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Silk Road perspective of an old ‘China hand’

An Baijie and Jiao Xiaoli
Updated: Mar 23,2015 4:19 PM     China Daily

European countries, as well as other nations, should embrace China’s national strategy of reviving the ancient Silk Road, as they could also benefit from the projects, initiatives and exchanges it creates, said the world-renowned American strategist and investor Farzam Kamalabadi.

The Persian-American, who has lived in Shanghai since 1992, said that the “One Belt, One Road” initiatives put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping bring numerous opportunities for developing countries and European ones too.

The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, as the initiatives are officially termed, are a land-based route from China via Central Asia and Russia to Europe, and a strategic path through the Strait of Malacca to India, the Middle East and East Africa. The initiatives began to take shape in 2014 with a focus on infrastructure.

“With their advanced technology, capital and experience in management and quality, European countries could cooperate with China in implementing the sweeping initiatives,” Kamalabadi said.

“If the Western countries ignore or underutilize China’s proactive initiatives, they will lose another decade if not more.”

As one of the very few foreigners widely recognized by both the Chinese media and government leadership, Kamalabadi is deemed to be a true “China Hand” for his wide and deep knowledge of the country. He reads and writes Chinese, including writing quality brush calligraphy. Moreover, he speaks Mandarin as well as a number of other dialects such as Cantonese.

In 1993, he established the Future Trends International (Group) Corporation, a China-specialist US corporation engaged in investment and trade, project implementation, media relations, and government lobbying.

Eight years ago, Kamalabadi put forward the proposals of “China-Central Asia-Middle East economic corridor” and “China-Central Asia-Middle East cultural passage”, suggesting that the Chinese government should revive the ancient Silk Road.

“If China could fully and smoothly implement the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiatives, about 70 to 80 percent of the world’s population will benefit directly and the whole world order will be better united,” he said. “It’s a great win-win strategy.”

According to Kamalabadi, Western countries should break the ideological barrier, overcome traditional fears and act positively to assist with and participate in China’s process of emergence into the world community and various positive initiatives such as “One Belt, One Road”.

With decades of reform and development maturing, China has become a safe and ideal business partner with trillions of dollars in foreign reserves, advanced technology in many fields, and huge capacity in manufacturing and innovation, he said.

“China is going West, but the Western world is still doubtful about China’s sincerity. The countries, mostly having religious belief and moral ideals, including Christianity and Islam, remain unclear about China’s values, motives, practices and in total whether China is a reliable partner and responsible stakeholder or not.”

To them, the ancient and poetic name of China, Shen Zhou, the Divine Land, can present a new image of China as equally prompted by ideal motives, high integrity, and faith, he said.

Moreover, China’s national “go west” strategy should become an invitation and for multilateral cooperation and universal participation, which must be coupled with consultation.

“For example, when local Chinese authorities hold forums and seminars themed on ‘One Belt, One Road’ projects, they should also invite mayors and their counterparts from foreign countries to attend in mutual exchange,” he said.

As an ancient country that values peace and hospitality, China should explain itself to the Western world by different means, thus assuring that what China brings are positive contributions and opportunities, not intrusions or threats, he said.

“However, China and its numerous participants must also do their homework well, and must be cautious in carrying out the ‘One Belt, One Road’ projects in an orderly, organized, well trained and well educated, and culturally informed manner, paying attention to all the sensitivities they must consider, practicing the spirit of genuine best business practices and a true win-win attitude and game play, or the nationally well-intended peaceful initiatives could be misunderstood and even boycotted by other countries.”

In the process of reviving the ancient trade routes, China could take the first step by improving its infrastructure, including railways, airports and ports, along the routes, he said.

As part of the initiatives, China opened a new rail route to European countries to transport made-in-China products, from laptops to Airbus parts, and made-in-Europe baby formula and wines in mid 2013.

Starting from Zhengzhou, a logistics center and transport hub in Central China’s Henan province, the 10,214-kilometer Zhengzhou-Europe International Shuttle Train crosses the border at the Alataw Pass in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region before passing through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland on its way to Germany’s Hamburg.

The new intercontinental rail route can save about 20 days compared with maritime transport and costs 80 percent less than air shipment. The 15-day journey offers an alternative to slower and riskier sea freight and much costlier air cargo.

“It’s good news that China has deepened its ties with European countries through the new rail routes.” Kamalabadi said. “It is yet another positive step toward a more interconnected and unified world.”

The city of Kashgar, in Xinjiang, should be a transitional center for the China-Europe rail route, he said.

China still heavily relies on sea freight in its trade with Europe, and railways allow companies to avoid passing through the risky maritime routes.

Among the 110 million tons of goods exported to 13 major European countries in 2012, about 78 million were suitable for railway transportation. However, only 1.5 percent of trade volume was achieved via the railway, according to research by the China Railway Corporation.

China is now in negotiations on high-speed rail with at least 28 countries, most of which are located along the trade routes. The total track length on the agenda spans over 5,000 kilometers, according to Hua Chang Securities.

According to a proposal filed by the China International Economic and Exchange Center, a government think tank, Chinese companies are expected to build more than 20 railways in the coming years in an effort to revive the ancient trade routes.

Through railways, China could export its goods, equipment, and technologies to the countries on the routes, which will benefit the local economy, Kamalabadi said.

To finance the “One Belt, One Road” projects, capital from around the world, including those from the affluent Gulf Cooperation Countries, should be welcomed by Chinese government, he said.

On Feb 16, China’s central bank announced that the Silk Road Fund, which aims to seek investment opportunities and provide monetary services throughout the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, was active.

President Xi Jinping announced the creation of the $40 billion fund in November. It will invest mainly in infrastructure, resource development, as well as industrial and financial cooperation, in an effort to achieve common development and prosperity.

According to Kamalabadi, China’s strategy of reviving the ancient Silk Road has provided a good chance for the exchange and communication of different cultures and civilizations, including between Confucian and Buddhist China and Asia, the Islamic Arabs and Persians, and the Christian West.