High hopes for trading town bordering China
Chinshwehaw’s once-booming economy collapsed last year during fighting in Kokang, but traders are now returning, while a new economic zone could significantly boost prospects.
LAST year, it was a ghost town. Racked by the fighting around Laukkai, Chinshwehaw’s once-booming economy, built on its location as a major trading camp on the border with China, had collapsed as workers fled and shops closed down.
Fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Myanmar National Democractic Alliance Army (MNDAA) broke out in early 2015, driving away the masons and the sugar-cane workers who had come from all over Myanmar to work for mainly Chinese business owners.
But now, though the government’s efforts to end armed conflict through the 21st-Century Panglong Conference have barely begun, prosperity, if not yet a stable peace, seems to have returned to the town, in northeastern Shan State’s troubled Kokang region.
For the long term, the border post is a vital node in China’s plan for a four-nation China-Myanmar-Bangladesh-India trade route.
Progress toward this goal is already under way on the Chinese side of the border, where an economic cooperation zone is being built at nearby Lincang, according to U Thaung Lwin, a director at the Chinshwehaw trading zone.
He told The Myanmar Times that Myanmar and China have also discussed another border trading zone in Shan State’s Mine Ton/Mong Ton township.
Either of the two new projects has the potential to rival the border post at Muse, across from Ruili in Yunnan province, which is currently Myanmar’s busiest trading point, he said, though this depends on investment into trading infrastructure.
“China sees Chinshwehaw as a portal for importing food and other goods from Myanmar. Once the economic cooperation zone is finished, exports passing through Chinshwehaw will match those of Muse,” he said, adding that Myanmar traders are mostly interested in exporting, rather than importing.
The trading zone at Lincang-Chinshwehaw will be a link in a vast chain that will connect South and Southeast Asia with the Pacific, a process already under way with the completion of a road between Lincang and Kunming.
A parallel railway between Kunming, Chinshwehaw and Kyaukphyu in Myanmar’s Rakhine State was suspended by Myanmar’s previous government, but the KunmingLincang stretch of the railway is already in place, and a Lincang-Chinshwehaw rail connection is under construction, with a completion deadline of 2020.
Construction of a new bridge in Shan State’s Kunlong, across the Thanlwin River, started earlier this year and is expected to be completed next year, while a new airport is also planned for the area.
Chinshwehaw border post is now the country’s third-largest in terms of import-export trade volume.
‘Exports passing through Chinshwehaw will match those of Muse.’ U Thaung Lwin Chinshwehaw trading zone
Agricultural and fisheries produce such as beans, corn, sesame and eels are exported to China through the gate, which yields about US$50 million a month in proceeds on average.
In the 2016-17 financial year so far, Muse has processed about US$1.135 billion in trade. Myanmar’s secondbusiest border post is between Myawady and Mae Sot in Thailand, which has seen more than $206 million in trade this year while Chinshwehaw has processed around $144 million, according to Ministry of Commerce data.
The once-bustling trading town of Chinshwehaw was deserted when conflict broke out last year.