On Myanmar border, a city thrives

Opening-up has played a key role in the economic development of Tengchong, Yunnan province, both in the past and today, local authorities say.

“It is not hard to see that all the economically active periods in Tengchong’s history were those when we had close contacts and deep exchanges with South and Southeast Asia, and the times of weaker economy were often when such contacts were weakened or interrupted for various reasons,” said Liu Pincheng, vice-head of Tengchong’s bureau of business and trade. The principle continues to work today, Liu said.

Tengchong is located along the Myanmar border. Historically, it served as a key transportation hub along the Silk Road in Southwest China.

The county town is about 200 km from Myitkyina, capital of Myanmar’s Kachin state.

Border trade prospered in Tengchong during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with cargo-laden horses trudging along the trading routes between Tengchong and northern Myanmar year-round.

Tengchong became a base for commerce for many Chinese and foreign businesspeople. More than a dozen international companies were set up in Tengchong. Imports and exports from the city accounted for 30.5 percent of the foreign trade in Yunnan in 1929.

Since China began its policy of reform and opening-up in the late 1970s, Tengchong has been taking advantage of its location, Liu said.

In the 1980s and ’90s, its economy saw rapid development soon after border trade was restarted.

The timber business alone attracted nearly a thousand import and manufacturing companies to Tengchong, bringing in a tidal wave of people, logistics concerns and capital, all of which contributed to the area’s development, Liu said.

In addition, the jade industry was one of the major foreign-oriented industries. Tengchong was once the largest import and processing base for jade in China.

In recent years, the city has sought to take advantage of opportunities brought by the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as by an economic corridor connecting China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India.

It sped up transformation in the direction of its trade and development to suit the new economic trends.

“Tengchong’s import and export trade has basically formed a new and balanced structure, with imports including agricultural products and minerals, and exports such as engineering machinery, building materials and daily provisions,” Liu said, adding that trade between residents along the border has seen rapid growth in recent years, too.

In the first 10 months of 2018, the value of the city’s imports and exports reached $325 million, an increase of 48.4 percent over 2017.

In the past few years, agricultural cooperation with Myanmar has become one of the biggest growth points in Tengchong’s foreign trade.

There are 22 local enterprises engaged in cooperative agriculture in northern Myanmar, with 40,000 hectares of cultivated area and more than 10 varieties of crops.

Jinxin Trade Co is one of the largest Tengchong-based companies involved in such business. The company has more than 700 trained workers at its six agricultural bases in northern Myanmar, growing plants including bananas, rubber trees, rice, corn and sugar cane.

Since 2009, the company has signed cooperative contracts with four Myanmar companies and plans to develop 24,000 hectares of agricultural land in the area.

“Our Myanmar partners help integrate the land, and our company will provide seedlings, agricultural supplies, technology and management,” said Jiang Xiaohong, executive vice-president of Jinxin.

As of October, the company’s imports and exports in 2018 exceeded 91 million yuan ($13.4 million), and it brought in about 150,000 metric tons of agricultural products, according to Jiang.

Besides contributing to Tengchong’s economy, the company’s business has also greatly benefitted the lives of local farmers in Myanmar by offering more than 6,000 job opportunities-which rises to more than 10,000 during the busy farming season.

“Local farmers’ incomes have grown from an average 800 yuan per year to the current 4,500 yuan in the past few years,” Jiang said.

By 2017, the company had built 343 kilometers of roads near its planting bases, constructed two steel bridges longer than 30 meters, 63 bridges spanning 5 to 20 meters and funded construction of two schools, a church and two small clinics in Myanmar, Jiang said.

Jiang said the company’s experience reflects the development and transformation of Tengchong’s foreign trade over the years.

In 1991, He Yuanshu, president of Jinxin, founded the company on behalf of his village. The company was mainly engaged in the timber import business, growing rapidly and becoming one of the biggest in Tengchong.

After the timber business was banned by the Myanmar government in 2004, the company turned toward agricultural cooperation.

In the past few years, Tengchong has made great efforts to enhance the infrastructure and services of its port to handle the growing traffic between the two countries.

In 2017, the number of people entering or exiting through the port reached 878,000, up 20 percent yearon-year, accompanied by a year-on-year rise in the number of vehicles (47 percent), cargo volume (61 percent) and freight value (51 percent).

Currently, Tengchong airport is undergoing expansion and is expected to become an international transportation port soon, which will help the city build a one-hour aviation circle connecting itself with several countries in South and Southeast Asia.


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