China-Vietnam border county town flourishes

By Li Ruohan in Malipo Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/17 22:39:44

Former conflict zone turned into patriotic tourism site

Visitors pass an agricultural trade market for products from China and Vietnam on Saturday at Tianbao port in Malipo county, Southwest China's Yunnan Province near the border with Vietnam. Photo: Li Ruohan/GT

Hou Xingping, a 78-year-old villager in Malipo, a county in Southwest China's Yunnan Province bordering Vietnam, is brimming with hope and high expectations for the future.

Hou is busy planning for his new 8-bedroom homestay, located next door to his two-story villa in Tianbao village. 

"Life is getting better for sure," he told the Global Times on Saturday. 

The village sits at the heart of a military-themed tourist site featuring local history from the 1980s. The region was at the frontline of China's brief war with Vietnam back in 1979 and military clashes in the 1980s. 

With over 130 million yuan ($19 million) in investment, the AAAA-level tourist site is  expected to open at the end of April and is expected to bring 100,000 tourists every year and serve as a base for patriotic and defense education, Lu Zhengbin, head of the tourism department of Malipo's culture and tourism bureau, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

The site will include a mine museum, a wartime weapon exhibition and games designed to mimic real combat from 40 years ago using high-tech assistance such as a 5D immersive experience. 

For local residents, the project is expected to bring business, especially in catering, accommodations and local specialties. Tourism-based industry is expected to be more profitable than farming, which brings around only 1,000 yuan annually per person. 

The change for Hou's family was already obvious. Before the project was launched, he lived in an 80-square-meter house made of mud and bricks. Now he has not only a 400-square-meter villa, but also a nearby building he plans to turn into a homestay.

Residents have been offered subsidies and other assistance from local government, such as training sessions on how to run a homestay, said Lu.

Lu noted that the tourist site not only serves as a reminder to cherish peace, but also is a promising engine to boost local tourism and eliminate poverty. 

Border town

Miles away from Tianbao village is the Tianbao port, a national-level port that witnessed around 3.5 billion yuan in foreign trade volume in 2018.

Trade between border residents increased 5 percent year-on-year to 2.5 billion yuan during the first 10 months of 2018 and the most popular products included fruit, seafood and dried chili, according to data provided by the port's management committee.

Every Saturday, border residents from China and Vietnam rush to a weekly fair at the port to trade daily commodities, herbs and traditional Chinese medicines, local fruit and specialties. 

A 50-something woman from China's Zhuang ethnic group was selling embroidery and silver products at the fair on Saturday. 

She told the Global Times that coming to the fair not only earns money but also helps make her life more colorful.

For young Vietnamese, coming to the fair also makes life more interesting with popular activities such as barbecuing, drinking Chinese beer and setting off fireworks. 

The port hosts shops selling Vietnamese fruit, specialties, seafood and handicrafts. Stores often display both Chinese and Vietnamese names, and though the stores are run by Chinese, they are often staffed by Vietnamese nationals, some of whom understand and speak simple Chinese. 

A Vietnamese woman in her 20s told the Global Times that she was paid 1,500 yuan per month to sell fruit at the port, while working at home only brought her about 1,000 yuan a month. 

The port also attracts visitors and businesspeople from other regions of China as well as other countries and regions including the US, the UK, France and Canada, port officials said. 

 In 2018, the bilateral trade volume between China and Vietnam reached a record high of nearly $150 billion, while Chinese investment in Vietnam surged, and Chinese travelers accounted for the largest number of foreign tourists to Vietnam at roughly 5 million, the Xinhua News Agency reported in January. 

With improved infrastructure, such as expressways still under construction and bigger warehouses, the port could become a free trade zone in the future, and it is expected to be a frontier region for more opportunities in Southeast Asia, said Zhang Quanming, an official at the port's management committee. 

The committee also offers free lectures on legal requirements and formalities for trade between border region residents and has introduced different forms of business to help improve their lives, said Zhang. 

After learning proper trade procedures, border residents, who often have limited education, feel more secure about engaging in business, he said. 

Apart from border trade, marriage between border residents also offers a glimpse at how the people of the two countries interact, 40 years after the military clashes. 

The Yunling border village of Malipo, home to nearly 300 households, has 28 Vietnamese women who got married to local residents, village officials told the Global Times, noting that the history of cross-border marriages goes back hundreds of years and has bonded the villages. 

Marriage to Vietnamese citizens is not rare in these border villages, especially for those who grew up together as neighbors across the border and for older men with limited incomes struggling to find Chinese wives, said village officials.

For Vietnamese women, marrying a Chinese citizen often confers a higher standard of living. In the county's border areas, marrying a Vietnamese husband means a life of serving the man and the family, while marrying a Chinese husband means being taken  care of, villagers said. 

In the eyes of Malipo-based independent scholar Adrew Deng, the war did not leave border residents with hatred. Deng said the connection between the Chinese and Vietnamese in the border region, who have shared the same culture, ethnicity and close kinship for hundreds of years, cannot be broken so easily. 

What the border residents care about is how to jointly overcome difficulty and help each other strive for a better life, said Deng . 

No one is sure how many wartime weapons, such as land mines, were left in Malipo's border villages or where they are. The mines, hidden in and around villagers' farmland, have cost residents arms and legs and even their lives. They are reminders of the history of a region that has moved forward without the memory of the war's wounds.

On November 16, 2018, the last minefields along the China-Vietnam border were handed over to local residents, marking the official completion of the third large-scale land mine clearance operation in the Yunnan section of the China-Vietnam border, Xinhua reported. 

Thirty years ago, this was the frontline of the Chinese-Vietnam War. Land mines were the most effective weapon to impede enemies. Soldiers would spend their time laying mines during the short intervals when both sides weren't shooting.

About 700 meters away from the county sits a martyr memorial park where more than 900 martyrs who died during the war are buried. The martyrs are not forgotten by histoty as the park is often visited by war survivors and visitors.  Visitors were offering flowers at the park when a Global Times reporter visited the site on Saturday. The park is also a site for patriotic education.

The war of decades ago has not left hatred, and the governments of the two sides have made constant efforts to maintain sound and steady momentum for bilateral cooperation in recent years. 

The fifth high-level border meeting between the Chinese and Vietnamese militaries opened in November 2018 in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, with the two sides pledging to maintain stability in border areas. 


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