project along the Thaungyin River in southeastern Kayin state has gained notoriety in recent months as a bastion of illegal activity, according to a report released Wednesday by the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), an independent research outfit that studies transnational organized crime networks.
Shwe Kokko New City, as the area is called, was funded by Hong Kong-registered developer Yatai International Holding Group in partnership with the Chit Lin Myaing Company owned by the Kayin State Border Guard Force (BGF), an ethnic Karen force aligned with the Myanmar military. It includes the Myanmar Yatai Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone. But the area became a hub for illicit activity because of weak national laws, a diffusion of responsibility, and a lack of development plans, says the 76-page report titled “Zoned Out: A Comprehensive Impact Evaluation of Mekong Economic Development Zones.”
The study identified 110 official and unofficial foreign-invested EDZs in the Mekong region, including 40 in Cambodia, 15 in Laos, 20 in Myanmar, 16 in Thailand, and 19 in Vietnam, and used publicly available information to assess them in terms of economic development, illicit activity, and geopolitics.