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China to revive 'Southern Silk Road' for regional prosperity


08:16, June 09, 2013

KUNMING, June 8 (Xinhua) -- China is looking to revive the ancient "Southern Silk Road" linking its southwestern regions with Southeast and South Asia, as it aims to boost cooperation with countries along the once-booming trade route.

China has had trade, religious and cultural exchanges with South Asian countries by way of the "Southern Silk Road" since ancient times, Dilip Barua, Minister for Industries of Bangladesh, said at the ongoing 8th China-South Asia Business Forum in Kunming, capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province.

With a history of more than 2,000 years, the ancient trade route, stretching over 2,000 kilometers long, was dubbed the "Southern Silk Road" by historians.

The route, originating from Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province, wandered through cities in Sichuan and finally took traders to Myanmar by way of Yunnan Province. Then, it extended through to India, Bangladesh and even the Middle East.

Similar to the prestigious Silk Road, the "Southern Silk Road" contributed much to cultural exchanges between China and South Asian countries.

As a country located at the junction connecting China, South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, Bangladesh is eager to strengthen cooperation in various fields with neighboring nations, especially China, Barua said.

As traders from South Asia started to eye the vast Chinese market, economic and trade relations between China and South Asian countries grew. Bilateral trade volume increased from 34.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2006 to 93 billion U.S. dollars in 2012, according to Li Jiheng, governor of Yunnan Province at the forum.

China has become an important trade partner and foreign investment source of South Asian countries while these nations are serving as China's major overseas project contracting markets and investment destinations, Li said.

Yunnan Province, which positions itself as the "bridgehead" on the opening up of southwest China, has seen its trade volume with South Asian countries grow 18 times over the past 15 years.

However, since a convenient inland passage is still unaccessible, most business activities between China and these countries have to choose the risky sea passage, detouring through the South China Sea, and then by way of the narrow and perilous Strait of Malacca, to reach the South Asian region. The mountain valley communities of Yunnan Province and its backward transport infrastructures have hampered development of the remote southwestern border province.

Yunnan has endeavored to revive the once-booming trade road and become a significant transport hub since 1999 when the province started to plan a transport system with the capital city of Kunming as the center, linking East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia, said Wang Xiliang, director of the Yunnan Development and Reform Commission.

During Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to India in May, China and India called for establishing an economic corridor among China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh in order to link East and South Asia, two crucial global economic growth points that would provide fresh impetus to Asian economic integration and economic expansion.

Li Jiheng believed the move will boost pragmatic cooperation between China and South Asian countries.

The proposal was also welcomed and echoed by South Asian countries at the ongoing first China-South Asia Expo, which is held in Kunming City from June 6 to 10.

T. M. Murtozaa Reza Chowhury, additional secretary of the Ministry of Commerce of Bangladesh said at the China-South Asia Business Forum that China and South Asian countries are neighbors with glorious history, splendid culture and long-standing relationships established 2,500 years ago thanks to the ancient "Southern Silk Road."

Bangladesh always underscores the need for cooperation as an effective tool for social and economic development of the countries of the region, he said.

Rafeeque Ahmed, president of the Federation of Indian Export Organizations, said at the forum that Indian companies have developed great interest in Chinese and South Asian markets while calling for a convenient transport passage.

South Asian countries have expanded cooperation with China in various sectors, which is conducive to eliminating economic disparities and enhancing regional stability, said Rajitha Senaratne, Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development of Sri Lanka at the third China South Asia Friendship Organizations' Forum, which was held during the expo.

In fact, China is ready for the revival of the "Southern Silk Road" and plans are under discussion, according to Yang Ye, a researcher with the Development Research Center of Yunnan provincial government.

Besides the 16 existing international transport lines linking Yunnan and some Great Mekong Sub-regional countries, seven trunk roads originating from Yunnan extending to neighboring nations and provinces have been promoted as high-grade highways, according to sources with the Transport Department of Yunnan Province. These include China-Vietnam Highway, China-Laos-Thailand Highway, China-Myanmar Highway, and a domestic section of China-India Highway.

With joint efforts by China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh, a highway route starting from Yunnan to India by way of Myanmar have been approved by relevant departments of the four countries, Yang said.

Experts from the four countries launched a field inspection along the route in February 2012. The first auto race along the 2,800-km route was successfully held from late February to early March this year.

The racing auto team started from the Indian city of Calcutta, traveled through Bangladesh and Myanmar's major city of Mandalay entering China via the port city of Ruili, Yunnan Province, and finally reached Kunming.

Though the route of the new "Southern Silk Road" has yet to be determined, the success of the race across the four countries indicated that it is possible to build a transport passage along the route, Yang said.

The new route will not only help promote mutual understanding and exchanges between China and South Asian countries but also deepen and expand economic and trade cooperation among these countries, according to Yang.

On the other hand, the route is expected to serve as an inland bridge linking South Asian countries and central, eastern coastal areas of China, so as to promote the development of western regions of the country and boost the common prosperity of the nations along the route.

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