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China's deepening imprint on Myanmar in Mandalay

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In a dusty corner of Mandalay, rows of Chinese nationals sit impassively by tables lined with white cloth on a betel-splattered sidewalk. Burmese traders crowd before them, holding up chunks of raw jade or sacks of bangles in a bid to interest them. The prospective buyers scrutinise the offerings, rejecting some with a flick of their finger.
This is a buyer's market, and a symbol of what many locals see as the kind of relationship Myanmar has with its powerful northern neighbour.
For decades, China was the main economic outlet for a Myanmar squeezed by Western sanctions, making it the largest cumulative investor in one of Asean's poorest countries. While Myanmar's transition from military to civilian rule is now opening the door to rival prospectors, China's imprint is deepening in Mandalay.
"People call this place Yunnan- Mandalay," says Mr Win Htay, a vice-president of the Mandalay Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, referring to the Chinese province bordering Myanmar. "If you do business, and you don't work with Chinese, you simply can't make money."
Myanmar's second-largest city sits about 450km from the border with China by a major overland artery, along which anything from watermelons and sugar to fertiliser and machinery are transported between the two countries.
The former royal capital, once lined with traditional wooden homes, now bustles with hotpot restaurants and Chinese boutiques selling Duoyi women's fashion, Erke sportswear and Huawei smartphones.
Sidewalks by the moat surrounding its painstakingly restored ancient palace throb with the beat of Chinese techno music on mornings when groups of middle-aged women gather for line-dancing.
Yunnan traders are a fixture in Mandalay's sprawling jade market, wheeling and dealing in the Burmese language. Chinese migrant workers haggle in Mandarin with vegetable sellers on the street.



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