【Japan Himalaya League】 Author: Laosun  Translator: Ranting

On January 26, Voice of America reported that international organizations believe that the large consumer market in Communist China and the coercive takeover by the Burmese military government have made jade mining in Burma a sweatshop industry. Burmese human rights groups have called for a ban on the sale of Burmese jade and for international jade consumers to boycott jade from Burma.

In a study published last June, Global Witness, a London-based international NGO, said that the Hpakant Township in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State has the world’s richest jade reserves, with an annual value of billions of dollars, and that jade sales have provided significant funding for all sides in Myanmar’s military conflict. The sale of jade has provided significant funding for parties to Myanmar’s military conflicts, with frequent armed conflicts over jade mining rights. This vicious cycle has plagued northern Burma in recent decades and permeated the country’s political economy.

Hanna Hindstrom is Global Witness’ expert on Burma. Hindstrom says the life and pay of jade miners is miserable. Myanmar’s jade miners, especially those who work independently, are among the most vulnerable and unprotected workers in the country, facing the daily risk of death from landslides as they search for jade in unstable old mines and waste dumps. Once they are lucky enough to find a valuable stone, these bosses will rip off the miners for very low prices for their jade.

On the other hand, the jade industry has had a devastating impact on communities in northern Burma over the years, exacerbating conflict, corruption and environmental degradation. The problem of drug proliferation has also swept through Hpakant Township. Some estimates suggest that most jade miners are now addicted to heroin or methamphetamine.

Burmese jade, known as jadeite in the Communist China, has a huge market in Communist China. Although there are many countries of origin, the jade produced in Burma is considered to be the best of jade, and Burmese jade has been the most important trade item between the Communist China and Burma, and it is estimated that 95% of the gem-quality jadeite in Communist China comes from Burma.

Image from Reuters

According to a Global Witness investigation, up to 90 percent of all jade mined in the Hpakant Township is currently smuggled out of the country and into China, rather than into the formal system in Myanmar. This means that little of the enormous jade mining wealth in Kachin State is being used for the benefit of Burma or the Kachin population. Many ethnic armed groups are also involved in the jade trade, which is also the largest single source of income for many armed groups, and the jade trade facilitates the arms trade.

On December 20, 2021, the Burmese military arrested some 400 jade traders and brokers in Mandalay, one of the country’s major jade distribution centers, demanding ransom before releasing them, according to Hindstrom, who said that the Burmese government forces were cracking down on these jade traders and brokers because the Burmese military government was in desperate need of foreign exchange earnings to prop up its illegal regime and buy weapons to suppress the people.

In April 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s state-run Myanmar Gemstone Enterprise (MGE) for being a key economic resource for the military government and for supporting the military government’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests and violations of the rights of the Burmese people. However, human rights groups in Burma argue that the targeted sanctions against MGE are not sufficient to stop the trade in Burmese gems.

Myanmar Justice spokesman Yadanar Maung called on jade consumers to check the origin of the jade they buy and boycott Myanmar’s jade, which is stained with the blood of its people.

The U.S. Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, Labor, State, Treasury and the Office of the Trade Representative also issued a joint advisory on doing business in Burma on January 26, reminding concerned U.S. businesses and people of the increased risks involved in doing business with the Burmese junta.

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Posted by: Ranting