China Banks Freeze Accounts of Cross-Border Traders in Myanmar’s Shan State

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myanmar-chinese-border-police-muse-shan-may12-2020.jpg Chinese border police guard the border crossing at Muse in Myanmar's northern Shan state, May 12, 2020.

Myanmar traders in northern Shan state said Tuesday that their cross-border business has been stymied by Chinese authorities who abruptly froze bank accounts at Chinese financial institutions after suspecting that some of their clients had engaged in illegal activities in Yunnan province.

Many Myanmar traders have Chinese bank accounts to facilitate cross-border trade transactions.

The move is another blow for Myanmar traders whose businesses have been hit hard this year by restrictions on cross-border trade and countermeasures in both countries to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Those efforts have halted the flow of buyers to land borders, where truck traffic flows under cumbersome restrictions.

One Myanmar trader who wanted to remain anonymous said some of his colleagues transferred money from Yangon to purchase Chinese commodities, but they could not complete the transactions because the corresponding bank accounts had been closed.

“So far, I haven’t heard of any major damage among traders, but it must be damaging for money changers,” he said.

Sai Kyaw Thein, a lawmaker from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party who represents the Muse township constituency across the border from China, told RFA that he has not heard any complaints from Myanmar traders about the suspension of Chinese bank accounts.

But Sai Tun Ko Ko, secretary of a Muse-Namhkam border traders organization, said he received a report from a member company whose bank account had been frozen.

‘Government is suspicious’

A trader in the Chinese border town of Ruili, across the Shweli River from Muse, told a different story, however.

“The money changers have been arrested,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. She added that the 10 Chinese nationals who were apprehended are being questioned by police.

Chinese traders who use the money exchange services could be linked to online gambling businesses or be selling fraudulent products, she said.

“Now, the Chinese traders cannot go to the Myanmar side of border, but they are still selling the products on the internet,” she said adding that that some online stores have facilitated sales schemes.

“The government is suspicious of their bank accounts,” the trader said.

The woman also said that it is possible that some bank accounts belonging to Myanmar traders have been suspended, but that she had not come across any yet.

Neither the Chinese Embassy in Yangon nor Myanmar border authorities is aware of the forced account closures, sources said.

RFA contacted Chinese Embassy in Myanmar’s commercial capital on Tuesday, and an official said no one there was prepared to respond to questions.

Myanmar traders, meanwhile, have warned others who use Chinese banks in border regions to be more cautious now that several financial institutions and currency exchange businesses have been suspended since June 4.

Chinese police have been interrogating clients who go to the banks to withdraw money, they said.

In 2017, three Chinese banks with local branches in Myanmar’s border area froze 132 bank accounts owned by Myanmar businesspeople who traded in the area, claiming that their funds were linked to illegal activities such as smuggling, gambling, and drug dealing.

Without warning, Chinese authorities blocked deposits worth an estimated 40 billion kyats (U.S. $28.8 million) in a dispute that required two weeks of negotiations to resolve.

Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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