Region is a transport hub that links the trading and manufacturing centers of southern China and ASEAN
Tieshan Port is a connecting point for more than 240 maritime trade routes, including 26 to foreign countries, making it an important hub for Southeast Asia. (LI JIN / CHINA DAILY)
Enhanced trading relationships between China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), boosted by the burgeoning infrastructure projects linking the two sides, are expected to improve the quality of life in the region.
“To get rich, one needs to build the road first,” Jiang Liansheng, director-general of the department of commerce in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, told China Daily Asia Weekly.
Guangxi, the only region that connects China with ASEAN countries by land and sea, is a maritime transportation hub in southern China.
The region now plays an important role in the construction of the southward route, a road-rail-sea corridor that links Chongqing municipality and Singapore, an ASEAN member state, through the Beibu Gulf in Guangxi.
The southward route is part of the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Demonstration Initiative on Strategic Connectivity, the third government-to-government cooperative project between China and Singapore.
The other two are the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, in East China’s Jiangsu province, and the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin.
Compared with transporting exports from Chongqing to Shanghai via the Yangtze River, the railway line from Chongqing to the Beibu Gulf cuts the domestic transportation distance from 2,400 km to 1,450 km, and the travel time from 14 days to just two days.
Jiang believes the southward route not only provides businesses with a cost-effective way of transporting exports and imports, but also allows people living along the corridor to access resources from other regions.
“For example, people in Northwest China’s Gansu province can now enjoy fresh seafood from Southeast Asia, while the Ningxia Hui autonomous region, a medlar tree planting base in (Northwest) China, will be able to introduce their product to Southeast Asia at the same time,” he said.
“With the improvement of infrastructure through the southward route, the trade and economic interactions between countries and regions involved will change people’s lives,” he added.
The route also links the manufacturing industry in western China to overseas consumer markets, Jiang noted. Chongqing, Chengdu and Xi’an are major electronics and aviation manufacturing bases, with Chongqing alone producing 250 million mobile phones in 2016.
Zou Zhiwei, executive director and general manager of Guangxi Beibu Gulf Port Logistics, said the southward route has been operating smoothly in the past few months.
Since the rail services officially started on Sept 25, more than 40 trains have been plying between the Beibu Gulf and Chongqing. “Just within (December), there were already 10 trains, so we can say the operation has been completely normalized,” he said.
According to Zou, more than 30 Chinese companies from the trading, manufacturing and logistics industries are now using the southward route, while more are in talks with his company about the possibility of using it.
“Though starting from the China-Singapore (Chongqing) Connectivity Initiative, the route can also be seen as a passageway that can be extended beyond western China to Europe due to its convenience,” Zou said.
Jiang pointed out that a synergized transportation system of highway, railway and sea ports is needed to further promote the southward route. The local government will invest a total of 130 billion yuan ($20 billion) this year to improve infrastructure, including railway electrification of the southward route portion in Guangxi.
Infrastructure aside, the customs clearance facilitation along the route is also important to help reduce the time, procedures and costs involved in transporting goods. In April 2017, Chongqing, Guangxi, Guizhou and Gansu signed a memorandum of understanding on customs clearance integration for the smooth operation of the southward route.
The potential of the southward route has attracted investments from other countries. For example, Singapore shipping company Pacific International Lines is now building an integrated logistics park in Nanning, with a total investment of 10 billion yuan.
Jiang said the logistics park, which was inaugurated in September 2017, will play a key role in building connectivity between China and Singapore.
Another company, Emirates Shipping Line, has also launched a new long-distance shipping service, connecting Guangxi to Singapore, Indonesia and Dubai.
Apart from linking western China to Southeast Asia, the southward route is also important in serving as a bridge between the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, said He Xiaolong, executive deputy director and senior engineer of Tieshan Port Industrial Zone Management Committee.
Located in Beihai, Tieshan Port is one of four ports under Beibu Gulf Port, together with Beihai, Qinzhou and Fangchenggang. It is a connecting point for more than 240 maritime trade routes, including 26 to foreign countries, making it an important hub for Southeast Asia.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to improve trade and connectivity along the ancient Silk Road routes.
“The aim is to involve as many ASEAN countries as possible to build this international passage together, since the southward route serves as a transit point between land transportation and sea transportation,” said He, adding that the total handling capacity of the Beibu Gulf reached 138 million tons in 2016. The total capacity for 2017 is expected to exceed 150 million tons.
Jiang Liansheng, director-general of the department of commerce in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the southward route is an essential platform to build the community of shared future between China and ASEAN, said Jiang.
Guangxi plays an important role in the Belt and Road Initiative, serving as the key node in boosting trade and connectivity between China and ASEAN. Its capital city, Nanning, has been the permanent host city of the annual event, China-ASEAN Expo, since 2004.
During a visit to Guangxi in April 2017, Xi urged the region to play a bigger role in the Belt and Road Initiative. According to Xinhua, he said the region should make full use of its geographical location and the potential of its coastlines, rivers and border areas to open up.
According to Jiang, the autonomous region has seen rapid growth in import and export trade. From January to November 2017, its total amount of import and export trade reached 345 billion yuan, up 26.7 percent from the same period the year before.
Jiang said around 80 percent of its trade and economic cooperation is with ASEAN countries, while Vietnam is Guangxi’s largest trading partner.
“Electronic products rank first both in import and export goods, which means that our industrial cooperation with ASEAN countries improved,” said Jiang, adding that Guangxi has been an important trading hub for international corporations like Samsung and Foxconn.
Guangxi companies are also making progress in spreading their wings outside of China. Apart from investments made by the Beibu Gulf International Port Group in Southeast Asian ports like Malaysia’s Kuantan Port and Brunei’s Muara Port, other companies like automobile manufacturer SGMW have extended their business to ASEAN countries as well.
In July 2017, SGMW opened its first overseas manufacturing facility in Indonesia with the aim of producing 150,000 cars per year.
Jiang hopes the close trading and business relationships will benefit people-to-people connectivity, which is important in forming mutual understanding.
“Not just import and export, I hope other industries like services, education and training can also take advantage of the southward route,” he said.