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Railway and Arctic routes enhance China-Europe trade

(By Belt and Road Portal)

Updated: 2017-09-11 08:18:00

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Tianjian, a freighter from the China COSCO Shipping Corporation, carrying wind power equipment, departs from Lianyungang Port on August 31. Its destination is the Esbjerg Port in Denmark and will travel through the channel near the North Pole.

On the same day, a China-Europe Freight Train, carrying containers from Japan and the Republic of Korea, pulls out of Lianyungang Railway Station setting out for Kazakhstan in central Asia.

Liu Bin, general manager of Lianyungang China-Kazakhstan International Logistics Company, said the launching of the China-Kazakhstan freight train on July 8 makes Lianyungang a connecting point of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The freight trains from Lianyungang now not only reach the five countries in central Asia, but also Turkey, Russia, Poland and Germany. On average there are two such international freight trains departing from Lianyungang each day.

The first China-Europe Freight Train was launched in March 2011, and the freight transport service has become a main logistics channel on the Eurasian continent today. Thirty-two cities in China and 32 cities in 12 European countries are connected by the train. So far, there have been more than 5,000 completed trips.

The 1,300 kilometer-long journey takes about 12 hours, much faster than sea transport and cheaper than air transport. The freights mainly include mobile phones, computers, clothes, cars and parts, grains, wine, timber and machineries.  

The shipping channels, including the Northeast Route, the Northwest Route and the Central Route, through the Arctic Ocean have become busier than before. They are the shortest shipping routes between the North Pacific and the North Atlantic.

China's Xuelong icebreaker polar research vessel succeeded in passing through the Northeast Route of the Arctic Ocean five years ago. The COSCO's Yongsheng vessel reached Europe by the route in 2013. By the end of 2016, COSCO completed nine voyages using five ships between China and Europe.

This year the company's six vessels have finished six voyages between China and Europe through the Arctic Ocean, delivering mainly equipment, steel and pulp. China's voyages to Europe through the North Pole region have become normal.

The Chinese government issued a document on the vision for building the maritime Silk Road in July, proposing jointly participating into the construction of a blue economic corridor through the Arctic Ocean for the first time.

President Xi Jinping suggested building the Northern Sea route and the Ice Silk Road with Russia during his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on July 4.

Yu Zenggang, vice president of COSCO, said: "The opening of the Northeast Route of the North Pole provides new and fast options for China's foreign trade. The ships between China and Europe need not wait at the Suez Canal any more."

Cai Meijiang, vice general manager of COSCO Shipping Specialized Carries Company, said the Arctic route is one third shorter than the traditional route going through the Malacca Strait and the Suez Canal, which will have many benefits including saving money on hiring armed security, avoiding both the pirates' harassment of the coast of Africa as well as avoiding the influence of the southwest summer monsoon in the Indian Ocean.

Shen Jianxin, captain of Tianjian, said the sea ice, low temperature and complicated meteorological conditions, and the lack of rescue facilities en route are all tests for the ships and sailors.

Liu Bin said Lianyungang will handle at least six China-Europe Freight Trains a day by 2020, and he hopes the connections of land and sea transportation will become more efficient.

Currently the main freights heading to China on the Arctic routes are oil and gas, and the main cargo to foreign countries are equipment, steel and pulp. It is expected that more information and security services will be available for ships on the Arctic routes, and the pollution-control rules will better regulate sea transportation activities in the ecologically fragile region.

Russia's statistics show 297 ships passed through the Northeast Route of the North Pole last year, up 35 percent year-on-year. The number is expected to rise rapidly year by year in the near future.

Lin Shanqing, vice head of the State Oceanic Administration, said that with the bettering of the voyage conditions in the North Pole region, the routes in the region will definitely change world economic and trade patterns.