Security in the region of Yunnan province near Myanmar has been stepped up since fighting between Myanmese government troops and rebel militias erupted on Sunday.
Police officers have been deployed at a highway exit to Wanding – a township on Yunnan’s border with Myanmar – to check the identification documents of passers-by, due to a flood of refugees from Myanmar.
Chinese armed border police have set up several temporary checkpoints along the Wanding River, as it is possible to wade across the shallow waterway to enter China.
The sound of artillery fire could be heard in Wanding coming from the opposite side of the river yesterday.
Chinese authorities are trying to shelter thousands of refugees from Myanmar, most of them ethnic Chinese, who are crossing the border to escape fighting between government troops and rebel militias.
“The number of refugees fleeing Myanmar to China is increasing day after day, and they are almost all ethnic Chinese living or working in Myanmar,” a staff member at the Chinese embassy in Yangon said.
“The embassy and consulate general in Mandalay have received a lot of requests for help from Chinese nationals.
“We are still negotiating with local authorities in China to come up with better measures to see how to settle them in a proper way.”
Wanding hotels are fully booked, and some hotels have even added extra beds in corridors to accommodate refugees.
Local officials in Wanding have set up a huge shelter for the refugees. State-owned China Daily cited embassy spokesman Pan Xuesong in Yangon as saying that China had taken in more than 3,000 refugees fleeing Myanmar by yesterday.
But local authorities prohibited journalists, especially overseas reporters, from entering the shelters for interviews.
Refugees also told journalists that the Chinese authorities had warned them not to speak to the media.
Non-locals were also prohibited from taking pictures outside the camp. Uniformed armed police watched everyone who approached the temporary shelters, and expelled any who took pictures of the refugees.
Four rebel militias have attacked security forces in the north of Myanmar, dealing a major blow to civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s goal of ending decades of ethnically motivated conflict in the country.
China, which has been alarmed by previous fighting along the porous border, has put its armed forces on high alert and called for all sides of the conflict to exercise restraint.
Stray shells had fallen in Wanding, causing minor damage and injuring a Chinese civilian, state television reported.
The Global Times newspaper reported that a Chinese government building in Wanding had been lightly damaged.
The sudden escalation of fighting comes as Myanmar’s government grapples with a conflict in northwestern Rakhine state that has seen hundreds of Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, posing a new challenge to Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi.
She swept to power in Myanmar last year on promises of national reconciliation.
Fighting along the border has also pushed thousands of people into China in the past.
Beijing was furious last year after five Chinese residents were killed when fighting in Myanmar spilled across the border.
Additional reporting by Reuters