Reports have emerged that the Chinese government is installing a 2,000-kilometre fence along its border with Myanmar, following a spike in Covid-19 cases in the latter country.
Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US-government funded media outlet, reported that work began on the "Southern Great Wall" earlier this year, and 659km of the barrier had already been completed.
Social media images from the town of Wanding and the city of Ruili in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province show a steel fence up to 3m in height, topped with coils of barbed-wire.
Media reports in China say the fence is intended to prevent smuggling, illegal crossings and toÂ reduce the risk of Covid-19 carriers entering the country. In September, the city of Ruili went into "wartime mode" after three illegal entrants tested positive for COVID-19.
Another possible motivation is to prevent Chinese nationals from accessing the vice trade in areas such as Special Region 4, a small enclave in Myanmar run by the National Democratic Alliance Army, which sustains itself with casinos and a satellite economy of brothels, hotels, restaurants and endangered wildlife boutiques.
According to The Irrawaddy newspaper, the Myanmar military has sent a letter to Chinese officials objecting to the construction of the fence near the border in Laukkai Township in the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan State.
The newspaper added that construction work had stopped in disputed areas.
The Diplomat news site reports that the Chinese government has struggled to control of Yunnan’s border with Myanmar, which touches on regions controlled by ethnic armed groups and rebel armies independent of the Myanmar state.
Since the 1980s, the border region has been a conduit for illicit trade in jade and luxury hardwoods stolen vehicles and the chemical precursors for methamphetamine, which is produced in labs scattered throughout Shan State.
The site suggests that Covid has given the Chinese government a reason to tighten its control over the flow of people, goods and money to Myanmar and its rebel statelets.
Image: The fence will restrict Chinese nationals’ access to Myanmar casinos (Dreamstime)