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4 Jan 2022 | HI-LIFE

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs in the border areas of China and Myanmar

Liu Rongkun & Yi Shaoliang

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The survey team interviewing women vendors at the Houqiao Land Port (Photo: Jiao Jianxin/ Lanzhou University)

In the transboundary landscapes of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), specifically in the cross-border areas between China and Myanmar, formal and informal trade of goods and services, along with tourism and the hospitality industry, have been pivotal in poverty reduction and economic upliftment of residents. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected vulnerable communities, especially women in these transboundary landscapes. These challenges were also discussed in the webinar on Bringing mountain women across borders – A case of women traders in the Hindu Kush Himalaya that we organized in collaboration with CUTS International in early March 2021.


The survey

In June 2021, along with Lanzhou University and Yunnan Normal University, China, we conducted a survey to understand the status of women involved in economic activities in transboundary landscapes. The survey included questions related to women’s role in cross-border trade, their challenges, the impact of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs, and their coping strategies. It also focused on the current scenario as well as historical changes in trading ports and passes between China and Myanmar.

As part of the CUTS International’s explorative study in the four transboundary landscapes of the HKH region, the survey was led by Prof. Long Ruijun, Director, International Centre for Tibetan Plateau Ecosystem Management, Lanzhou University; Prof. Zhang Yongshuai, Professor of History, School of History and Administration at Yunnan Normal University; and Liu Rongkun, consultant to our HI-LIFE programme, along with the students from both universities. The survey also contributed to Prof. Long and Prof. Zhang’s project titled “Historical changes and current situation of China-Myanmar border trade corridors” under the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition.

The survey team interviewed 16 women entrepreneurs living and working in the China-Myanmar border areas in the cities of Tengchong and Lushui. Most of the interviewees were shopkeepers, vendors, drivers, restaurant and guesthouse owners, and hotel employees.

The survey team and local government
The survey team and local government officials of Zhonghe and Houqiao towns discussing the cross-border trade between China and Myanmar (Photo: Jiao Jianxin/Lanzhou University)



Initial findings reveal that most of the cross-border trade at the Houqiao Land Port is dominated by Chinese businessmen who manage large-scale banana plantations in the border areas of Myanmar. Women are mostly engaged in the service sector (comprising transport, stores, restaurants, and guesthouses), or are indirectly involved in cross-border businesses.

On the impact of the pandemic, the interviewees shared that they have been facing financial losses due to the closure of international borders, fewer customers, and sluggish demand, rendering them unable to pay wages and rent, and meet family expenses. According to local customs office statistics, the number of people entering and leaving the port decreased by 50% and the total freight value decreased by 35% in 2020 due to the pandemic. “I hope the COVID-19 pandemic will end as soon as possible,” shared a women entrepreneur.

In addition, the team was also part of an academic exchange with professors from Baoshan University, China, where we explored collaboration opportunities on providing international support for women entrepreneurs on coffee-related mountain agriculture, as well as the prospects for ecotourism development in the Gaoligong mountains in the Far Eastern Himalaya. The survey was part of the academic exchange with Baoshan University, which facilitated the interviews and coordination at the Port. Baoshan University is also a potential partner for research activities concerning transboundary trade and landscape conservation.


Bilateral trade between China and Myanmar

To better understand socio-economic relationships in the China-Myanmar borderlands, the team also held a consultative meeting with the Bureau of Commerce, Baoshan city, Yunnan, China, where participants discussed the history of bilateral trade between Baoshan and northern Myanmar, and current challenges and opportunities for bilateral trade between the two countries. Zhao Xingfang, Deputy Director, Bureau of Commerce, Baoshan highlighted the need for a smooth coordination between Myanmar’s central and local governments on the transportation of goods from China. He also expressed the emergent need of multilateral cooperation in sectors beyond trade such as education, health, and business.

Prof. Long Ruijun highlighted that “emphasis should be placed on the geographical importance of Baoshan in linking China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India as well as developing a dynamic socio-economic corridor and a transboundary landscape. Furthermore, Baoshan has the opportunity to serve as a logistics center linking inland China and the countries of the Bay of Bengal.”

Houqiao Land Port
Houqiao Land Port between China and Myanmar. (Photo: Liu Rongkun/ICIMOD)
A grocery store managed by Myanmar
A grocery store managed by Myanmar migrants in Houqiao. (Photo: Liu Rongkun/ICIMOD)


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