Xue Hui has been involved in the jade trading business in Southwest China’s Yunnan province for 21 years. After quitting his job at a State-owned company in 1993 due to the low income it provided, he thought life would be better for the family trading in jade with Myanmar.
Sharing a border of nearly 2,000 kilometers with Myanmar, Yunnan’s location was one of the main reasons for him to choose the business, the 60-year-old said.
“Jade culture is highly valued in both Myanmar and China and the market has kept growing,” Xue said.
The trade in jade brings his family about 400,000 to 500,000 yuan ($65,000 to $81,000) annually, when business is good. His 30-year-old son is also involved, and can also speak some Burmese – very useful for the business.
Xue’s story is microcosm of the jade trade between Myanmar and China.
China overtook Thailand to become the biggest trading partner of Myanmar during 2011-2012, and has retained the position ever since.
According to Myanmar official statistics, bilateral trade between China and Myanmar was worth $6.62 billion in 2013, 10 times that of 10 years ago, one-quarter of Myanmar’s total $23.29 billion in foreign trade.
Myanmar has earned $1.3 billion from the export of jade over the past three years, according to the country’s Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, with China being its leading buyer.
In mid-August this year, Myanmar announced plans to establish a new central economic zone in Muse, a border town in the northern Shan state very close to Ruili in Yunnan province, to boost border trade at what is the most important crossing between the two countries.
The new zone, being established on more than 120 hectares of land at a cost of $51.54 million, comprises 18 buildings including jade trading facilities, shops, hotels, restaurants and housing complexes, according to a project official.
Figures from the country’s national planning ministry show that China’s investment in Myanmar had reached $14.25 billion across 65 projects as of June 2014, accounting for 30.5 percent of the country’s total, making China Myanmar’s largest foreign investor.
“China and Myanmar have a long trading history, largely based on the two taking full of advantage of each other’s natural resources, which has established a mutually beneficial business relationship,” said Zhang Yunling, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“This has helped boost both economies across a wide range of industries, one of the best examples of which is tourism.”
Ruili is a bustling town and has become a regional trade center for Yunnan as a result of its closeness to Myanmar. The jade industry also means that the town is now firmly on the tourist map, as visitors experience the industry for themselves.
Apart from these economic benefits, the jade trade has also promoted bilingual education and culture exchanges.
In 2008, China’s central and the Yunnan provincial governments invested 200 million yuan in new buildings and an upgrading of facilities at 28 mostly primary schools along the border.
At Pianma School in a small border town in Nujiang Lisu autonomous prefecture, 25 students from Myanmar are studying alongside their Chinese peers and all of them can speak both Mandarin and Burmese fluently.
Wu Liumei, 13, who was born and raised in a town 10 kilometers from the Chinese border in Myanmar, has spent seven years studying Mandarin and other subjects in Pianma.
He said gaining an education in China has become a popular trend in Myanmar and his elder sister is now studying at a college in the capital of Yunnan, Kunming.
His father works for the local government.
“My sister will get a decent job after graduation and earn more due to her bilingual abilities. She always encourages us to learn Mandarin because China is our most-important trading partner,” he said.