Beijing sends more soldiers after a new COVID-19 outbreak on the border with Myanmar
A lockdown has been imposed on Ruili, a Yunnan town near the Muse border crossing. Most of the latest cases involve Myanmar nationals. Military patrols have been deployed to stop illegal entries. Troops are ready to intervene to protect Chinese investments in Myanmar.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The authorities in Yunnan today imposed a lockdown in Ruili, a city on the border with Myanmar, because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The decision came after 15 people tested positive yesterday for the coronavrius; 12 of them are Myanmar nationals living in the border city, a fact that has alarmed provincial officials.
In China’s southern neighbour, the ongoing conflict between the military and the armed opposition has made it more difficult to contain the pandemic.
The outbreak in Ruili has pushed the number of cases in China to its highest level since January, although the country continues to report, at least officially, very few cases compared to other countries, especially in Asia.
However, the re-emergence of the coronavirus in late May in Guangdong province, which generates 10 per cent of China’s GDP, has already had a negative impact on the post-pandemic economic recovery.
To cope with the risk of the virus spreading from Myanmar, the head of the Chinese Communist Party in Ruili announced even tighter controls at the border.
Zhai Yulong stressed that illegal cross-border activities will be stopped, with punishments for offenders and those who organise human trafficking.
However, the border closure is hurting local residents on both sides of the border. According to Channel News Asia, goods worth on average US$ 2.3 million go through the Muse border crossing near Ruili every day.
Since civil strife broke out in Myanmar in February, China has increased its military presence along the border.
The increase in Chinese soldiers and patrols in the area is not only aimed at blocking Myanmar migrants, who might carry the coronavirus.
As the situation in its southern neighbour gets worse, Beijing also wants to be ready to protect its trading (and geopolitical) interests.
Analysts note that in case of need, Chinese troops could be used to quickly protect the gas and oil pipelines that supply Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, from Kyaukpyu, on the Bay of Bengal.
The same goes for the highway that connects Muse to Mandalay, the industrial area of Myitkyina and the development zone of Yangon.
All these infrastructures are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping's plan to boost China’s trade links with the rest of the world.