Almost two months after the Myanmar-China border crossing between Muse and the Chinese city of Ruili opened, an average of more than 3,000 people make the crossing each day, most of them heading to jobs in China, according to official figures.
As Chinese authorities lift pandemic-era restrictions, crossing into Ruili requires just “a 48-hour negative nucleic acid report and a valid entry-exit certificate to pass the customs,” Maung Win, a foreign trader from Myanmar told Chinese state-run media. “It is very convenient to go back and forth.”
The number of people crossing the border each day since the January 14 reopening is a trickle compared with the pre-pandemic cross-border traffic, when thousands of Burmese workers flocked to jobs in Ruili’s growing manufacturing base, in the thriving construction and agriculture industries of western Yunnan province.
Yet Ruili’s hunger for cheap labor is coming back after the pandemic lockdowns.
“There is a huge demand for [labor] here,” a Myanmar businessman in Ruili told VOA Burmese this week. “The demand for labor on the one side and the demand for employment on the other side are in harmony.”
Ruili emerged as a manufacturing hub as Chinese manufacturers in heavily industrialized areas sought less expensive locales where they could find cheaper labor, according to a September 2022 report by Bloomberg.
In the first half of 2019, 91.35% of the inbound and outbound crossings at the Ruili port were Myanmar nationals, according to official data from the Ruili government obtained by Global Times.
In 2019, months before the pandemic, Jiangsu-headquartered Everbright Headwear, which supplies caps for U.S. sports teams like the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, found that they could legally employ Burmese laborers in Ruili for half of what Chinese workers expect elsewhere, in part by housing them in dormitories with a $450 monthly salary, according to Bloomberg.
At the time, some workers from Myanmar would avoid the commute by overstaying their visas and worked in Ruili for months at a time, with Chinese authorities for the most part overlooking the violations.
But the pandemic changed that easy attitude, and when a woman from Myanmar reported COVID-19 symptoms while visiting family in Ruili in March 2020, Chinese officials closed the border and locked down the city.
Residents of the Shan State on the Myanmar side of the border now say they are allowed to stay in China for only one week at a time, and even then under the supervision of Chinese monitors who prevent them from overstaying their visas.
“Whether or not it will continue to be the same depends on how the other side takes action,” said a worker who belongs to Myanmar’s Shan minority and asked that VOA Burmese not use his name to avoid attracting officials’ attention.
Source : Voa News