Burgeoning tourism and trade between China and Russia energize air route cooperation

Updated 2017-07-28 14:25:20 Global Times

The aviation ties between China and Russia are strengthening as a result of sped-up cooperation in areas like tourism and trade.

In the summer and autumn flight seasons in 2017, 326 passenger and freight flights will run each week between 21 Chinese cities and 13 Russian cities.

These flights are operated by 26 flight companies across China and Russia, data from Beijing-based caacnews.com showed on Monday.

Russian airlines have been beefing up efforts to cater to the Chinese market. For example, Aeroflot - which has four key locations in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou - has been committing to localization through launching a Chinese-language website, providing Chinese menus onboard and offering Chinese programs in their in-flight entertainment systems.

The company also partnered with Alipay under Alibaba Group Holdings on July 5 to cater to the mobile payment habits of Chinese passengers.

According to a report Aeroflot sent to the Global Times on July 6, the company carried nearly 1.2 million passengers to and from its four destinations in China in 2016. The company didn't disclose previous and afterward figures.

Another Russia-based company S7 Airlines is also considering adding flights from Novosibirsk to China.

The company currently runs flights three days a week from Novosibirsk to five Chinese cities, sputniknews.cn reported on July 18.

Rising tourism and trade

The closer ties between the two countries' aviation markets are a result of the burgeoning tourism demand between China and Russia, experts said.

Up to 1.9 million tourists traveled by air between China and Russia in 2016, up 15 percent year-on-year , the caacnews.com report noted. By the end of 2016, China was the largest source of overseas tourists for Russia for four years in a row.

Overall, 1.07 million Chinese tourists visited Russia in 2016, up 15 percent year-on-year, while 1.18 million Russian tourists visited China during the same year, up 31 percent on a yearly basis.

Wang Yongzhong, a research fellow with the Institute of World Economics and Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that China's growing middle classes are not satisfied with the homogenous places of interests in China.

"Along with its smaller population density, Russia can offer more diverse places for Chinese tourists to explore," Wang told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The Chinese and Russian governments have also taken measures to boost the tourism demands between the two countries. For instance, red tours - those taking visitors to the sites of early communist activities such as Red Square - are booming in China and Russia under promotional efforts driven by the two governments, according to media reports.

Zou Jianjun, a professor with the Beijing-based Civil Aviation Management Institute of China, said that apart from cultural exchanges, the two countries are also seeing more cooperation in trade and economy, and therefore "it's not surprising to see more flights between China and Russia."

"China is exporting more goods in light industries while Russia is known for heavy industries. Such complementarity makes Sino-Russia bilateral cooperation inevitable," Zou told the Global Times on Tuesday.

China's trade with Russia surged by 25.7 percent year-on-year in the first six months of 2017, Chinese customs data showed in July.

Zou also noted that Russia's important role in the China-proposed Belt and Road (B&R) initiative also helps drive the increase of flights between the two countries, putting the blueprint into effective action.

"Russia is a crucial junction along the B&R route," Zou told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Wang said that the number of air routes between the two countries is expected to increase further. "Business trips might be concentrated on first-tier cities, while tourists are heading to second- and third-tier cities. For in-depth travelers, they might penetrate into third- and fourth-tier cities. Those places will all provide opportunities for airline companies," he said.

Plane-making cooperation

Apart from an increase in flights between Russia and China, the two countries also have great room for cooperation in the aviation sector in areas such as aeronautics.

According to domestic media reports, China and Russia are collaborating to develop a jumbo jet called the C929, which will be China's largest civilian aircraft and the biggest jetliner to be produced by Russia since the Cold War.

According to Wang, China has gained technological manufacturing experience from Russia during the making of the C919 aircraft. "Now, with Russia's Irkut MC-21-300 having completed its maiden flight in May, there might be some space for further cooperation," he noted.

Wang said that currently, Russia is slightly concerned about their intellectual property rights within the aviation sector and is a little reluctant to export key equipment to China such as airplane engines.

"But despite the many uncertainties for collaboration in aircraft technology, it is becoming clearer that high-end manufacturing is a possible area to explore," he said.

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