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Cities eye pivotal roles in Belt and Road
Source: chinadaily     Date: 2017-03-29
  
Freight train X9081 heading for Kazakhstan's Almaty is ready to leave a major logistics center in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Mar 15, 2017. The logistics center in Urumqi had accomplished 200 trips of freight trains heading westwards. [Photo/Xinhua]
  
Cities, both home and abroad, are jockeying for pivotal roles in the Belt and Road Initiative, senior government officials and experts said.
  
With first-mover advantages, major logistics hubs will take shape along Belt and Road routes over the next five years, said Dereck Ji, senior partner of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.
  
"Our clients overseas are now getting really serious about the initiative, actively searching related business opportunities," Ji said, comparing to the "courtesy response" received three years ago under the perception of it being a grand slogan.
  
The Belt and Road Initiative is expected to redefine trade potentials by spurring infrastructure construction and international capacity cooperation, the senior consultant told chinadaily.com.cn after attending the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province.
  
"As Chinese firms go out to build industrial parks and related facilities amid their localization drive, they will also help boost the urbanization of countries along the routes," Ji said.
  
Ji's remarks were echoed by speakers of the conference that concluded on Sunday, as government officials from countries including Singapore, Portugal and Afghanistan all expressed interests in taking a strategic role in the initiative.
  
Surrounded by six economic corridors along the routes, Afghanistan has agreed to allow connecting railways to go through the country, said Eklil Ahmad Hakimi, the country's Finance Minister, on the sidelines of the Boao forum.
  
"Our location is such that we want to play a bridge role between our neighbors, mainly Central Asia, South Asia and China," Hakimi said in a panel discussion.
  
Afghanistan was among the 13 new members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the bank announced earlier this month.
  
Hakimi said Afghanistan has proposed eight infrastructural projects in railway and energy sectors, especially new energy, to the AIIB.
  
The initiative serves as a win-win where countries can benefit from connectivity and common prosperity, he added.
  
Sim Ann, Singapore's senior minister of state (trade & industry and culture, community & youth), echoed Hakimi's remarks, saying the initiative is an "encouraging vision of connectivity and regional integration."
  
Singapore is ready to play an active role in the Belt and Road Initiative, she added, citing the joint Suzhou industrial park and Tianjin eco-city as demonstration of support, followed by a third connectivity project in Chongqing between the two countries.
  
The inland city launched the connectivity project earlier last year, aiming to build Guoyuan Port of Chongqing into a demonstration base for Sino-Singapore multimodal transport.
  
Manuel Caldeira Cabral, Portugal's Minister of Economy, said he saw Belt and Road as openness.
  
"It is a very interesting initiative when protectionism is taking ground," he said, while warning to guard against headwind it may face.
  
Portugal, poised as a gateway to Europe and Latin America, opens its door to Chinese companies, Cabral said.