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Silk Road gets closer to reality

Zhang Yunbi
Updated: Dec 15,2014 10:41 AM     China Daily

China, Kazakhstan to strengthen cargo capacity at two railway ports

China and Kazakhstan singed an agreement related to the Silk Road Economic Belt, a symbolic step in the transcontinental connectivity megaproject that officials and experts said is taking shape and may become a reality next year.

Together with his Kazakh counterpart, Karim Masimov, visiting Premier Li Keqiang witnessed the signing of the agreement in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana-the same city in which the Silk Road concept was proposed 15 months ago.

President Xi Jinping introduced the economic belt idea during his visit to Kazakhstan in September last year. The plan aims to revive the ancient Silk Road from China to Europe via Central Asia and Russia.

A joint statement after Li’s talk with his Kazakh counterpart said China and Kazakhstan “will continue to strengthen the cargo shipping capacity” at two railway ports along their border, at Alataw Pass and Horgos.

Mirroring the shared goal of shaping a more powerful Silk Road, the statement said the move aims at “creating favorable conditions” for developing cross-border shipping of international cargo.

An international highway crossing Eurasia from China to Western Europe, which is expected to be finished soon, was also lauded by the two governments as being of “great significance”.

Both governments also endorsed the start of a joint logistics terminal project in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, this May.

Chen Yurong, a senior researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said the landmark projects, such as the base in Lianyungang, best live up to the expectations of Central Asian countries.

The projects, with grand channels of shipment, “give worldwide trade access to the commodities of the countries themselves and improve their trade situation”, Chen said.

On Sunday, the two countries said “with satisfaction” that further implementing the joint connectivity projects “will be helpful to realizing the proposals made by the two leaders regarding rejuvenating the great Silk Road”.

The Kazakh proposal is represented by its New Silk Road program, which was proposed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2012 and was launched to boost major transport infrastructure projects, including railways.

Kazakh senior officials, including the president, have said the country also hopes to link its own development plan to the China-led initiative and become a major passage in Eurasia.

Good news for SCO

“Silk Road” has become a catchphrase during the Chinese premier’s trip to the Central Asian country, where he has planned to attend the 13th prime ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and meet with key figures from the other five SCO member states-Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Before the visit, Li subscribed to the Silk Road theme in a signed article published by the Kazakhstanskaya Pravda newspaper on Saturday.

“Over 2,000 years ago, the two countries were linked by the ancient Silk Road, and now the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative enjoys profound historic connotations,” Li said.

Vice-Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said on Friday that the general blueprint for the Silk Road Economic Belt has “basically” taken shape.

Cheng highlighted the Lianyungang joint-venture logistics base and urged enhancing interconnectivity with highways, railways, ports, air routes and oil and gas pipelines.

“China is willing to communicate with all the other SCO members on its respective development strategy and the plan for regional economic cooperation,” said Wang Shouwen, assistant commerce minister.

Xi announced in November that China will set up a Silk Road fund worth $40 billion to support infrastructure, resources, industrial and financial cooperation and other projects related to connectivity.

According to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, more than 50 countries along the ancient Silk Road have expressed a willingness to participate in the China-proposed “Belt and Road” initiative, which includes both the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

Wang Yiwei, a professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said that a range of effective cooperative programs help motivate the countries along the trade route.

This year, discussions were focused on th⅞e structure and framework of the Belt and Road, and next year will see more efforts to iron out the details to achieve such a grand connectivity, Wang said.