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Radio Free Asia

China Closes Border With Myanmar Amid COVID-19 Surge

2021-07-08 -- China on Thursday closed the last two of its 10 border crossings with Myanmar amid a recent surge in cases of COVID-19 infection, suspending cross-border trade and leaving more than 1,300 trucks stranded on the Myanmar side, sources in Myanmar said.

The gates at the Muse-Wanding-Qing Xian Jiao and Wanding-Pansai border crossings closed at 1:00 p.m., a Myanmar border official named Maung Maung told RFA on July 8.

"We closed both gates, and trucks have not been able to get across now for a long time," the official said. "The trucks had been moving before under a shunting system where the drivers were held on this side of the crossing, but now these trucks can't move either and have been stranded."

Around 1,300 trucks carrying rice, beans, onions, and dried fish are now stuck at Qing Xian Jao, a rice merchant on the Muse border said.

Recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in Muse on the Myanmar side had led to a rise in the number of cases of infection in the Chinese border towns of Ruili and Jiegao, and traders said that a 21-day lockdown was already in force in those towns.

Than Gyaw, joint secretary of the Myanmar Eels Entrepreneurs Association, said that Myanmar fishermen are now facing huge losses as China had given no advance warning that the gates on the border would be closed.

"It was about two days ago that some of the highways from Ruili to the [Chinese] mainland were locked down, and now with Qing Xian Giao closed, the goods from this side can't get to the mainland at all," he said.

"All the trucks that went up yesterday had to come back today and will now have to go back to Mandalay."

Fishermen had already suffered losses before the last gates closed, with the more than 50 tons of eels exported each day to China before 2019 cut back to only 40 tons a day after the start of the pandemic, Than Gyaw said.

Apart from the five crossing points on the border in Muse—three of which had been shut down earlier—Myanmar has two border gates in Kachin state, and two in Kokang and another in Mong-ko in northern Shan state. The frontier between the two countries is 2,130 km (1,320 miles) long.

Following Wednesday's shutdowns, all those gates are now closed, traders said.

Trade had already dropped

Cross-border trade had already slowed, almost coming to a halt in recent days as the border gates shut down one by one, Min Thein—vice chairman of the Muse Rice Commodity Exchange—said, adding that the closing of several trading posts in early July had reduced trade volume to 80 percent of what it had been in previous months.

"Now, almost the entire flow of goods has come to a standstill," he said.

The Chin Shwe Haw-Laukkai border crossing connecting China to Kokang—and used mainly for exports of rice, green peas, rubber, and other commodities—had already been closed since the beginning of the year due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Before the gate was closed, between 200 and 300 12-wheeler trucks carrying peanuts and seafood crossed into China each day, a Myanmar trader named Ma Moe said.

The Muse trade zone on the Chinese border accounts for around 70 percent of Myanmar's total trade revenue, with Myanmar newspapers now controlled by the military junta saying cross-border trade with China had reached U.S. $3 billion in fiscal year 2020-21, up from the previous year.

Attempts to reach Muse border trade officials for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.

Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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