Two thousand years ago, merchants and caravans began moving between east and west along the Silk Road, trading goods, philosophy and technology. Now a modern Silk Road, rekindling trade and achieving common prosperity, is in the making.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Chinese president Xi Jinping, has gained traction in the last three years, scholars and officials said.
"Many projects have been pushed forward under the canopy of the initiative. Dots have been connected to form a big picture that has been envisioned," said Xiang Junyong, a researcher with Renmin University of China who follows the progress of the initiative.
"A new Silk Road is being formed, and the main structure has roughly taken shape, through better links between cities along the routes, trade zones, international economic corridors and improved ports," said Xiang.
In June, the university published a report on the progress of the initiative, chronicling successes in transportation, pipelines and telecommunication infrastructure, trade expansions, financial and cultural cooperation.
Notably among the successes, more than 2,000 train services operate each year between China and European countries, shipping laptops, dinnerware and oil-drilling equipment to Europe and bringing back food, wine and baby formula.
"Most countries along the Belt and Road are developing countries eager for better economic performance. By supporting the initiative, we are seeing better economic vitality and regional economic integration," said Fang Aiqing, vice commerce minister of China.
Global economy is still plagued by problems of weak growth, weak demand with financial fluctuations lurking round each corner. The Belt and Road initiative targets growth and rebalancing global economy, said Fang.
Over 30 countries have signed inter-governmental agreements on the initiative with China.
From January to August this year, trade along the road exceeded 600 billion U.S. dollars, about 26 percent of China's trade total. Direct investment by Chinese companies was over 10 billion U.S. dollars, commerce ministry statistics show.
Contracts were worth over 70 billion U.S. dollars, up 28.3 percent year on year. Projects such as a highway in Pakistan, high-speed railway in Turkey and rail link between Hungary and Serbia, are well under way.
China has built 56 economic or trade zones overseas, and created more than 163,000 jobs in Belt and Road countries and regions.
Thai-Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone in east Thailand is one of the most successful zones. Covering 12 square kilometers, it hosts 80 companies and provides jobs to more than 20,000 workers. "We call it the industrial China town," said Wu Guangyun, vice manager of the industrial park.
"The new Silk Road is by no means a private path for China. Rather, it is a grand avenue that accommodates the prosperity of many nations," said Fang.
The initiative also encompasses cultural, educational, tourism and archaeological exchanges.
"We have the chance to explore ancient tombs in the south of Uzbekistan. I look for more such academic cooperation," said Feng Jian, director of relics protection in Xi'an, a key city along the ancient Silk Road.
ANCIENT WISDOM REVISITED
He Lifeng is another ministerial official who shares conviction in the rosy future of the new Silk Road.
"History can be silent but it never disappears, and it is time to recall past experiences to shape the future," said He, deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planning body.x "Global economic recovery in the past few years has been hard and circuitous. International trade and investment are slow, and globalization has met immense challenges," he said.
"Faced with the challenges, we need to draw wisdom and beliefs from our ancestors and take action to break the stalemate and make a difference," he said.
The ancient silk road turned post houses and small oases into great cities, and brought about exchange among the world's greatest civilizations.
"We need to remember that when the ancient road was in its prime, China was a strong and open nation. Through the new Belt and Road initiative, China aims for further opening-up and common prosperity," he said.