Mandalay’s red-hot property market sparks concerns over Chinese investment

Chinese nationals rushing into Mandalay this year are heavily involved in the region’s property market, and their investments are driving prices so high that Myanmar nationals are being displaced from Mandalay city’s centre, according to realtors.

Figures from the Immigration and National Registration Department show that since the country opened to foreign investment, more than 1,000 foreign nationals with work visas have flowed into the country each month, and most are Chinese nationals.

Chinese investors have entered both the jewellery, and oil and gas businesses and are now investing in Mandalay’s real-estate market. According to some local realtors, Chinese tycoons might be involved in most of the high-profile property deals that have taken place of late.

“The local [property] market has been in the hands of Chinese since years ago. No one can say who is behind the billions worth of deals. Such huge contracts have been common these days. I think the speculation is the source of soaring prices in the real-estate business. Plots owned by Myanmar citizens are getting fewer in number in the downtown area and many of the locals have moved to the outskirts,” one local realtor said.

Khine Thazin, a resident in Chanayethazan Township, agreed: “Previously the Chinese households were not above three to four [per apartment block]. But now, the tables have turned. Some houses are closed with placards lettered in Chinese. I’m afraid Mandalay will become a province of China.”

Local residents are calling for property deals to be investigated to uncover the sources of the funds.

“As Mandalay area can be extended only to the South, some Chinese have acquired plots and farmlands in Amarapura [the Southern corner of Mandalay] in advance. Some contracts were signed by their own names, and some, in the names of Myanmar citizens. I’ve heard most of them are not Mandalay natives. Land prices in the eastern villages of Taungthaman Lake have increased from millions to hundreds of million kyat,” a resident in Amarapura said. The number of Chinese-owned businesses – hotels, restaurants, inns – has increased too.

“Everyone knows about the Chinese involvement in the property market. But it’s hard to prove as they seldom make deals in their own names. The relevant authorities should inspect such cases,” a local business owner said.

Thaung Zaw from the immigration department said: “Only Myanmar citizens have the right to acquire property. The foreigners can’t even rent a house.”

However, most Chinese in Mandalay are fluent in Myanmar, making them easy to disguise themselves as Myanmar natives, he added.

“Relevant authorities are taking action against the Chinese citizens who have expired visas, or married Myanmar women and entered the country after committing crimes in their mother country. People are urged to inform the authorities of illegal Chinese migrants. Those who accept the illegal Chinese migrants might face a jail sentence in accord with the immigration law,” Thaung Zaw said.

Every month authorities are warning foreign citizens, including Chinese nationals, to comply visa rules, and greater vigilance is being placed on the activities of foreigners, he added. Foreigners who come to the country on a business visa are allowed to stay for 70 days. They can remain up to one year after extending their visa three times, with the recommendations of the respective ministry. Myo Myint Aung, an agent at Wathonedaray real estate, called on authorities to trace the source of money used to purchase land plots.

“Some people who are actually running their businesses are buying land plots. Chinese nationals are purchasing land not only in the urban areas but also outside the city. In the past, Myanmar people moved to the suburban areas after selling their houses and land. But now they are not in a position to own a house and plot of land even in suburban areas. Due to the surging prices, they have to rent houses to live in,” Myo Myint Aung added. Some Chinese nationals are making a living in the jade market in Mahaaungmyay Township. The majority of them rent houses instead of living in hotels. Gem merchants say they do not know what kind of visas these businesspeople are using to work and live in Myanmar. Aung Ko, a merchant who runs an import-export business in the Muse-Kyel Gaung border area said money was flowing between
mainland Chinese and ethnic Chinese citizens of Myanmar.

“The local entrepreneurs import a number of motorcycles with an import license but do not repay all the money at once. After that, the Chinese from the mainland buy jade stones, houses and plots of land in Mandalay [through the local Chinese],” he said.

There are nearly 70,000 China-born Myanmar citizens in Mandalay, according to the Immigration and National Registration Department. “We can see many Chinese restaurants everywhere in Mandalay. The majority of Chinese people there speak Chinese but not Myanmar language. It is difficult to identify whether they are Myanmar or Chinese citizens at a time when the country also sees a massive influx of tourists. Mandalay is packed with restaurants and hotels with Chinese signage even though authorities only allow using Myanmar and English languages in all restaurants in Mandalay,” said Ye Naing, a local resident from the Mahaaungmyay Township.

Chinese vendors, who sell pickled carrots and Malar fish curry, own houses and apartments, local residents say. “Where does the money come from?” some ask, calling on authorities to trace where all the cash flowing into Mandalay’s property market is coming from. The influx of Chinese nationals into Mandalay is also raising concerns among locals that the city will be a place where only Chinese people can make a living.


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