RANGOON — A massive jade stone recently discovered near a village in Kachin State’s Hpakant region is believed to weigh about 50 tons, though with half the rock yet to be unearthed, its exact mass remains unknown.
After visiting the discovery site and sizing up the raw jade stone in Wai Ka village amid tight security, local jade merchant U Cho said initial reports of its size were likely underestimated.
“We estimate that the stone might be bigger,” he told The Irrawaddy. “What we had heard [that the stone was thought to weigh about 20 tons] was because the body of the stone is still buried in the ground. But, we don’t know how much it will be worth.”
Government troops were deployed this week to guard the area where the jade stone is located. As a result, local small-scale jade miners have been completely barred from searching for jade in the surrounding area.
The jade stone, described by locals as being “as big as a Mitsubishi Pajero truck,” was found by a small-scale miner, Aung Naing Win, on Feb. 9 in Hpakant Township. The region, west of the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, is known for possessing some of the world’s best jade.
Contacted by The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, a staffer at the state-owned Myanmar Gems Enterprise in Naypyidaw said she was not allowed to comment on the jade stone discovery in Hpakant. Asked for contact details for an individual authorized to speak to the media, the staffer said she was not at liberty to provide that information.
The Myanmar Gems Enterprise operates under Burma’s Ministry of Mines.
Small-scale miners in the region operate unlicensed, and thus have no legal claim to jade that they discover. Most of them deal in the black market trade.
Legal ownership of the stone in Wai Ka village remains unclear. Licensed miners are allowed to reap the profits of their jade discoveries, subject to government taxation, but Burma’s 2008 Constitution stipulates that the state “is the ultimate owner of all lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the sea, and in the atmosphere in the Union.”
Burma produces the vast majority of the world’s jade. It is often smuggled over the border to China in a massive unregulated trade, without ever being taxed.
A July 2013 report by the US-based Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University put the sale of Burmese jade at as high as US$8 billion in 2011.
Most jade mining companies that operate in Hpakant are run by Chinese businessmen or Burmese cronies. One of the biggest industry players is the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL), a Burmese military-run conglomerate that dominates many sectors of the country’s economy.