“Many big buildings have been constructed in Lashio as if it’s a city of China”, Lashio resident, who prefers to go by the name Sai Leik commented.
One could wrongly perceive by looking at rising buildings and assume that Lashio town is enjoying an improvement in its economy.
Lashio is one of the strategic major towns for border trade between China and Myanmar. More than two years after the 2021 military coup, there have been a significant number of people migrating to Lashio from all over different places.
Among the individuals relocating to Lashio town, there are both Chinese from China, and Kokang, the ethnic Chinese from Shan State. It could also be said that, for them, this migration presents an opportunity to expand their businesses in the area.
After the coup, these individuals (the Chinese and Kokang) have invested in acquiring land plots and constructing buildings in Lashio.
A recent article by S.H.A.N. in April titled “Lashio Town At Risk Of Chinese Domination As Land Deals Soar” highlighted the methods employed by Chinese nationals to secure these investments. This includes creating fake National Identification cards or engaging in marriage arrangements with women of Myanmar national.
The 2021 military coup prompted numerous companies and firms from the West to withdraw their investments, causing a significant downturn in the economy. However, on the flip side, Shan State’s economy appears to have sustained itself through activities such as gambling, human trafficking, and online fraudulent activities known as Kyar Pyant.
One of the major players in the Lashio area, making substantial investments by purchasing land plots and monopolizing the land business, is the Fully Light company.
“A significant portion of the constructions completed are intended to operate as hotels. The remaining buildings, still under construction, are rumored to be designated for gambling establishments, predominantly casinos. Following the 2023 coup, Fully Light Hotel stands as the sole new hotel in town”, as confirmed by activist Sai Leik.
The Fully Light company, established in 1999 and headquartered in Shan State’s Laukkai area, is presently led by Chairman U Li Kyain Chan, an ethnic Kokang also known as U Lyan Ah Pauk, with U Maung Maung serving as the managing director.
The company maintains close ties with the State Administration Council (SAC) and actively participates in religious ceremonies and events organized by SAC.
Chairman U Li Kyain Chan received a religious honor, the Akar Maha Thiri Thu Dhama Mani Zaw Ta Ya, during a religious ceremony held in January 2021, organized by the regime. Additionally, the Fully Light company group was honored with the “social excellence award” bestowed by the Shan State Minister under the SAC regime.
Fully Light’s business activities in Lashio
Fully Light is a big company and its primary business ventures encompass hotels, trade, tourism, mining, and goods production.
In Shan State, the company is notably engaged in hotels, casinos, and gambling activities. For instance, in Laukkai, Fully Light operates a five-star hotel under the same name, ‘Fully Light,’ in addition to being involved in various unlawful business activities, as reported by a former employee, Pi Sai.
Pi Sai reported that Fully Light’s hotels, operated by the company, are associated with various illicit activities, including gambling and prostitution. These activities involve prostitutes from both Vietnam and Thailand.
Pi Sai stated, “Inside the hotel, you can find a wide range of offerings, from various types of drugs and alcoholic beverages to gambling and casinos, alongside the presence of women engaged in prostitution. Some of those involved in prostitution are from Thai and Vietnam. There are also some Thai nationals among the guests at these establishments.”
Many of these women have been victims of human trafficking and coerced into the prostitution industry. Many also find themselves trapped in Laukkai, unable to escape the clutches of these hotels.
Some women are being sold as mistresses to Chinese bosses and some to the hotels, added Pi Sai.
Pi Sai explained, “Some of these trafficked women were purchased by the company or hotels, especially the more attractive ones who are bought by wealthy Chinese men. These women frequently enter the area illegally, leaving them clearly victimized by human trafficking. Stripped of passports, devoid of money, and unable to seek help from the police, they have no choice but to engage in these activities. Human traffickers or agents then sell them to bosses or companies, perpetuating this cycle of exploitation.”
Once these women are sold to wealthy Chinese men, they no longer receive a regular income, Pi Sai added.
Similarly, the Fully Light company successfully constructed a ten-story building in Lashio, which they transformed into a hotel that opened its doors in 2022. Fully Light Hotel stands as the sole new hotel in Lashio, according to Sai Leik, a local businessman in Lashio.
“There is a rooftop bar on top of the hotel, and although we haven’t heard of any gambling activities taking place within the hotel premises yet, at the moment” Sai Leik added.
Additionally, it has been reported that the Yu Li Kha hospital, once owned by former vice-president Sai Mauk Kham, was also acquired by the Fully Light company group.
Sai Leik added, “Fully Light has gained immense popularity in Lashio, establishing dominance in a wide array of business activities. They have acquired land plots in the areas with the highest prices, and notably, they have also acquired Sai Mauk Kham’s Yu Li Kha hospital.”
Locals have claimed that the Yu Li Kha hospital was sold for over 12 billion MMK, although S.H.A.N has not yet confirmed this information.
Additionally, the Fully Light Company has acquired numerous plots of land and several guest houses in Lashio Township.
Furthermore, Pi Sai, working in Laukkai, mentioned the recent launch of a new Ocean Shopping Center within this year.
” What we are seeing are hotel businesses, the Ocean Shopping Center, and various watch-selling shops. Their Ocean shopping center, which is quite recent as it opened just last year, is really huge. It is a modernized shopping center with a wide variety of items available”, Pi Sai said.
Shan State’s Economic situation
After the military coup, tourism within the country experienced a significant decline. The hotel industry faced losses, leading some owners to sell their businesses. Due to the absence of foreign tourists, many hotels had to temporarily close their doors.
A report from the RFA Burmese program in May revealed that within the Yangon Region alone, there were over 50 hotels listed for sale in the real estate market.
Furthermore, the Kempinski five-star hotel, owned by a Swiss-based company and situated in Nay Pyi Taw, suspended its operations.
The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism reported a sharp decline in international tourists, with 4.36 million visitors in 2019 dropping drastically to only 130,000 tourists arriving in the country in 2021
Despite a notable decline in both domestic and foreign business investments, new hotels are still under construction and expected to open in Shan State.
As reported by Nang Hla Ye, a resident of Lashio, there are currently more than 10 buildings in the process of being built in Lashio township.
Nang Hla Ye stated, “To the best of our knowledge, there are no fewer than 10 buildings currently under construction in Lashio. Additionally, buildings are also being erected at the entrances and exits of the town. The hotels in Lashio consistently appear to be at full capacity.”
After the military coup, money scams and fraudulent businesses have become prevalent along the borders in Shan State. A growing number of individuals are going to areas such as Tachileik, Lashio, Laukkai, and the ‘Wa’ region in Mine Pauk to work in online gambling and fraudulent establishments.
Amidst the rise in these illicit activities, numerous individuals have become victims of human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse, enduring harsh working conditions.
In the current situation, the military regime is confronted with multiple frontlines as it contends with local People’s Defense Forces and the Ethnic armed/resistance organizations across the country, resulting in intensified armed conflicts.
Furthermore, due to rising commodity prices and economic downturn, the influx of people from lower Burma seeking job opportunities in Shan State has significantly increased,stated Pi Sai, a resident of Laukkai.
“Over the past two years, particularly this year, there has been a significant influx of people coming to work in Laukkai, with many arriving from lower Burma. However, as the number of job seekers increases, job opportunities have become scarce. People are so desperate for employment that some are willing to accept jobs that offer only food and accommodation, along with a monthly salary of just 30,000 MMK (approximately 140 USD). The demand for employment has risen, but job opportunities are lacking,” explained Pi Sai.
According to the locals, there has also been a noticeable increase in people from different parts of the country traveling to border towns like Tachileik and Muse in search of job opportunities.
After the coup, the World Bank reported that 11 major international companies have halted their operations in Myanmar or completely exited the country. Additionally, the report indicated a decline in foreign investment commitments (FDI).
Prominent international investors from Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, France, and Norway have decided to abandon their multimillion-dollar projects.
The United States, Great Britain, Canada, and the European Union have implemented a series of targeted sanctions, prohibiting businesses and individuals affiliated with the military regime.
A former Member of Parliament from Shan State, who preferred to remain anonymous, stated that the deterioration in all aspects signifies that the country is already in ruins.
“Now, under the rule of Min Aung Hlaing, the country has already been destroyed. I feel saddened that I can’t do anything for the people under military rule. People have no choice but to take risks and find opportunities wherever they can to earn money for survival. People can no longer afford to focus on political events in the news. Their attention is solely on their livelihood and survival; they have to take whatever jobs they can find,” the former member of parliament said.
After the military coup, crimes have been increasing day by day, and gambling activities have resurged.
Locals are concerned that Lashio might turn into a gambling city dominated by the Chinese.
“If gambling activities increase again, locals have been joking that we might have to carry guns around. This is because if gambling activities flourish, there will likely be a rise in thieves and overall crime. Currently, I am deeply concerned that Lashio might transform into a large Chinese city,” Sai Lake shares his concern.
Remark: For security reasons, the names in the article have been used as pseudonyms.