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China builds high-tech border fence, Myanmar unhappy

China builds high-tech border fence, Myanmar unhappy

China's plan to construct a 2000-km high-tech border fence on its southern border has riled Myanmar. China argues that the fence will curb coronavirus spread by stopping illegal border crossings. The generals in Naypyitaw will have none of that. On the contrary, the Myanmar military has accused China of violating the 1961 border pact.

Myanmarese media reports that the military has written to Chinese officials objecting to the unilateral construction of the barbed fence in the northern Shan state. Major General Zaw Min Tun told <a href="https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/chinese-fences-near-shan-state-boundary-renew-border-tensions-myanmar.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>The Irrawaddy</em> newspaper</a>: "The local battalion sent a letter of objection to the Chinese side. We objected based on our 1961 treaty on the China-Myanmar boundary,"

Even the Myanmarese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lodged a complaint with the Chinese government. The two sides now plan to hold talks about the border fence. One point in the 1961 treaty says that no structures shall be built within 10 metres of the demarcation line by either side.

The Voice of America (VoA) reports that China has already completed approximately 660 kms of the fence. China also hopes that smugglers, gamblers and various kinds of anti-social gangs from its side will be prevented from crossing over into Myanmar's Shan state. The fence is topped with barbed wire and has surveillance cameras.

The Myanmar-China border regions inside Myanmar are a hotbed of illegal activities with a flourishing drug trade, casinos, gambling and other criminal pursuits, mostly run by Chinese nationals. The porous border regions also are home to well-armed insurgents and rebels who are in confrontation with Myanmar.

Besides curbing coronavirus, China also says that it is a recipient of Myanmar-made drugs and will curb it through the border fence.

<a href="https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/border-fence-12222020164458.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the other side of the argument</a>, many feel that China is planning to prevent its citizens, notably the Ughyur minority and other dissidents from escaping into South East Asia. Many Ughyurs have escaped from Yunnan. China reportedly also does not want its migrant workers to move into Myanmar and Vietnam for work.

The construction of the border fence also runs contradictory to Chinese investments under the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) project, which connects China's Yunnan province to Myanmar's Shan and Kachin states – both of which form the border with China.

Myanmar's military, which was earlier running the country, and communist China have traditionally enjoyed good relations. Recently, however, their relations have deteriorated owing to multiple reasons, including Chinese support to Myanmarese insurgents.

General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military, <a href="https://indianarrative.com/analysis/myanmar-moves-closer-india-china-threatens-stability-6051.html">told journalists in Russia earlier this year</a> that terrorist groups exist because strong forces support them. Since then Myanmar has complained openly that China is supplying arms to the Arakan Army and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), both of which are active in the Rakhine state. A recent report by an international news agency said that some of these militant groups "are acting as Beijing's proxies by supplying weapons and providing hideouts to insurgent groups in India's northeastern states."

Myanmar is reportedly also unhappy with Beijing over the latter's exploitative China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) project. Currently, a little less than half of Myanmar’s debt is because of the CMEC. Myanmar has already reduced Chinese investments in many CMEC projects and has opened these to bidding from multinational companies.

With issues coming up over the border fence, China-Myanmar relations are getting further strained. Though the two countries agreed to conduct joint inspection of their officially demarcated boundary every five years, the last one was done only in 1995.