Xi'an and pure mind: how the main city of "Belt and Road" lives

09.29.2023

This year marks the 10th anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative — a platform for global cooperation, in which Beijing is actively creating and developing sea and land routes to Asia, Africa and Europe. The starting point of this grandiose project was the city of Xi’an, from which the ancient Silk Road originated.

The city of Xi’an was the capital of 13 Chinese dynasties at once, including one of the most famous — Tang. In the historical center, the traditional Chinese specifics and the former «capital» of Xi’an appear in all their glory. But the main sign of the relationship between the times and the central place in it of Xi’an is undoubtedly the large-scale Belt and Road initiative, reincarnated from the ancient Silk Road — a trade route from China to the West, which began in Xi’an then and originates from here and now.

The initiative was born in 2013 — after a visit to Kazakhstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the idea of joint construction of the Economic Belt of the Silk Road and the Maritime Silk Road of the XXI century. The first transcontinental route was to connect China with Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land, while the second — by sea — to become a link between the coastal areas of China with Southeast and South Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, East Africa and Europe.

The first freight trains to Europe left Xi’an, which many local officials proudly call «the front line of China’s openness to the west» back in 2013. In total, over the entire decade, freight rail transportation from Xi’an to the West by Chang’an trains, which has become the flagship element of the Belt and Road, amounted to more than 16,000 flights. At the same time, out of more than 4,630 flights over the past year, the lion’s share — almost 2.6 thousand freight trains — fell on Russia and Belarus. In the first quarter of this year, with an overall increase of 20% in the number of cargo transportation from Xi’an in all directions, cargo traffic to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus increased even more impressively — by 39.6%.

Against the background of the intensification of trade flows, Chinese colleagues even thought about building a separate cargo terminal for goods in the dry port of Xi’an (as the local trade and logistics hub is officially called) in the direction of Moscow and Minsk. By the way, a similar agreement already exists with Kazakhstan, through the territory of which about 40% of goods for Russia, Belarus and Europe pass. Another idea discussed with Russian colleagues, according to He Lulu, is the possibility of investment by China in infrastructure facilities in Russian Zabaikalsk.

The main essence of the entire Chinese Belt and Road Initiative was initially to invest in the development of infrastructure of ports, roads, railways, airports, as well as power plants, oil pipelines and telecommunications networks in countries with which Beijing would like to develop more trade and economic ties. In the period 2013-2022, the Celestial Empire invested about $962 billion in its large-scale initiative, mainly in the form of loans.However, as China rose on the world stage, «Belt and Road» was increasingly seen as an instrument of foreign policy, blaring the country for creating «debt traps».

For China Europe became one of the most important geographical areas long before the concept of the new Silk Road appeared. Since 2000, Chinese companies have acquired shares in about 15 European ports, which together handle more than 10% of container traffic between China and Europe. One of the most resonant was the acquisition by China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) of a 67% stake in the Greek port of Piraeus, the third largest among the ports in the Mediterranean, as well as the purchase of a terminal in Zeebrugge, the second largest port in Belgium.

However, in recent years, the attitude of Europeans towards China and the «Belt and Road» has become noticeably negative. In early August, Italian Defense Minister acknowledged that the government was looking for a way out of its four-year membership in the Chinese initiative. However, recently there has been a positive outlook regarding the initiative — in June, an agreement on cooperation in promoting the construction of the «Belt and Road» was signed with Argentina.

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