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Former German Ambassador to China Calls for Joining Silk Road

Jan. 4–Former German Ambassador to China and current head of the Herbert Quandt Foundation (BMW) Michael Schaefer, calls on Europeans to accept China’s offer of partnership in the New Silk Road in an interview with “Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten.”

Schaefer blasts Europe’s reaction to the New Silk Road policy and accuses the Europeans of projecting their own thinking when they accuse China of hegemonic intentions. Even if not in explicit terms, he calls for rejecting the wrong geopolitical approach in favor of a win-win relationship.

“The geostrategic significance of the Silk Road cannot be underestimated. The Middle Kingdom has set itself to deploy its giant material resources for the expansion of the Chinese economy on the world market. China is carrying out this strategy in an intelligent way, not aggressively but by offering participation to all states– an offer that slowly is being accepted by the small Asian and central Asian countries, whereas in Europe we have a mostly negative reaction, if not a rejection. Here they accuse China of hegemonic intentions– a projection of our own behavior in the last century?”

“Many Europeans make the big mistake of looking at the relationship with the USA and China as a zero-sum game. But a close relationship with the USA does not at all exclude an interest-based relationship with China. We should not see China as a rival, but rather as a partner in key sectors. I am convinced that China wants to be a partner of the West. At least, China does not pursue military dominance and a geostrategic hegemonic position, but it will defend what it believes are its legitimate interests, in particular its territorial interests, with energy, if necessary also through a projection of its military power.”

Schaefer has met Xi Jinping several times, and in 2009, he accompanied him on five-day visit in Germany. Xi, Schaefer says, “radiates an impressive interior calm, fitting with his policy. He proceeds calmly, unagitated and strategically, making China fit for the challenges in the future. Don’t expect a rush job from him. He, like many Chinese, thinks in long time-periods. He is driven by the knowledge that China was the largest national economy in the world until the middle of the nineteenth century, and it will be so again in the future. For the Chinese it is not a matter of ten or twenty years. During his visit to Germany, he showed interest in our development, especially in economic-technological but also in social areas, like no one else I have ever seen.”

The Chinese system is one capable of learning, Schaefer says, explaining how it can react more quickly and better than western systems in changing its economic model. Political stability in China will depend on whether the system delivers on its promises. “Basically, we must presume that even a communist single party will be accepted as long as it delivers stability and welfare. Chinese culture is strongly influenced by Confucianism. This is no religion, but a regulatory philosophy. One of its main features is respect. For instance, respect of children for their parents, but also respect for higher entities. They pursue a harmonically functioning society where– differently from us–no excessive significance is attributed to individual self-realization.”

China’s Ningbo-Zhoushan Port Reaches Record 1 Billion Tons in Annual Cargo

Dec. 27, 2017 – Xinhua reports, today, that the port of Ningbo-Zhoushan, located in the eastern Chinese province of hejiang, has reached the unprecedented rate of 1 billion tons of annual cargo; it will be the first port in the world to exceed such volume by year’s end.

According to Mao Jianhong, chairman of the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port Group, the port has expanded cooperation with major shipping companies and harbors along the Belt and Road, and has added five new sea routes to bring its total to 86. It has also signed cooperation agreements with twenty other ports.

The Ningbo-Zhoushan port is located at the meeting point of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, directly south of Shanghai and southeast of the port of Hangzhou. It is China’s busiest port, with 242 sea routes linking more than 600 harbors around the world, Xinhua reports.

In the course of 2017, Mao explained, Ningbo-Zhoushan handled over 10 million standard containers from countries and regions along the Belt and Road, a 16% year-on-year increase.

Moreover, the port launched sea-rail transport services with 11 trains providing services to 36 cities in 14 Chinese provinces, as well as to countries in central and northern Asia and Eastern Europe. In 2018, container and handling volume of the port’s sea-rail transport is expected to exceed 400,000 standard containers, a 60% increase year on year.

China Signed 100 Agreements with 86 Countries in 2017

Dec. 23 -Some 86 countries and international organizations have signed 100 cooperation agreements with China under the Belt and Road Initiative. He Lifeng, head of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said the initiative made major headway in 2017, citing progress in key areas including capacity, investment and the Digital Silk Road.

Steady progress was made in the building of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Mombasa-Nairobi railway has been put into operation, construction has begun on the Belgrade-Stara Pazova section of the Hungary-Serbia railway and the Khalifa Port in the United Arab Emirates, the operation of the Hambantota Port has also been transferred to a Chinese firm, said He. So far, cargo train have made more than 7,000 trips between China and Europe, according to He.

Silk Road Hub in Vienna Will Create Up to 140,000 New Jobs

Dec. 22, 2017 -The connection of the Austrian capital via a broad-gauge rail track with the Slovakian city Kosice, and the construction of large freight logistics facilities at Parndorf, near Vienna, will create up to 140,000 new permanent jobs, transport experts working for the implementation of the project are forecasting. The project is named as a priority in the national infrastructure development plan of the new Austrian government. Once completed, the Parndorf freight terminal will handle 54 container freight trains from China weekly. Now: Will the EU give its member Austria financial support, or will the Austrians have to rely on China–as do numerous countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, with their own infrastructure projects?

Growing Interest in France in New Silk Road

Dec. 22, 2017 -When the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) opened online registrations for the first Paris Forum on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in November, there were so many requests that IRIS had to close registrations earlier than expected. “The Paris Forum is an opportunity to work very concretely on projects of common interest,” former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told Xinhua. The BRI has allowed different countries to sit down around a table to discuss cooperation, and multilateral dialogue is a good model for cooperation, especially for today’s world, explained another former Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, president of the Prospective and Innovation Foundation. Raffarin represented President Macron at the May Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The BRI is also one of the responses to multilateralism, which “can create closer Franco-Chinese collaboration,” said IRIS director Pascal Boniface.

The initiative obviously benefits more “Made in France” products and French companies, experts say. One example is the Lyon-Wuhan freight rail line, which was launched in April 2016. Since then, thousands of bottles of Bordeaux wine, other French agricultural products, and auto parts have been exported to China. In addition, communication between Chinese and French communities is becoming increasingly open and transparent, they said.

New Perspectives For Afghanistan: CEPC China-Pakistan Econ Corridor

Dec. 26 – In the first-ever trilateral meeting, foreign ministers of China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan reaffirmed their commitment to improving their relations, deepening mutually beneficial cooperation, advancing connectivity under China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, and fighting terrorism in all its forms and manifestation without any distinction, PTI Islamabad reported today.  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’

Dialogue in Beijing with Afghanistan and Pakistan Foreign Ministers, respectively Salahuddin Rabbani and Khawaja Muhammad Asif.

In his proposal to extend their $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan, Wang, talking to the reporters, pointed to Afghanistan’s urgent need to develop and

improve people’s lives, and his hopes it can join inter-connectivity initiatives. “So China and Pakistan are willing to look at–with Afghanistan, on the basis of win-win– mutually beneficial principles, using an appropriate way,” he said, Afghanistan’s TOLONews reported.

In his bilateral meeting with the Afghan Foreign Minister Rabbani, Wang said China hoped to synergize its development strategy for Afghanistan and expand bilateral cooperation. China expected to see a wide and inclusive political reconciliation process in Afghanistan, led and owned by the Afghan people, he said, Afghanistan’s Pajhwok reported. Rabbani, welcoming the proposal and hailing China as a reliable partner, said his country was ready to actively participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, and enhance cooperation with China in areas of inter-connectivity, infrastructure and energy.

South Korea President Embraces Belt and Road Initiative

Dec. 16 – During his four-day visit to China, which concludes today in the city of Chongqing, South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that he and President Xi Jinping have agreed “to actively look for ways of actual cooperation between China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative (BRI)” and South Korea’s own foreign policy initiative–the “New North” and “New South” policies–which seek greater economic and diplomatic cooperation with Eurasian as well as with Southeast Asian nations. Especially in light of Japan’s shift over the past several months toward the Belt and Road, Moon’s announcement is of great strategic significance, reflecting a move away from Western policies of geopolitical confrontation which today threaten to blow up the North Korean situation. As Moon stated explicitly, the Belt and Road holds the potential to bring peace and prosperity to the region.
In their broader discussions, the two leaders committed themselves to strengthening their bilateral relationship, and agreed to abide by the principles of mutual respect and regard for each other’s core interests. This is the basis for true “win-win” collaboration, Xi Jinping said, adding that he wants to promote the alignment of the BRI with Seoul’s development strategy.

That Moon made his announcement on the BRI in Chongqing is also important as this bustling city is a communications hub in western China that is “a pivotal location for China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” {Global Times} reported Dec. 15. Speaking at a business forum there, Moon elaborated further, according to a transcript of his speech cited by Yonhap News Agency. “I am confident a link between the One Belt, One Road Initiative and New North, New South policies will lead to peace and joint prosperity in the region and become a strong wave that spearheads the development of all of humanity,” he said.
For example, he detailed, “If the connection between an inter-Korean railroad and the Trans-Siberian Railway that South Korea is actively pursuing, meets China’s trans-China, Mongolia
and Russia economic corridor, [then] the rail, air and sea routes of Eurasia will reach all corners of the region,” Moon said.
Moon also called for efforts to build what he called a “digital Silk Road” between the two countries to assist the development of their IT industries and the fourth industrial revolution. Overseas markets are another key area of cooperation, he said. “I will actively support the joint advance of South Korean and Chinese firms into third countries,” he stated, and emphasized the importance of cooperation among countries in the region. (Japan’s Prime Minister Abe last week offered joint Japan-China funding of development projects in third countries.) Seoul and Beijing have already agreed to launch negotiations for an expansion of their free trade agreement (FTA), he reported, to include the service and financial sectors. The trade agreement went into effect in late 2015, but currently deals with products only. Lastly, Moon said, South Korea will work to strengthen its cooperation with China’s key regional governments, including Chongqing. “I believe economic cooperation between South Korea and Chongqing will greatly contribute to China’s development of [its] west, as well as balanced development of China, and I promise the South Korean government will do its utmost to boost their cooperation,” he told Chongqing’s Mayor Chen Miner.

China Provides Credit for Iranian Rail Upgrade

Dec. 17 -China has opened a $1.7 billion credit line for Iran for the electrification of the 926 km railway running from Tehran to Mashhad in the east of the country. The terms are excellent: Two-thirds of the cost will be financed by the Chinese government at a very low interest rate, and the remaining third will be covered by Chinese insurer Sinosure (China Export and Credit Insurance Corp.), according to Iran’s Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development.

Five months ago, Iran signed an agreement with China National Machinery Import and Export Corp. (CMC) to carry out the electrification and upgrading, which is projected to take up to four years. The route is already double-tracked, but with electrificaiton, the speed will increase from 160 kph to 200 kph. Iran’s English-language Financial Tribune in reporting the credit agreement today, adding that CEO of the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways Saeed Mohammadzadeh reports that when finished, the railroad–which forms part of the New Silk Road–will have the capacity to transport 25 million passengers and 10 million tons of cargo per year.

Iran’s goal is to electrify all of its rail by 2025.

Poland Hosting Silk Road Rail Summit in March

Dec. 18, 2017 -The {Rail Freight} journal reports that Poland is hosting the first Rail Freight Summit next year, in the city of Wroclaw. Recent developments, {Rail Freight} writes, have pushed the New Silk Road — also known as One Belt, One Road — to the forefront of the Europe-Asia logistics corridors, what they mean for Poland and the other countries along the growing number of routes, not least China. As part of this development, Poland has become an increasingly vital hub for rail freight services, often as an interchange for container train services coming via Russia and Belarus, run by dozens of operators. The summit will review developments so far and look to the future to see the benefits that can be realized for all stakeholders, including rail operators, logistics firms, and all those involved in the supply chain.

The summit is taking place from March 20-21, and day one will start with a technical visit, enabling visitors to meet some of the people behind the logistical chains in Poland. The second part of the day will features keynote speeches on the meaning of the Silk Road & Poland, and the implications of the One Belt, One Road project for Eastern Europe. Day two begins with a focus on the ambitions of China, followed by sessions on how to connect the Silk Road routes and stops, and the business case for Poland and beyond. The summit is being jointly hosted by {Rail Freight} and Nieuwsblad Transport, and sponsored by Nunner Logistics.

Syria will Join the Silk Road

That sums up the report on a dialogue workshop held by the Wathiqat Wattan Foundation in Damascus called “Heading East … China,” given by SANA news agency on Dec. 16. The dialogue was opened by Presidential Political and Media Advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, who is also the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Wathiqat Wattan Foundation, and addressed by the Chinese Ambassador to Syria, with participants reported to be from both Syria and Lebanon.

Dr. Shaaban situated the discussion at the highest level. “There is a new world that is being formed not on the basis of hegemony and wars, but on the basis of scientific and technical cooperation between countries. Our role is carrying and disseminating Eastern culture and motivating societies in this direction,” she told participants. “The Arab region is witnessing a series of transitions, the most important of which is the rise of China as a global, economic, political, and cultural power, especially since China proposed several projects,” including the Belt and Road Initiative, she said, adding that workshops such as this are needed to discuss China’s role in the region and develop their own visions in order to benefit from China’s experience.

In June of 2016, Dr. Shaaban addressed the Schiller Institute’s international conference in Berlin, Germany via video hookup, and was scheduled to personally address its most recent conference in November, but was unable to attend because she had to travel to China at the last minute. According to SANA, China’s Ambassador to Syria Qi Qianjin agreed on the importance of such dialogue, and spoke of China’s interest in going towards the Middle East, where 60% of its oil and gas imports comes from, stating that China will not leave countries facing turmoil behind, including Syria. Other participants reportedly “recommended establishing universities and institutes to teach the Chinese language and promote student exchange programs to contribute to the Sino-Arab cultural intellectual rapprochement, as well as opening Chinese trade centers in Syria.”

Today {Asia Times} reported seperately that more than 30 Chinese firms have visited Syria this year, including China Energy Engineering Corporation and China Construction Fifth Engineering Division, and the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs has already approved a number of initial aid projects. During the First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects held in Beijing in early August, a Chinese-Arab business group announced a $2 billion commitment from the government for the construction of industrial parks in Syria.

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