YANGON: China has told Myanmar’s junta to “root out” online scam centres in its lawless borderlands that target Chinese citizens, Beijing’s embassy in Yangon said.
Criminal syndicates are accused of luring or kidnapping citizens of China and other countries to lawless enclaves along Myanmar’s northern and eastern borders and forcing them to work as online scammers.
The scammers typically target their compatriots and groom them for weeks before cajoling them into ploughing money into fake investment platforms and other ruses, analysts say.
The scams worry Beijing — a major ally and arms supplier of the internationally isolated junta.
Beijing’s ambassador held “special negotiations” on Monday with the junta’s foreign minister on “combating crimes including domestic communication frauds”, according to an embassy statement released on Tuesday.
“Communication frauds continue to spread in Myanmar border areas including northern Myanmar by severely harming the personal interests of people in both China and Myanmar,” the ambassador said, according to the statement.
“The residue of communication fraud and online gambling in Myanmar should be rooted out,” he added.
- Special Report: Fighting the ‘scamdemic’
Beijing is a major ally of the junta and has refused to call its 2021 power grab a coup.
Several projects in its sprawling Belt and Road infrastructure initiative are slated to run through northern Myanmar, linking China’s landlocked Yunnan province with the Indian Ocean.
Beijing also backs and arms several ethnic rebel groups along its border with Myanmar, analysts say.
Some of these groups have clashed repeatedly with the Myanmar military in the aftermath of the coup, and an alliance of China-backed rebels in March called for Beijing’s help to defuse the crisis.
Last month, Thailand cut electricity supplies to a Myanmar border township that home to a billion-dollar development that analysts say is a front for illegal gambling and online scam operations.
The sprawling Shwe Kokko complex houses hotels and casinos targeting Chinese customers, analysts say, and is run by the Border Guard Force (BGF), a military-aligned ethnic militia.
The Myanmar army and the BGF have been battling Karen militias, with the resulting clashes and air strikes causing thousands of refugees to flee into Thailand.
Online “boiler room” scams have long had a presence across Southeast Asia.
Victims have reported travelling to Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos on false promises of romance or high-paying jobs, and then being detained and forced to work swindling their compatriots online.