In a significant effort to address the escalating problem of online scams, Thailand is seeking cooperation from Myanmar. The two countries are focusing their joint efforts on Myawaddy, a border town in Karen State that has become a hub for cybercrime.
The discussion regarding this collaboration took place between Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of Myanmar’s junta, and Lt-General Jakkapong Janpengpen, the Royal Thai Army Joint Operations Director. This comes at a time when there is a major crackdown on online scams in Laukkai Town, situated on the China-Myanmar border.
Two new city projects, KK Park and Shwe Kokko, both backed by China and located south and north of Myawaddy respectively, have come under scrutiny. These projects, which have investments from China and connections to the Myanmar military, have gained notoriety for being hubs of online gambling, cyber scams, and human trafficking.
Shwe Kokko is a joint venture between the Karen State Border Guard Force, affiliated with the Myanmar military and led by Colonel Saw Chit Thu, and Yatai International. The latter is owned by She Zhijiang, a Chinese national with Cambodian citizenship who is wanted in China.
There are growing concerns that online scam syndicates run by Chinese citizens may relocate to the Thai-Myanmar border due to the crackdown on online criminal groups in Laukkai.
In August, China, Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar agreed to establish a collaborative police operations centre aimed at combating cyber scams in the region. On October 10, China’s Ministry of Public Security announced the successful extradition of 2,317 scam suspects from northern Myanmar to China as part of their “Summer Operation.”
Numerous Thai citizens, lured by promises of lucrative employment, were coerced into working as online scammers in Laukkai. However, Thai authorities have recently rescued these victims through negotiations with the junta authorities.
Analysts are questioning the intentions of the junta led by Min Aung Hlaing regarding their crackdown on scam syndicates. There are doubts that their actions are solely aimed at appeasing China, which is determined to eradicate online scams. Despite China issuing arrest warrants for Bai Suocheng and Wei San, the regime seems to be protecting them due to their influence over the Kokang Border Guard Force and pro-junta militias.
In response to the escalating situation, Britain, the United States, and Canada have recently imposed sanctions on three individuals involved in Shwe Kokko, including Saw Chit Thu. These individuals are allegedly involved in human trafficking in Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos.
The cooperation between Thailand and Myanmar is a crucial step in combating cybercrime in the region. However, given the magnitude and complexity of the issue, it will require sustained and coordinated efforts from all countries involved. The international community’s role in imposing sanctions and supporting these efforts is vital to ensure the success of these initiatives.