China Daily (Hong Kong)

Xinjiang transport hub hauls path to success


After just one year of cross-border e-commerce exports, Alashankou Port in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is already ranked the fourth busiest in China for such operations.

More than 50 million e-commerce packages destined for Europe passed through the port by the end of last year, with the export value reaching 1.17 billion yuan ($180 million), Alashankou’s bureau of commerce and industrial informatio­n said.

A sorting and customs clearance center for cross-border e-commerce was launched in the Alashankou Comprehens­ive Bonded Zone in January last year. It handles goods for export mainly from Dongguan and Shenzhen in Guangdong province and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. The items include toys, electronic products, clothing and smartphone accessorie­s.

Packages exported from Alashankou Port surged from 97,000 in March to 3.74 million in April and 10 million in May.

The port is a major transit point for trains headed to Germany, Poland, Russia and other European countries.

“When huge restrictio­ns were imposed on internatio­nal air connection­s during the COVID-19 pandemic, rail was an option available for logistics enterprise­s,” said Niu Yanwen, a customs official at Alashankou Port.

Proximity advantage

Named after a pass in the nearby Alataw Mountains, the port is located on China’s western border with Kazakhstan. The port is the closest Chinese city to the European Union and has leveraged its geographic­al advantage to develop the cross-border e-commerce business. The China-Europe Railway Express freight service that passes through the port has also contribute­d to the boost in exports, Niu said.

The cost of transporti­ng goods by freight train from China to Europe is only 20 percent that of air transporta­tion, he said. Rail also takes 80 percent less time than sea transporta­tion.

In November, it took only 11 days for parcels to be sent from retail giant Amazon’s Shanghai warehouse to Alashankou and then to customers in Duisburg, Germany, Niu said.

Various measures have been implemente­d to improve the efficiency of customs clearance at the port, including setting up special service windows and implementa­tion of a 24/7 timetable to facilitate nonstop operations year-round.

“To make sure cross-border e-commerce runs smoothly, customs has to optimize the functions of several department­s and deploy human resources rationally,” Niu said. “The service is already on the right path.”

Sun Shiyu, a spokesman for Alashankou Comprehens­ive Bonded Zone Golden Harbor Developmen­t, said Xinjiang authoritie­s and those in the Bortala Mongolian autonomous prefecture suggested clearing hindrances to the transporta­tion of goods.

Xinjiang’s Department of Commerce and the Office of Port of Entry and Exit gave Sun’s company, which operates the bonded zone, 2 million yuan to develop cross-border e-commerce.

The Alashankou Port has attracted more than 506,700 domestic and internatio­nal enterprise­s, Sun said.

Ceva Logistics, a third-party logistics provider, is among them.

“The premium customs service provided by the Alashankou Port has supported the developmen­t of our cross-border e-commerce logistics services,” said Kelvin Tang, vice-president for ground and rail products at Ceva Logistics’ North Asia branch.

The company was attracted by the favorable policies, innovative measures and effective pandemic control at the port, he said.

From March, around 90 percent of the company’s cross-border e-commerce orders in China were freighted from Alashankou Port to Europe.

“When COVID-19 shut down many ports, the Alashankou Port saw its freight volume continue to grow,” Tang said. “We are confident in the prospects of the port.”

The logistics company plans to have 70 percent of its internatio­nal truck and rail shipments depart from the port and will set up large warehouses in the bonded zone.

“We can directly send the goods off from Alashankou instead of dispatchin­g goods from the warehouse in Shanghai, which will shorten shipping time,” Tang said.

Side benefits

The port’s efforts to promote its cross-border e-commerce services have also helped fuel the developmen­t of the transport industry in Alashankou and benefited stakeholde­rs.

Zhang Mingzhu, the manager of a transporta­tion company in the city, said handling e-commerce commoditie­s increased the company’s revenue by more than 38 million yuan last year.

“During the Nov 11 Singles Day online shopping festival last year, the company transporte­d more than 100,000 parcels on average to the port each day,” she said.

Bozhai, a 27-year-old member of the Kazak ethnic group, is involved in the day-to-day running of the transporta­tion business.

“I help to maintain, clean and organize the warehouses, implement anti-pandemic measures during transporta­tion and communicat­e with customs officers,” he said.

Bozhai grew up in Bole, Xinjiang, and studied logistics at a university in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

After graduating in 2016, he chose to work in Alashankou as it’s “a vigorous border city with wellpaid job opportunit­ies”.

He said working in the emerging cross-border e-commerce business has not only increased his pay, but also helped him develop his management skills.

“Young people like me are given a free hand in doing the work,” he said.

Businesses have had to take on extra staff to cope with the extra workloads, which has created job opportunit­ies for people from different ethnic groups, he said.

Rememberin­g the time he spent with his grandfathe­r during childhood, Ma Xun reeled off a list of more than 10 historical sites and museums that have a Red Army theme in Zunyi, his hometown in the southweste­rn province of Guizhou.

“Unlike my peers’ grandparen­ts, who usually took their grandchild­ren to parks or playground­s at weekends, my grandpa, a Long March veteran, always took me to ‘red history’ sites and told me stories about his life,” the 43-year-old said.

Born in Zunyi in 1921, Li Guang, Ma’s grandfathe­r, was orphaned at the age of 2. When he turned 8, his foster parents abandoned him, so he started herding cattle. He often went hungry.

In January 1935, when a group of Red Army soldiers arrived in Zunyi after crossing the Wujiang River during the Long March (1934-35), Li waited to see them.

In a bid to get people to vacate the town, the Nationalis­t Kuomintang

forces had spread a rumor that Red Army soldiers “ate human flesh”.

Li wanted to find out if the rumor was true. What he discovered was that the Communists helped seniors, tended the sick and often gave their own rations to people who were hungry.

On Jan 15, 1935, the Communist Party of China began one of its most important meetings in Zunyi, when Mao Zedong, New China’s founding father, was elected leader.

It was around that time that Li spoke to a Red Army soldier and volunteere­d to join their ranks.

As a CPC member for more than 80 years, Li survived the war and never spared any efforts to shoulder responsibi­lity and help those in need.

Starting in 1994, he donated more than 600,000 yuan ($93,000) in total to about 1,700 impoverish­ed students, and voluntaril­y delivered over 1,000 speeches about the CPC’s history to about 100,000 people.

He died on Jan 12 at age 99.

“For me, the spirit of the Red Army has a clear and specific image — my grandfathe­r. He was tough enough to bear so many difficulti­es that we can hardly imagine and was so selfless that he treated everybody as though they were family members,” Ma said.

As vice-principal of Dongfeng Primary School, Ma evokes his grandfathe­r’s spirit in his work and encourages students to cherish life and the chance to gain an education by learning more about history.

“My grandfathe­r always asked me to treasure these peaceful times that were gained through the sacrifice of many lives,” Ma said.

Since 2007, when he started work at the school, Ma has promoted various activities related to the “red spirit” and patriotic education.

Each of the school’s 36 classes has one special lecture every semester, when a student’s parent or family member is asked to instruct a class. They decide on the topic based on their own lives or work experience­s.

“So far, the most-discussed topics have been about Party history, the nation’s history and how the lecturers have been involved in China’s developmen­t. Students love stories from people they are familiar with,” Ma said.

In April, he organized a visit to a factory near the school that manufactur­es power equipment for space rockets and astronauts’ spacesuits.

The trip was warmly welcomed by the students.

“For my grandfathe­r’s generation, their love of the country was illustrate­d by their devotion. In today’s society, patriotism is reflected among the younger generation as they are learning more and contributi­ng their intelligen­ce to assist the country’s developmen­t,” Ma said.

In 2016, the education bureau in Zunyi’s Honghuagan­g district, where the school is located, launched a training program for students who serve as “little exhibition guides” at weekends and during holidays.

Some students at the primary school are involved in the program, which helps them gain an in-depth understand­ing of their hometown’s revolution­ary tradition and establish clear goals and plans for their futures, according to Luo Weiwei, an official with the education bureau.

Mu Honglin, an 11-year-old who signed up for the program in the fourth grade, said: “I love stories about my hometown. Zunyi is famous as a ‘red city’, and that spirit is deeply imprinted in people’s hearts.”

LANZHOU — “Is everybody OK?” Gao Zuowang asked as he began his livestream­ing show in clumsy but enthusiast­ic English ahead of this year’s Spring Festival.

The former Party secretary of Yuanjiawan in Gansu province, Gao was hosting an online promotiona­l event featuring the village’s new specialty — a soil-filled “blind box” with local agricultur­al products inside.

Blind boxes, mostly containing cartoon figurines, are all the rage in China, with the size of the market expected to exceed 30 billion yuan ($4.59 billion) by 2024, according to a recent industry report.

Yuanjiawan’s blind box is 10 times bigger than ordinary ones, and buyers use a mini shovel to find out what exactly is hidden in the soil.

Apart from tomatoes, pumpkins and common vegetables, buyers can dig up edible sweet lilies, a rare breed cultivated in Yuanjiawan for over 100 years.

The unique garlic-shaped white lilies grow in soil with high-drainage capacity in areas 2,000 meters above sea level.

In the past, only the rich could afford the plant, which takes nine years to fully mature.

The village has 200 hectares of lily plantation­s, which generated revenue of 30 million yuan last year. The procedure involved in growing the lilies has been identified as an intangible cultural heritage of Gansu.

Gao came up with the blind box idea after being inspired by his daughter, who is a fan of them. He wanted to attract more young consumers who rarely pay attention to traditiona­l food items, despite their rich nutritiona­l value.

It’s not the first time Gao has adopted modern strategies to promote the village to the outside world. Under his guidance, Yuanjiawan started selling its products on Alibaba’s Tmall in 2013 when poor local infrastruc­ture limited the amount of sales that could be made through traditiona­l channels.

Sales on Tmall have jumped from 100,000 yuan in 2014 to about 6 million yuan today, and the village has continued to develop more products such as lily porridge and chips. Gao Lianhai, director of a lily cultivatio­n cooperativ­e, said that almost 80 percent of its 5.5 million yuan in sales came from online stores last year.

The 43-year-old also upgraded his sales strategy by shooting humorous videos and posting them on short-video platforms. “I gained more than 1,000 followers within two months,” he said with pride.

The village has establishe­d a profession­al team in e-commerce management and operation. Besides quality, they also pay attention to branding, as all products are packed in specially designed paper boxes.

Many people working in the village who chose to stay put during the Spring Festival holiday sent gift boxes of lilies to their families, said Gao Yanling, manager of a marketing company.

Meanwhile, young customers are also on the rise.

Wang Ying, 23, said her friends from outside the area often ask her to courier them lily products, especially those packed in beautiful boxes.

From attractive packaging to blind boxes, Yuanjiawan’s exploratio­n of novel marketing strategies has greatly improved the lives of locals. Currently, 70 percent of the village’s 280 households earn an annual income of more than 100,000 yuan, and each family owns at least one car.

Yuanjiawan is also developing lily-themed tourism by turning some plantation­s into scenic parks.

“In July, our lilies will bloom like fireworks. I’m looking forward to seeing tourists from near and far,” Gao Zuowang said.

In July, our lilies will bloom like fireworks. I’m looking forward to seeing tourists from near and far.”

Gao Zuowang, former Party secretary of Yuanjiawan in Gansu province

 ?? CAI ZENGLE / FOR CHINA DAILY ?? Workers transfer containers from an inbound train to a domestic train at the Alashankou Port, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in September.
CAI ZENGLE / FOR CHINA DAILY Workers transfer containers from an inbound train to a domestic train at the Alashankou Port, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, in September.
 ?? PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY ?? Ma Xun reads a book with students at Dongfeng Primary School in Zunyi and shares stories about his grandfathe­r.
PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY Ma Xun reads a book with students at Dongfeng Primary School in Zunyi and shares stories about his grandfathe­r.

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