Muse Development Consortium Pushes for Easing of China-Burma Border Restrictions

myanmar_01RANGOON — Construction is ramping up for a new China-Burma border station in northern Shan State intended to funnel tourists towards a massive private development, although building works have begun unilaterally on the Burmese side of the border, and both the Chinese and Burmese governments have yet to negotiate when the crossing will be open to foreign nationals.

The crossing, connecting the town of Muse to the city of Ruili in China’s Yunnan Province via the Shweli River, will service what has long been a thriving trade route between the two countries, with nearly US$4.5 billion combined imports and exports passing through the area in the 2013-14 financial year. The Mandalay-based New Star Light Company is financing a new crossing on the Burmese side of the river in order to service the company’s broader investments in Muse’s commercial infrastructure.

“We’re awaiting approval from both governments to open this gate, but we’re now building immigration gates on our side,” said Ngwe Soe, New Star Light’s project director. “Both governments will decide together when it will be opened, but China has made overtures to Burma regarding the opening of this crossing, which is why we’re building these gates now.”

The crossing, about 1500 meters (4900 feet) from the existing bridge over the river, will connect directly to the Muse Central Economic Zone project, a 295-acre space allocated for hotels, residential development, shopping areas and commercial tenancies, in a US$94 million collaboration between New Star Light and the Shan State government.

New Star Light is building two immigration gates and an entrance with the intention of donating them to the Union government upon their completion. A connecting road and immigration facilities on the Chinese side of the border have yet to begin construction, though Ngwe Soe told The Irrawaddy that both the Chinese and Burmese governments intend to use the new crossing as a port of travel for foreign tourists.

“There are already three border crossings on the Myanmar-China border, but there is no exclusive entry for third country visitors, which is what both governments are aiming for with this gate,” he said. Ngwe Soe said, adding that Dr Sai Mauk Kham, an ethnic Shan politician serving as Burma’s Second Vice President, had been highly encouraging of the project.

Travelers from countries other than Burma or China who want to cross at the Ruili-Muse border are currently subject to onerous restrictions. Passage is granted to travelers who book on approved tour packages that include a mandatory guide and chartered transportation, and any easing of these restrictions would undoubtedly benefit both New Star Light’s investments and the broader Muse economy.

Dr Aung Myat Kyaw, chairman of the Union of Myanmar Travel Association, said that he welcomed a new border entry for foreign nationals if the Chinese and Burmese governments agreed to the proposition.

“Though our side allows third country visitors to pass through checkpoints on the Thai-Burma border, on the China side they are still not allowed to come across,” he said. “The more border entries we have, the more visitors come and the more tourism development we can have.”

The Irrawaddy sought comment on the proposed border station from Maung Maung Than, director-general of the Immigration and Population Ministry, who said he had no authorization to reply to questions.

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