Trade disruption from recent attacks by armed groups along the Myanmar-China border may last longer than the attack on the 105th mile camp that occurred in late 2016.
The 105th mile camp trading post, which comprises checkpoints and other government offices, lies near the town of Muse in Northern Shan State just across the border from Ruili in China’s Yunnan province.
Observers including political analysts and traders said it could last longer than the 10 day suspension when the 105 camp trading post was attacked.
Insurgents from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army (AA) under the umbrella of the Northern Alliance launched coordinated attacks on a military academy in Pyin Oo Lwin on the Mandalay-Muse trade route as well as a toll gate and the Gote Twin police post on the Nawngcho trade route on August 15, which also saw the Gote Twin bridge blown up.
Insurgents also destroyed or damaged several other bridges at Chin Shwe Haw southeast of Muse along the border with China on August 17. Trading activities along the border has also been disrupted.
As of August 21, the border trading posts in these areas have not been reopened while no traffic has been allowed on the Mandalay-Muse and Theinni-Kunlong-Chin Shwe Haw routes that lead to these trading posts.
Political analyst U Maung Maung Soe said insurgents will always target economic or administrative infrastructure critical to the government.
“The Muse border trade has an average daily volume of K5 billion and will have a serious impact on government revenue,” he noted.
According to fiscal 2016-17 statistics, some four-fifths of border trade revenue comes from the Muse trade. During the August 15 attacks, 500 lorries laden with cargo to China were trapped along the route leading to Nawngcho. Latest data from the Ministry of Commerce showed that during the high season, US$8 million to US$10 million of goods go through while during the low season $5 million to US$7 million goes through.
At this point, with security as the topmost concern, nobody knows when the trading posts would be opened. Mandalay-based rice trader U Sai Kyaw said traders were worried for their safety. “I assume that the situation this time around is worst than the one in 2016. It seems that the insurgents are targeting mainly trading,” he said.
Ministry of Commerce assistant secretary U Khin Maung Lwin confirmed that trading has been suspended in both Muse and Chin Shwe Haw. Traders mainly bring agricultural and marine products across the border to China.
He said that the attacks have made it worst for farmers, especially those growing rice, as a combination of flooding in Mawlamyine and Dawei together with China’s trade restrictions on border trade has seriously affected both trading posts.
While the government has taken the temporary measure of building a bailey bridge, lorries in the 50 tonne to 60 tonne range will not be able to use it as the bridge can only take a maximum load of 36 tonnes. Plans have been made to ensure that the bridge can withstand up to 48 tonnes freight forwarders. but even if the bridge was completed safety concerns mean that trading still cannot resume.
Muse resident U Win Aung Khant said the attacks this time around has made the situation worst. “The trade route is not safe since the attacks on August 15. There are security issues along the Nawngcho-Gote Twin to Muse route. There is also unrest around Kutkai and Narhpan as well. Because of instability, the trade flow is halted,” he said.
Rice trader U Sai Kyaw said battles continued to be fought along the route. “Even if the bridge is completed, we still won’t be able to trade,” he said.
Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, announced that the attacks were in retaliation for a late July raid that saw K16 billion worth of drugs confiscated from a camp in Kutkai, northern Shan State but this has been refuted by the insurgents, who said it was because of repeated Tatmadaw offences.
Former Pyidaungsu Hluttaw lawmaker U Ye Tun said the recent attacks could have been to ease the pressure that the AA, which has been fighting for the self-determination of Rakhine State, has faced in western Myanmar.
“The aim of the insurgents is to paint the government in a bad light by making it look like it can’t secure the Myanmar-China trade route,” he said, adding that the insurgents tellingly did not dare attack areas where the Belt & Road Initiative projects were being implemented.
“It is as if the insurgents are sending a message to the government on its ability to control the areas that have been attacked while China on its part has kept unusually silent, maybe hinting that the government lacks the ability to secure the route,” U Ye Tun said.
An official from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said China opposed any violence along the border during a media briefing held on August 19.