Fa­cil­i­tat­ing con­nec­tions

ChinAfrica - - Cover Story -

By means of cargo rail lines, more and more agri­cul­tural prod­ucts from ru­ral ar­eas in west China are able to reach Euro­pean con­sumers. In ru­ral ar­eas of Lanzhou, cap­i­tal city of Gansu Prov­ince, farm­ers es­tab­lished a base to grow lily bulbs, a tra­di­tional Chi­nese medic­i­nal herb help­ing nour­ish the lungs, with tech­no­log­i­cal sup­port from a lo­cal agri­cul­ture firm, and sold these qual­ity bulbs to Rus­sia and Italy. In 2016, the ex­port of lily bulbs in this area to­taled $332,800. The prov­ince’s trade with na­tions in­volved in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive hit 10 bil­lion yuan ($1.45 bil­lion), a year-on-year in­crease of 10 per­cent.

This is just one ex­am­ple of how western prov­inces up­grade their economies and pro­mote for­eign trade with op­por­tu­ni­ties by traf­fic con­nec­tiv­ity. Statis­tics by the Min­istry of Com­merce show that China’s trade with coun­tries in­volved in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive last year amounted to 6.3 tril­lion yuan ($913 bil­lion), 0.6 per­cent up from the pre­vi­ous year, and still out­pac­ing the over­all for­eign trade which de­clined by 0.9 per­cent from 2015.

The traf­fic con­nec­tiv­ity is also bring­ing in com­modi­ties from the coun­tries in­volved in the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. Jin Hai­jun is ex­pand­ing co­op­er­a­tion with more Euro­pean busi­nesses and adding baby for­mula, French bags, ma­chiner­ies, yachts and art works to his fu­ture im­port­ing lists.

Ex­perts be­lieve the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is more than in­fra­struc­ture; it will boost in­clu­sive co­op­er­a­tion span­ning all sec­tors like man­u­fac­tur­ing, ser­vices, tourism and cul­tural in­dus­tries.

“Trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture is some­thing like a strate­gic in­vest­ment. Its con­nec­tiv­ity will not only fa­cil­i­tate trade but also spur lo­cal busi­nesses and ra­di­ate ex­pan­sive sur­round­ing re­gions,” said Zhao Lei, re­searcher with the In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Strate­gic Stud­ies of the Cen­tral Party School of China.

The traf­fic con­nec­tiv­ity also brings peo­ple in coun­tries linked to the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive closer, en­abling more fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Lu Jianfu, Di­rec­tor of the Re­li­gious Stud­ies Cen­ter at Shaanxi Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity, noted the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive is not only about trade, but also about peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tacts.

“Co­op­er­a­tion will not be sus­tain­able solely driven by trade, but should be sup­ported through con­tin­u­ously en­hanc­ing mu­tual un­der­stand­ing among peo­ples,” he said. “His­tory has proven this, as through the an­cient Silk Road China in­tro­duced its tea and porce­lain wares to coun­tries along the road and also brought back cul­tures of other na­tions,” he added.

Zhang Guozuo, Di­rec­tor of the China Cen­ter for Cul­tural Soft Power Re­search, echoed Lu, point­ing out that the core of the ini­tia­tive is in­clu­sive and win-win co­op­er­a­tion. “Peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes are the foun­da­tion of part­ner­ships. Cul­tural in­ter­ac­tion makes peo­ple know each other bet­ter and be­come friends. With friend­ship, every­thing is pos­si­ble,” he noted.

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