Alataw Pass, window of Belt and Road construction

Updated 2017-09-01 16:31:17 Xinhua

Alataw Pass, in the center of Eurasia, receives freight trains from both ends of the continent.

More than 70 percent of China-Europe freight trains run through the pass in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

The pass at the China-Kazakhstan border was once an important passage on the ancient Silk Road. Missionaries sent by King Louis IX of France passed it as early as the 13th century. One of the missionaries, William of Rubruk, wrote a long report on the prosperity of the Silk Road, which was regarded as a masterpiece of medieval geographical literature.

Following the industrial revolution and improved ocean transportation, the Alataw Pass waned in importance until emerging again as an important outpost of the Belt and Road construction.

On March 19, 2011, the first China-Europe freight train roared through the pass from the southwest China metropolis of Chongqing to Duisburg in Germany by way of Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland.

Since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in Autumn 2013, more than 100 countries and international organizations have showed support and actively participated in its construction.

More than 60 cities in China and Europe have launched China-Europe freight trains. The longest route connects east China's Yiwu City, known as the "world's supermarket," with London.

More than six trains run through the pass every day. Improved clearance efficiency and traffic volume have cut transportation costs by over 30 percent, only one fifth that of air transport. Meanwhile, travel time is one third or a quarter of that needed for sea transport.

The pass -- among the most inland points on earth -- has become a busy center connecting the East Asia Economic Rim and the European economic circle.

On the barren land not far from the Alataw Pass station, rows of factories with blue roofs have been built, and lines of newly planted trees are covered in green shoots. The sound of machines has overwhelmed the howling wind.

Xinjiang's first bonded zone was set up here in May 2011. As of the end of June, more than 100 global companies had come to operate businesses in bonded logistics, manufacturing, international trade and financial settlement.

A massive factory of a medical textile company houses German-made production line machinery worth 150 million yuan. It was shipped in by China-Europe freight trains, along with tonnes of raw cotton from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

The thread manufactured in the factory will be transported via the China-Europe railway to central China's Henan Province, where high quality medical gauze will be woven and transported again via the railway back to the European market.

Qin Songxiang, vice president of the company, said the Alataw factory has the geographical advantage of being close enough to both raw materials and the market, plus its favorable bonded zone policies.

"With the economic drive being so strong, business people like us just can't resist the temptation to have a finger in the Belt and Road pie," he said.

Jonathan E. Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Belt and Road Initiative is "hugely ambitious."

He said many in the West are encouraged by the economic potential, because if it works well, it does benefit all participants, including the West.

At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held this May, the Chinese government promised another 100 billion yuan (about 14.5 billion U.S. dollars) to augment the Silk Road Fund, 380 billion yuan equivalent in loans for infrastructure and development projects from Chinese policy banks, and 300 billion yuan to conduct overseas yuan fund business.

Trade volume between China and Belt and Road countries in 2016 topped 1.07 trillion U.S. dollars. China's direct investment in those countries stood at 14.5 billion U.S. dollars. Statistics from Thomson Reuters showed that Chinese companies' total investment and acquisition in Belt and Road countries already exceeded 33 billion U.S. dollars as of early August.

According to the joint communique of the leaders' roundtable of the Belt and Road forum, the Belt and Road Initiative provides new opportunities for international cooperation to work for globalization that is open, inclusive and beneficial to all.

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