KUNMING — Politicians and businesspeople are brainstorming how the Belt and Road Initiative can bring profits and propel regional integration in South Asia at the China-South Asian Expo.
The expo opened on June 16 with a record turnover of $25.19 billion, up 19.8 percent year on year. The five-day event in Kunming, capital of the Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, has attracted more than 20,000 businesspeople and 3,179 enterprises from 70 countries or regions.
Muhammad Iqbal Tabish, secretary general of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said at the event that Asian countries realize what the China-proposed Belt and Road regional trade network could mean to them.
“During the past century, we have come close to forgetting we were all beneficiaries of the ancient Silk Road. China’s new Silk Road initiative has brought that awareness back,” he said.
Investment contracts worth 785 billion yuan ($126 billion), up 10.8 percent, have been signed at the expo. The investment covers infrastructure, electronics and information, pharmacy, tourism and energy.
The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims at reviving the ancient trade route between Asia and Europe. The network threads through over 60 countries and regions, with a total population of 4.4 billion.
V.K. Singh, India’s minister of state for external affairs, said 25 percent of the population of Silk Road countries live in South Asia, where regional market integration has great prospects but also faces challenges ranging from food shortages, health problems and an energy crunch.
Singh said that a prosperous South Asia needs infrastructure investment from China and other Asian countries to improve regional railways and road networks so supply chains can be forged.
The World Bank has forecast that from 2015 to 2020, South Asia will see $2.5 trillion of investment flowing to infrastructure construction to support development in power generation, transportation and drinking water supply.
Real business chances
Li Dongsheng, chairman of TCL Corporation, China’s leading consumer electronics enterprise, said that the company is looking for an Indian partner to set up an industrial base in India.
“We are also working on the plan to found a production and research base in southwest China’s Yunnan, based on its proximity to South Asian countries,” according to Li.
Lu Li, vice president of technology giant Huawei, said Yunnan is at the center of the company’s Asian market strategy.
“We plan to set up a data service base in Yunnan to support e-commerce and industrial development in China and neighboring countries,” he said.
Lu said Huawei’s 15-year-old branch in India has employed 5,500 local people. Huawei has also set up a based in Calcutta.
As Chinese firms branch out to other countries, their Asian counterparts are marching in.
Tata Group, India’s leading industrial firm, has set up 15 firms in China with a total of 6,200 employees. Its revenues from China topped $13.7 billion last year.
Li Furan, deputy manager of Tata’s China subsidiary, said economic growth is robust in both China and India, providing mutual business opportunities.
Roopen Roy, president of the India Chamber of Commerce, called for the modern Silk Road to promote transformation from a labor-intensive economy in Asia to one based on knowledge and technology. It was not only spice and chinaware traded along the ancient Silk Road, but also knowledge, he said.
“In the digital field, the Silk Road countries can cooperate to build a ‘digital Silk Road’,” he suggested.
BEYOND TRADE, INVESTMENT
Activities held during the expo go beyond trade and investment. India inaugurated its first Yoga Institute in China. The facility was set up in Yunnan Ethnic University in Kunming to promote yoga culture and practices.
A number of academic institutions from China, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar formed an alliance at the expo to jointly develop satellite-aided navigation services and smart-city technology.
China and Sri Lanka also signed an agreement to set up a national-level biological lab together.