More than 40,000 Chinese involved in online scam operations deported from Myanmar

3 Min
More than 40,000 Chinese involved in online scam operations deported from Myanmar

More than 40,000 Chinese nationals associated with unlawful online scam groups in Myanmar’s northern Shan state were arrested and deported during a three-month period from early September to mid-December, data from relevant groups indicate.

Radio Free Asia compiled the data from statements made by ethnic Wa and Kokang authorities in northern Shan state, the ruling military junta and China’s Ministry of Public Security.

Shan state, known as a hub for crystal methamphetamine trafficking, is rife with other illegal activities in enclaves along the Chinese border, as criminals take advantage of ongoing civil unrest and armed conflict under the junta which seized power in a 2021 coup. Falling within neighboring China’s orbit, northern Shan state has become a focal point for Chinese scammers who target their own citizens.

From Oct. 31 to Dec. 15, nearly 12,050 Chinese citizens linked to online scam groups in the region were arrested and deported, according to a mid-December announcement by the State Administration Council, the formal name of the military junta governing Myanmar.

Most of the Chinese nationals sent back were operating in the Kokang region, whose mostly ethnic Chinese population has backed resistance to the junta.

Arrests of other Chinese nationals involved in the criminal activity have occurred in territory controlled by the United Wa State Army, or USWA, said to be the largest ethnic armed organization in Myanmar. USWA soldiers arrested more than 1,000 Chinese nationals involved in the gangs on Sept. 6-7 and immediately transferred them across the border to Chinese police.

China’s Ministry of Public Security announced on Nov. 21 that it had apprehended more than 31,000 Chinese nationals linked to online fraud gangs in northern Myanmar. Those arrested included ringleaders, recruiters and over 1,500 Chinese fugitives.

Altogether, the figures add up to over 40,000 Chinese nationals arrested and deported in connection with online scam operaions from early September to mid-December.

‘Self-serving local authorities’

Than Soe Naing, a political observer who lived on the China-Myanmar border, said the tens of thousands of Chinese nationals were able to commit crimes in Myanmar because of the involvement of local authorities.

“It is quite obvious that the self-serving local authorities at various levels of the junta are involved in this business,” he told RFA. “That’s why it [online scamming] has greatly expanded. It has become uncontrollable.”

Aung Myo, another political observer and former military officer, told RFA that Burmese officials in the border region have chosen not to crack down on the crime.

“It is especially related to the socioeconomic [situation] of the countries,” he said. “Because of this, the governments will not eradicate it. It’s natural that such business will develop, but it will diminish only when [the governments] crush it.”

The junta maintains several army battalions in northern Shan states as well as administrative and immigration offices.

RFA could not reach Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, the junta’s spokesman, for comment on why so many Chinese nationals have been able to enter the Kokang area and operate online scams given the heavy presence of military battalions.

But on Dec. 5, Zaw Min Tun said via state-controlled media that the junta did not accept acts that harm the interests and security of neighboring countries by using Myanmar territory, and that China and Myanmar were working closely together to ensure stability and the rule of law along the border.

RFA’s calls to Kokang regional officials for comment went unanswered.

‘Everyone is responsible’

Both China and Myanmar are responsible for allowing Chinese nationals to illegally enter Myanmar and quickly forming online scam rings, said Hla Kyaw Zaw, a China-based political observer.

“Everyone is responsible,” she said. “It is likely that China and its policies are unable to control its borders very well. There are illegal crossings in some points.”

“There’s no need to say anything about Myanmar [because] there is no rule of law,” she added. “If you have money, [you’re allowed to do anything]. That’s why [Chinese are] entering.”

The Chinese Embassy in Yangon did not respond to an email request for comment.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Forum on Dec. 8 that China would collaborate with Mekong River countries to crack down on online scams since Myanmar’s instability affected areas across its borders.

Despite the ongoing arrests of online scammers in northern Shan state, residents have often informed RFA that online scam operations led by Chinese nationals are still growing uncontrollably in Shwe Kokko, a town in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin state that is controlled by an ethnic armed group, and in Shan state’s Tachileik on the Thailand-Myanmar border.

–RFA report Dec 22, 2023