Economic Watch: SCO in closer ties with Belt and Road Initiative

Source: Xinhua 2018-06-09

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QINGDAO, June 9 (Xinhua) -- Loaded with auto parts and food, a freight train will depart from CRIntermodal Qingdao Terminal in east China's Shandong Province about every three times a week. It will arrive in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty about ten days later, and on to five Central Asian countries including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The trip is about one month faster than the journey by sea and costs much less, according to Wei Xuelun, executive vice general manager at the CRIntermodal Qingdao Terminal.

Initiated in 2015, the Qingdao freight trains have travelled from China to Central Asia over 3,000 times, making the coastal city a node on the economic corridor linking China, Central Asia and Europe.

Qingdao, which hosts the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit this weekend, is one of the witnesses of the enhanced connectivity between China and other SCO members thanks to the development of the Belt and Road Initiative.

After about five years, the initiative has made notable progress.

China has cooperation agreements with 88 countries and international organizations. Trade volume between China and countries along the Belt and Road has exceeded five trillion U.S. dollars.

Chinese firms have built 75 overseas economic and trade cooperation zones in the region, with a total investment of about 25.5 billion U.S. dollars and creating nearly 220,000 local jobs, according to Gao Feng, spokesperson with the Ministry of Commerce.

All the projects have been carried out through equal consultation and joint implementation with host countries for mutual gain, Gao said.

A growing number of countries and organizations are actively involved in the initiative, promoting its deep development across the globe. The initiative now looks beyond infrastructure projects, expanding to other diverse industries and sectors in destination countries, observed Norman Sze, Belt and Road Services China leader with Deloitte.

Made up by the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the initiative is closely related with the SCO from the very beginning. Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the development of the Silk Road Economic Belt during a visit to Kazakhstan in 2013.

Contries in the region are not only geographically aligned with the Belt and Road Initiative, but also share similar principles and goals, said Wang Wen, executive director of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies with Renmin University of China, adding that they aim to increase regional prosperity by improving connectivity in an equal and mutually beneficial manner.

In the first quarter of 2018, trade volume between China and other SCO members jumped 20.7 percent year on year. China's accumulative investment in other SCO member countries reached 84 billion dollars by Q1, and many large energy, mining and industrial projects are progressing smoothly, Gao said.

With the signing of an SCO agreement on international road transportation facilitation and an infrastructure network covering roads, railways, energy and telecommunications taking shape, SCO members are enjoying stronger ties.

The SCO Qingdao summit offers new opportunities for relevant countries to further engage in the Belt and Road Initiative, Wang said.

China and Russia inked an agreement Friday to further open up their international road transportation for each other, a move expected to boost bilateral economic and trade exchanges.

CRIntermodal Qingdao Terminal is now working with Kazakhstan's national railway corporation to bring more imports such as wheat back to China, according to Wei.

"We hope that the SCO Qingdao summit will generate better opportunities in this regard," he said.