Workers pack electronics at Henan Xinzheng International Airport. The free trade zone there is successful. (Photo by Ma Jian/For China Daily)
China's inland pilot free trade zones are deploying more resources to invest in airport extensions and logistics projects to turn themselves into "China's Memphis"－to compete with free trade zones near the coast.
Memphis, Tennessee, is an important transportation hub in the United States and also the world's second-busiest cargo airport after Hong Kong. FedEx Corp, the US multinational courier, is based in the city.
Hu Heping, governor of Shaanxi province, said that China (Shaanxi) Pilot Free Trade Zone is at the center of China's inland and is the starting point of the Silk Road. It has unique location advantages and could become an aviation and freight hub.
China so far has established 11 free trade zones to accelerate the country's opening-up and boost the Belt and Road Initiative, including those in landlocked Shaanxi and Henan plus coastal areas like Zhejiang and Guangdong.
The Xi-Xian Bonded Logistics Center at the Shaanxi Free Trade Zone, was officially put into operation as the only international air logistics center in July, an important step in turning the city into China's Memphis.
HNA Modern Logistics Co, a subsidiary of Hainan Airlines Group, also is trying to build Shaanxi into such a logistics powerhouse, bringing world-leading modern logistics and travel resources to the province to help it emerge as an international aviation and logistics hub.
Since its establishment, the HNA subsidiary has founded around 20 companies, such as Changan Modern Logistics. It has opened three international freight airlines starting from Xi'an, with a current freight volume of 8,400 metric tons. It aims to build a high-value Belt and Road Initiative industry supply chain with Xi'an as its center.
Eager to enhance its earning ability, the China (Henan) Pilot Free Trade Zone, also inland, has undertaken the mission of building a modern multimodal traffic and logistics network linking the North and South and connecting the East and West, as well as a modern comprehensive transportation hub serving the Belt and Road Initiative.
In addition to railway transportation, the Henan Free Trade Zone has 29 international airfreight lines, which delivered 450,000 metric tons of cargo in 2016.
"Air routes will be increased to 40 by 2020, the last year of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2015-20)," said Zhang Qiong, director general of Henan province's department of transport.
Approved by the State Council as a national strategy in 2013, Zhengzhou Airport Economic Zone, the first in its kind in China, is planning to build an international logistics center focusing on goods transportation after establishing the Henan Free Trade Zone in 2016.
After completing the second phase of Zhengzhou Xinzheng International Airport by the end of this year, the zone is expected to have over 1 million metric tons of annual airfreight capacity.
Revolving around the three industries－aviation logistics, advanced manufacturing and modern services－the zone has developed eight industrial parks of intelligent terminal, electronic information, precision apparatus, aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, aviation logistics, biomedicine, e-commerce and exhibition.
Zhang Dawei, vice-chairman and secretary-general of the China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchange, said with many manufacturing companies moving their facilities to inland China there is an increasing need for logistics and transportation services at the Henan Free Trade Zone.
"Under such circumstances, the aviation economy can be a practical tool to develop aircraft manufacturing, technical services, air transportation, logistics, airlines and retail businesses in the Henan Free Trade Zone. The Miami and Cologne-Bonn airports are successful examples of adopting such a mode to develop local economy," he said.