Myanmar Rebel Offensive Ousts Chinese Mafia from Notorious Casino Town

Posted on: November 23, 2023, 03:01h. 

Last updated on: November 24, 2023, 11:28h.

A coalition of rebels in Myanmar’s semi-lawless Shan State have stormed the border gambling town of Laukkaing, toppling the local Chinese mafia that have run its casinos and scam factories for years.

Myanmar, Laukkaing, Ming Xuechang, Bai Suocheng
Laukkaing, in the Kokang autonomous region, Shan state, Myanmar, has been transformed into a casino town by powerful Chinese mafia with the backing of the military junta. But their days appear to be numbered. (Image: Frontier Myanmar)

An alliance of three regional ethnic minority groups and pro-democracy fighters has taken over key towns close to the Chinese border. That’s since fighting broke out in late October, and they are blocking trade routes, Al Jazeera reports. The rebels have said their goal is to end the “oppressive military dictatorship” in Myanmar, formerly Burma.

In Laukkaing, they have freed trafficked workers from scam call centers and seized members of “the five ruling families” – Chinese mafia warlords, who have been handed over to Chinese authorities. The families have enjoyed near autonomy in the region in return for their support of Myanmar’s military junta. But they now find themselves supporting the wrong side.

Trafficked Workers Killed

Images released by Chinese state media show police holding a handcuffed man and woman identified as Ming Guoping and Ming Zhenzhen at the border gate. These are the son and granddaughter, respectively, of mafia warlord Ming Xuechang, who was reportedly killed in custody.

Ming would have been a target for the rebels. On October 20, a large group of trafficked workers were being transferred from Ming’s scam center complex in Laukkaing, known as Crouching Tiger Villa.

A group of several dozen broke away and attempted to escape before being fired on by Ming’s guards. Several were killed, according to various media reports. Some reports also suggest that Chinese undercover police may have been among those fired on.  

The incident prompted Chinese authorities to issue arrest warrants for several members of the Ming family. This may have been the catalyst that sparked the rebel uprising.

China has nominally supported the junta, which seized power in 2021, although relations have frayed. It is unlikely that the rebellion would have been allowed to occur so close to the border without China’s tacit approval. That’s bad news for the junta, and for the casino warlords it protected.

Rise of the Mafia Warlords

The region has long been a stronghold of ethnic rebel groups. Until 2009, Laukkaing was controlled by local warlord Peng Jiasheng, a rebel commander. But the previous military government wanted to install allies in the lawless region and backed a coup against Peng by his right-hand man, Bai Suocheng.

Peng was exiled to China and died there, age 91, last year. Meanwhile, in return for his loyalty to the Myanmar regime, Bai was allowed a carte blanche to profit from casinos, luring Chinese visitors from across the border.

He became chairman of the wider Kokang autonomous region and head of the five families, expanding into money laundering and drug and human trafficking, while establishing scam centers on an industrial scale.

Chinese state media reported an unconfirmed rebel account that Bai was captured on November 17 as he attempted to flee the region. He is currently being held by the Myanmar military.