An engineer works on a bridge along a railway under construction in Quanzhou on May 16 (XINHUA)
At the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, the wreckage of a seafaring wooden sailboat is on display, quietly attesting to the prosperity of Quanzhou and the technical prowess of its shipbuilders from a past era.
The vessel, built more than 700 years ago during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), measures more than 30 meters long and about 10 meters wide and consists of 13 compartments. A plethora of goods including spices, medicines, ceramics, leather products and other cultural relics were found on board.
Quanzhou, a port city in southeast China's Fujian Province and the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, was reputed to be one of the largest ports in the East for over four centuries. In 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed building the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road and in 2015, the Central Government expressed its support for building Fujian into a core area along the road as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which also includes the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt.
Now, Quanzhou, which has a large private sector, has become the most economically advanced in the province, with its 2018 GDP surpassing that of Fuzhou, the provincial capital, and Xiamen, another booming Fujian city.
In recent years, Quanzhou has been committed to developing its transport infrastructure. "For nine consecutive years, Quanzhou's investment in its transport infrastructure has exceeded 10 billion yuan ($1.39 billion), which has effectively promoted the formation of land, sea and air transport networks. The goal of keeping every county in the city connected to a modern transportation system has materialized," Liu Shanhui, head of the Engineering Construction Section of the Quanzhou Transportation Bureau, told Beijing Review.
Liu has witnessed the city's infrastructure development, and according to him, Quanzhou's development was once hindered by low road density, a shortage of expressways and insufficient seaport and airport throughput. Since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, the city has continuously increased investment in its sea, land and air transport infrastructure to lay the groundwork for it to play a bigger role in the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. In December 2017, the Quanzhou Transportation Group was set up to spur the coordinated development of various means of transportation.
Quanzhou's seaports are making efforts to develop both domestic and international maritime trade routes. According to the port administration authority, the city's ports currently have six container shipping routes and a number of bulk-cargo routes to countries participating in the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam, Thailand and Malaysia. Imports from these countries through the ports are mainly scrap stones, chemical raw materials, food and coconut shell charcoal, while exports from the ports to these countries mainly include clothing and raw materials for light industry. In 2018, the cargo throughput of Quanzhou's ports was 115 million tons, surpassing 100 million tons for the seventh straight year.
While developing maritime routes, the city has also been expanding air transport. In 2014, the airport in Jinjiang, a county-level city under the administration of Quanzhou, was officially renamed the Quanzhou Jinjiang International Airport, further integrating the city into the Belt and Road Initiative. The airport, first built in 1955 as a military airstrip, has become a medium-sized international airport with more than 60 passenger routes including 13 international ones, and 210 planes coming and going every day.
In 2018 alone, the airport added five new international routes, including Bangkok in Thailand, Davao City in the Philippines and Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Going forward, the airport plans to increase routes to Belt and Road participating countries.
In addition, the development of seaports and airports as well as the overall economy needs to be buttressed by land transportation. In recent years, the network of expressways and other roads has become denser and more widespread, connecting the city with neighboring and inland areas and invigorating the economy.
Remarkable progress has also been made in railway transport. Wu Jianwu, head of the Quanzhou Railway Station, recalled that old-fashioned and low-speed trains painted in green finished their last trips to the city in 2014 and faded into history as the city ushered in a new era of high-speed railway transportation.
Today, there are direct trains from Quanzhou to most large cities in the country. Every day, about 250,000 people depart from the city on over 230 trains, he said.
"The improvement of the transport infrastructure provides a guarantee for Quanzhou's development as a pioneer area along the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, and also creates a sound business environment for the enterprises 'coming in' and 'going out' of the country," Liu said.
The Shihu Port in Quanzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province (SONG WEIWEI)
Tradition of international exchanges
Under the influence of a seafaring culture, the people of Quanzhou have a long tradition of overseas exploration. "Where there is sea, there are Quanzhou people," Chen Xiaoyu, Chairwoman of the Returned Overseas Chinese Federation of Quanzhou (ROCFQ), told Beijing Review. She added that about nine out of 10 families in Quanzhou have kin living overseas.
Official statistics showed that more than 9.5 million Quanzhou natives currently reside overseas, 95 percent of whom live in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.
"In order to strengthen ties, foster friendship and help each other, overseas Quanzhou natives have established various forms of associations. In more than 8,000 associations, overseas Quanzhou natives make up the majority. These associations, which connect their hometowns with the countries they currently reside in, have played irreplaceable and unique roles in promoting the Belt and Road Initiative," said Chen.
They have helped many Quanzhou enterprises set up shop in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative and hosted overseas promotional events to urge foreign enterprises to invest in Quanzhou. Two-way exchanges and investments have effectively strengthened the bonds between Quanzhou and Belt and Road participating countries and promoted coordinated development.
As an organization handling affairs concerning overseas Chinese, the ROCFQ has played an important role in serving these Chinese citizens and promoting development through building platforms. Chen mentioned the Belt and Road legal services group, which provides legal advisory services to Quanzhou enterprises operating or seeking to operate abroad, as well as overseas Chinese who have invested in businesses or purchased properties in their hometown or would like to do so.
The group has hired 25 lawyers and other legal workers from Quanzhou who have been practicing law in nine other countries and regions that are part of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road for a long time.
"When our enterprises encounter difficulties overseas, the legal services group helps them," Chen said.
With overseas Chinese native to Quanzhou serving as a natural bridge linking Quanzhou and other countries participating in the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, along with an improved transportation infrastructure bolstering Quanzhou's further opening up, the city's vision of building a pioneer area of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road is gradually changing from blueprint to reality.
(Reporting from Quanzhou, Fujian Province, with contribution by Wang Hairong)
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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