YONGBANG SEZ: Mongla, cryptocurrency and sovereignty

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Lately, the creation of  Yongbang Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Mongla, Shan State has become the much talk about subject locally and internationally begging the question of whether this is done with the approval of Chinese authorities and tacit agreement of Mongla Special Administrative Region’s leadership, which at this point is very much unclear.

Reportedly, according to Myanmar Times the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar release a statement on Yongbang SEZ on February 27, which wrote: “Recently the Myanmar government has expressed concerns on the above matter to the Chinese Embassy. And now we are trying to check on and verify the matter with relevant departments in China. The Chinese government has consistently requested Chinese companies in Myanmar to operate in compliance with Myanmar laws and regulations while opposing any form of violations.”

Earlier about two months ago, in a program titled “Inside the Crypto Kingdom”, Channel News Asia reported that Chinese company Shanghai Shellpay Internet Technology plans to construct the Yongbang Blockchain Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Shan State’s Mongla Special Administrative Region 4.

On February 22, Zaw Htay director general of the State Counselor’s Office, told the media that he asked Mongla about it and was told that they have no idea. Additionally he said that inquiry has also been made to the Chinese Embassy regarding the controversial issue.

Accordingly,  Kyi Myint, the general secretary of Mongla Special Administrative Region 4, told The Irrawaddy, “It’s impossible. We don’t know what they’re talking about.”

He added, “According to the video, it would be such a huge project. If they launched such a project, we would definitely know. We don’t know anything about it. It doesn’t make sense.”

Surprisingly, Jane Zhang Hong, CEO of Shanghai Shellpay Internet Technology, who is director of the Digital Economy Bureau of Yongbang Special Economic Zone in Shan State admitted that the Myanmar authorities were not aware of the plan.

“I don’t think the Burmese [Myanmar] government is aware that Shan State has given a small piece of a place to us to do the digital economy. No. I am very interested to have the conversation with them,” Ms Zhang commented in an interview.

She earlier in February said that the company was granted a piece of land by the “Peaceful Liberation Alliance of 7 States” in April 2018 as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to issue digital coins and e-citizenship.

Thus it is highly likely that the planned Yongbang SEZ by the Shanghai Shellpay, on its own without Myanmar government approval, in Mongla with some 220 square kilometers seems to be still only on the paper.

 

Declaration of the Yongbang Special Economic Zone 

A seven-point declaration of Yongbang SEZ was made public on February 26, 2019.

It said that the declaration is a formal response to various news media to clarify its Yongbang SEZ launching positions.

Regarding the question of who they are it wrote: “We are a self-governed group, a group consisting of the countless displaced refugees within the Union of Burma, a group with no formal identity; we are war refugees. The Yongbang Special Economic Zone Administration (hereinafter referred to as “the Administration”) has taken the role of self-determination and a responsibility to govern ourselves with our people’s freedom and prosperity in mind.”

The declaration mentioned: “The Administration has no intention to separate from the Union of Burma or to impose on its sovereignty, leaving the Union’s power to manage all local governments and national armed governments currently under its control.” Adding that it is willing to  transfer management power to the Union’s central and local governments (meaning: Myanmar government and Ethnic Armed Organizations controlled areas), if the Administration organized public body equipped with a structure of laws (exercising independent executive, legislative and judicial power) interest is observed.

Regarding development and sovereignty the declaration explained: “In addition to developing the economy and the livelihood of the residents within the Zone, efforts will also be made to boost the livelihood and the economic projects within the regions controlled by all national armed forces and those under the Union’s central government on the basis of conforming to its local laws. Though separately, the Zone’s governance, livelihood and economic projects will be under the sovereignty and management power of the Zone’s Administration thereat.”

A sort of mediator tone regarding the ethnic conflict said: “The Administration calls on the Union’s national defense force not to employ force but to resolve all disputes within the Union via an open dialogue and political negotiation; the Administration also calls on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy to help aide and promote peace within the Union in the interest of the greater economy for the public.”

On marketing it said: “The Administration is extending an open invitation to China’s domestic companies and to the people around the world upholding the ideals of prosperity and justice in order to participate and aid the development of the Zone.”

The closing sales pitch wrote: “On behalf of the Administration and our peoples, the “Global E-citizenship Program” is a sincere invitation to the world and one that warmly welcomes all people to create a better future for all of those that hold dear the human ideals of peace, freedom and prosperity.”

 

What now?

Given such circumstances, all indications starting from the controversial location of the Yongbang SEZ to the unclear relationships with Myanmar and China governments and the ethnic armed organization concerned, it is hard to imagine if this ambitious project is going to be lifted off the ground, much less implementing it.

The Myanmar government is in the dark, while Chinese government said it would investigate but all economic undertakings will have be in compliance with Myanmar laws and regulations while opposing any form of violations.

Mongla leadership out-rightly said it has no knowledge, while it is also possible there could be informal agreement not really knowing what it is all about in details, other than its willingness to cash in and join the bandwagon.

In sum despite the angst of Myanmar face book users, who have poured out their worries in hundreds that Yongbang SEZ might violate, breach or even undermine the country’s sovereignty in a big way, it is highly likely the project will die a natural death.

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