Serious doubts have been raised about the awarding of a dubious United Nations peace prize to Kokang Chairman Pai Sou Chen for his stance against the drug trade.
The 62 year-old former deputy commander of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) was awarded a “World Peace Prize” by a purported United Nations subsidiary in Beijing last month for “leading the prohibition of drugs and ending the Kokang people’s centennial curse of planting drugs.”
While locals tell The Irrawaddy that drug trade in the autonomous zone ruled by the Union and Solidarity Party (USDP) lawmaker continues to persist, critics say the fraudulent award was a botched attempt by Pai to bolster his leadership over the Chinese enclave in the Golden Triangle.
Kokang residents said that one reason why the prohibition of drugs is failing is that the enclave’s young are struggling to find jobs.
“We don’t really want to work at the casinos, but we have nowhere else to go,” said Huang Feihong, who works at one the Kokang capital Laukkai. “I don’t feel there is [drug] prohibition at all. It is still very easy to buy drugs, even though you cannot plant drugs publicly. The situation is just the same as before 2009.”
A person working for the autonomous zone’s government has confirmed the continued plantation of drugs, but spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Pai, whose name is also spelled Bai Suocheng or Bei Sor Chen, began his absolute rule over the autonomous enclave’s largely Chinese population on Aug. 24, 2009, when he, then the MNDAA’s deputy commander, chased its octogenarian chairman Peng Jiasheng out of Kokang with Burmese military help. Kokang under the MNDAA was a hotbed of drug and weapons weapons trafficking, according to US diplomatic cables made public by Wikileaks.
The prize was awarded by the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association (UNCFA) on International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, according to a report prominently positioned on the Kokang government website. The report is based on a UNCFA statement from Dec. 28 titled “Calling for Peace: The United Nations recognizes peace-loving personalities.”
The association’s status is, however, contentious. The online records of the United Nations Economic and Social Council refute the UNCFA’s claims that it is an NGO “organized” by the United Nations subsidiary body. While the Beijing-based organization has applied for consultative status with the council, it “is not in consultative status” and “has not participated in any meetings,” according to the UN’s online registry. Corporate filings show that the UNCFA is a corporation registered in Delaware.
“We did not know,” the Kokang administration’s spokesperson Liu-Chen Zuoyan told The Irrawaddy when confronted with the UNCFA’s background. “The purpose of our trip was not to get a prize, but to bring business to Kokang,” he said. “We have made an oral agreement with the Chinese government to build a new city at the border that will serve as a special economic zone.”
UNCFA General-Secretary Li Weitian, who uses the name Charles Lee, denied allegations of impropriety in a phone interview, adding that his association “is devoted to the development of the Chinese community all around the world.” Li said he planned to bring a delegation of Chinese businessmen to Kokang in spring. He is a member of the Confucius Peace Prize Committee, which set out to create a Chinese alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize after Chinese dissident activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded the prize in 2010.
In March 2012, after being introduced to Pai through through a distant relative of the Kokang chairman, Li led a delegation to Laukkai. According to the UNCFA website, the delegation included a man named Sun Yu, who was reported as head of the International Cooperation Center of the Chinese National Reform and Development Commission, a position in which not Sun, but a Cao Wenlian has served since March 2009. The delegation participated in the festivities that marked the first anniversary of the formalization of Kokang autonomy in Shan State on March 30, photos show.
On that occasion, Li, who calls himself an investment adviser to the Kokang administration, made Pai the “chairman” of UNCFA’s Burmese branch and invited him to visit Beijing, Li said. While confirming Li’s presence at the festivities, Liu-Chen denied that Pai has ever held any position with the UNCFA.
On Dec. 5, however, Pai followed Li’s invitation and traveled to Beijing, according to Liu-Chen’s private blog, in what was his first trip to the Chinese capital. The ethnic Han, who speaks Chinese with a heavy local accent, stayed ay the Beijing Hotel, one of the city’s most prestigious establishments.
“Pai was very excited about the trip. We went to see Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall,” Liu-Chen said. On Dec. 9 and 10, Pai had two meetings at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a privilege the Chinese Central government usually reserves for high-ranking visiting dignitaries. It was on Dec. 10 that Li awarded him the peace prize.
At Diaoyutai, Pai met with Lu Junqing, a former local official from Sichuan Province and later an organizer of high-level events in Beijing. In a profile of Lu published last year, China News Weekly portrayed him as the prime exponent of China’s “photo economy”: savvy businessmen bring officials and wealthy upstarts together for staged photo-ops in national venues such as the Diaoyutai guesthouse to create an impression of high-level links that can be used to bolster their position in their local power bases.
Pai also met with Dai Xueyin, director of a purported charity organization, which calls itself in English “The Great Unity of the Chinese Association for Friendship,” with whom he discussed the establishment of the new special economic zone, according to Liu-Chen.
On Dec. 12, Pai visited Shenzhen, the Chinese industrial hub bordering Hong Kong, according to Liu-Chen’s blog. Liu-Chen said that they also visited Shanghai, Chongqing and Chengdu.
Li and Liu-Chen confirmed a rumor that first spread among Shan State Chinese-language bloggers: The Kokang chairman had planned to travel to New York with Li on Dec. 9 to be awarded the prize there. Li said that Pai’s visa application was rejected at the US Embassy in Beijing for procedural reasons.
“We are all Chinese, but after all, [they] are foreigners,” Li said of Pai and Liu-Chen. Liu-Chen said that Pai has dropped his plan of traveling to the US in the near future. The chairman “is busy with his own work,” he said.
Kokang is a stronghold of Burma’s ruling Union and Solidarity Party. Pai was elected to the Shan State Parliament in 2010 as one of two USDP lawmakers for the Laukkai constituency. Kokang’s two national MPs, one each in the Lower and Upper Houses, are also USDP delegates. Pai’s son Yingneng is the USDP’s party secretary in Kokang. Locals voiced concern last summer that Pai had called for obligatory universal USDP membership in its middle schools. “Join the Party or go to prison,” was a slogan that circulated online.
Anonymous members of the MNDAA-linked online forum Righteous Kokang have vividly discussed initial rumors and the later reports on the award. Some have suggested that Pai, assuming that the local population would not see through the hoax, paid for the fictitious award to bolster his leadership position in Kokang. “Up to today, we have not given them any money,” Liu-Chen said.
Pai is not the only person in Kokang to receive a dubious award. Liu Zhengqi, a Kokang business official, was awarded a “Philanthropist Award.” Liu-Chen, who also serves as the editor of the Chinese-language Kokang Weekly, was awarded the title “Peace Emissary.” Zhao Zhangguang, the founder of hair re-growth and shampoo products producer Zhaoguang 101, was awarded the “World Health Prize,” because his “recently launched yew-based health products have contributed to peace, health and beauty of humanity in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the spirit of a beautiful China as put forward by the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.”