Ruili — China’s gateway to Myanmar

The Jiegao border area is located in Ruili, a frontier city in China’s Yunnan province. Geographically, Yunnan occupies a unique position.

Shortly after day break, under the cover of heavy monsoon clouds, the Jiegao border trading area — a medium-sized 2 sq. km. complex — appears desolate. In the half-light of the early hours, long-haul trailer trucks are parked in fairly neat diagonal rows. A few hours later, their engines come to life. In the background, shutters are lifted from a string of warehouses, housing items as varied as rubber tyres, white goods, and light machinery. Soon after, the vehicles wheel out, heading for exotic destinations in the not-so-far-away Myanmar. “Around 100 trucks leave every day for Mandalay, mostly carrying machinery, construction material and electrical items. Those returning bring in fresh fruit and vegetables as well as dried fish,” says Zhou Xing, a trader in the park.

The Jiegao border area is located in Ruili, a frontier city in China’s Yunnan province. Geographically, Yunnan occupies a unique position. The province borders three major countries — Vietnam and Laos to the south and Myanmar to the west. Its prized location, in turn, raises Yunnan’s national profile and reinforces its identity as the gateway to South and Southeast Asia. From a perch in Kunming, the provincial capital, Bangkok, Hanoi, Yangon or Kolkata are distant lands, most of them falling well within a 2,500 km radius. If everything goes according to plans, it may not be too long before bustling expressways, bullet trains and energy pipelines radiating from Kunming form a vast network of interconnected cities and towns.

Ruili has the typical feel of a border town. As the day comes to life, it is apparent that the dress code in this area, compared to Shanghai or Beijing, has vastly mutated. So have appearances of people. Most women here seem to prefer wrapping their waists with colourful and well-embroidered Sarong-style cloth, more typical of neighbouring Myanmar. Some of the men, with pronounced south Asian features, ride scooters to work, wearing more pedestrian lungis, which could be as commonplace in Ruili as in neighbouring Mandalay, Dhaka or Guwahati.

New economic corridor

Drivers say it would take them 8-9 hours to cover the 700 km to Mandalay — Myanmar’s second largest city along the mighty Irrawaddy river. “They would take the old Stilwell road along a large part of the journey,” says Qin Tao, a local trader. Mr. Qin was referring to the Second World War military road that was built from Ledo in Assam to Kunming, which passes through Ruili. General Joseph Stillwell, the larger-than-life American commander, oversaw the construction, which proved crucial in stopping Japanese imperial forces in their tracks. Though stretches outside China of the 1,753 km highway are in poor condition, the Stillwell road can still recover some of its prime, in case the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor materialises.

The BCIM is a mega-project that would link Kolkata with Kunming. In turn, it would industrialise their vast hinterlands, pillared by important nodes such as Dhaka and Sylhet in Bangladesh and Mandalay in Myanmar, which would fall along the route. But the Chinese are thinking big, and the Jiegao facility can hardly match the scale of their ambition. In anticipation of the BCIM economic corridor, the Chinese have identified Wanding, a half-an-hour drive from Ruili, as the future point of cross-border transshipment with Myanmar. “In the beginning, around 300 trucks will cross through Wanding, but the capacity would eventually rise to 500 trucks,” says Cui Hongji, a senior official from Dehong prefecture, of which Ruili is a part.

Source : The Hindu

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