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.