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At China-Kazakh Border: New Silk Roads in Action
Central Asia, betweem China and Europe, is bustling
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The train called Yuxinou, hauling cargo between Germany and Chongqin, seen from the Almaty-Khorgos superhighway. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

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We are cruising on a pristine, 380 km-long four-lane superhighway from Almaty to Khorgos – finished in 2016 for $1.25 billion, 85% of the cost covered by a World Bank loan. And then, suddenly, riding parallel to us, there’s the real superstar of New Silk Road connectivity.

Meet Yuxinou, the container cargo train plying back and forth along the 11,000 km-long railway corridor connecting Chongqin in Sichuan province via Xinjiang and Kazakhstan to Russia, Belarus, Poland and finally Duisburg in the Ruhr valley. And all that in a mere 13 days.

Along the way, the Yuxinou stops in, among other places, Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent, Tehran, Istanbul, Moscow and Rotterdam: a who’s who of Eurasian cities. It carries laptops, BMWs, spare parts, clothes, machinery, international post packages, chemical products, medicine and medical instruments – all manner of goods, made in China and made in Europe. And all that for only 20% of air freight cost.

This operation platform is called Yuxinou (Chongqing) Logistics Co., Ltd., a joint venture among the railways of China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Germany and the Chongqin municipal government, which is quite proud of its “seamless integration of multinational railway logistics” – complete with a fast custom clearance procedure called “single declaration and inspection on entire journey.”

The key Yuxinou crossroads is the intersection between Alashankou, on the Chinese side of the Kasakh border, and Khorgos, a special economic zone in Kazakhstan. The whole project may be in its infancy. After all, the Belt and Road Initiative is still, according to Beijing’s detailed timetable, in the planning stage.

So Khorgos may still be far from metastasizing into the new Dubai, as the hype claimed a few years ago. But watching Khorgos in action is a fascinating experience, unparalleled in its usefulness for gauging Belt & Road’s potential. As much as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the northern part of which I traveled a year ago, this is one of the jewels in Belt & Road’s crown.

Hitting the malls

There are actually three places to take care of border-crossing business at Khorgos. I arrived, via the superhighway, at the exclusive crossing for container trucks. Then I visited the border crossing used by Kazakhs and Central Asians from everywhere, leading to a collection of duty-free mega shopping malls officially called the International Center for Boundary Cooperation (ICBC). Then there’s the train station in Altynkol, where Yoxinou stops as do the Urumqi-Almaty cargo/passenger trains. The actual SEZ – many buildings still under construction – is in the periphery of Khorgos.

The timetable at Altynkol station, featuring the Almaty-Urumqi trains. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times
The timetable at Altynkol station, featuring the Almaty-Urumqi trains. Photo: Pepe Escobar / Asia Times

The ICBC – 5.3 square kilometers housing five multi-story shopping malls with over 2,000 shops – is a sort of neutral no man’s land. If you’re Kazakh or Chinese, no visa is needed. But people from all over Central Asia also come – by bus, eager to take advantage of unlimited Made in China bargains.

The bus stop at Khorgos, before crossing to the Chinese mega mall. Photo: Pepe Escobar
The bus stop at Khorgos, before crossing to the Chinese mega mall. Photo: Pepe Escobar
The brand new Kazakh customs station. Photo: Pepe Escobar
The brand new Kazakh customs station. Photo: Pepe Escobar

The procedure is quite straightforward. Customers arrive usually in the early morning at a huge bus parking lot. They walk a short distance toward the very modern Kazakh customs building (on the day I visited, because of the bitter cold, it was virtually empty). Then they take a shuttle bus to the Chinese border, cross it with little or no bureaucracy (although the Central Asians, other than Kazakhs, do need visas), and hit the malls.

Porter carrying the loot from shoppers at the Chinese megamall. Photo: Pepe Escobar
Porter carrying the loot from shoppers at the Chinese megamall. Photo: Pepe Escobar

They come back at the end of the day fully loaded – excellent business for an army of packagers and porters. Then they board their buses returning to all points Kazakhstan and other “stans”. On busy days, especially in summer, there may be as many as 8,000 shoppers hitting the ICBC.

China’s top connectivity access to Central Asia and West Asia markets, and farther on down the road to Europe, is via Kazakhstan, which counts China as its second-largest trading partner. At the same time, it’s essential to consider that Khorgos is smack on the Xinjiang border, which implies maximum Chinese security alert.

The Yuxinou at Altynkol station, in Khorgos. Photo: Pepe Escobar
The Yuxinou at Altynkol station, in Khorgos. Photo: Pepe Escobar

Yet there’s nothing Orwellian about Khorgos. The CCP apparatus in far away Urumqi seems to understand pragmatically that the whole deal is all about a mega-mall, and not conducive to Uighur separatist shenanigans. And on top of it the really heavy business transits via Yuxinou. In the near future, it’s bound to evolve towards high-speed rail.

In terms of road traffic, container trucks conduct a hefty business at Khorgos – certainly more substantial than in other border crossings I visited, in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

There are two China-Kyrgyzstan border crossings. The more established one, at Torugart, leads straight to the capital Bishkek and then Tashkent in Uzbekistan. The road was repaved with loans from the Export-Import Bank of China and the Asian Development Bank.

The ADB also provided the financing for an alternative route from Bishkek to Osh, along with an $850 million loan from the EXIM Bank. This road is quite something, cutting through Kyrgyz mountains and passes and eliminating at least 220 km of travel in comparison with the ancient road. China Road and Bridge Cooperation was in charge of the construction, including a 3.3 km-long tunnel.

But it’s still a tricky road; on the last mountain pass before the final dash towards Bishkek, my driver Alex and I spent hours negotiating a cornucopia of lorries gone sideways in the snow and a myriad of clueless drivers stuck without tire chains.

China & the ‘stans

The other China-Kyrgyz border crossing is at the Irkeshtam pass, It used to be the main southern branch of the ancient Silk Road, coming straight from Kashgar. The road was resurfaced in 2013, adding to a connectivity integration net linking Kyrgyzstan, Xinjiang and the Karakoram Highway in Pakistan. I crossed a steady convoy of Chinese container trucks coming from Irkeshtam.

There’s only one China-Tajikistan border crossing, at the top of the Kulma pass, 4,363 meters high. The actual Chinese border is 14 km away from the Tajik border, very close to the Karakoram Highway: another instance of close connectivity. This road was opened in 2004 and also follows the ancient Silk Road.

ORDER IT NOW

The whole road between the Kulma pass and the Tajik capital Dushanbe, which includes the legendary Pamir Highway (the subject of an upcoming two-part special), is still a (slow) work in progress. It’s funded by a $254 million loan from China’s EXIM Bank with work by China Road and Bridge Cooperation.

Just outside Dushanbe, as I was leaving for the Pamir Highway, I saw a multi-level road intersection built with a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and another from the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

What I saw was in fact history in the making; this was the AIIB’s first-ever development loan. There will be many others, as the connectivity between China and its neighboring ‘stans hits overdrive.

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Central Asia, China, Kazakhstan, New Silk Road 
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  1. Whoever builds the first normal-width railroad track from China to Germany has won …
    Gentlemen, start your engines 😀

  2. Lin says:

    Li Bai, the 8th century Chinese Tang dynasty (alcoholic) poet laureate was born in Suyab, a city in present-day Kyrgyzstan. I read there’s a street named after him in Bishkek the capital

  3. Anonymous[118] • Disclaimer says:

    China is the future and it is very bleak, one of raceless, borderless globalism and a technological dystopia.

    What’s happening to the Uyghurs at the moment is being reported because it is intended as a warning to anyone else who thinks they can resist the coming global society. The UN visited some of the concentration camps that Uyghurs are being held in and gave their approval, which tells you all you need to know. This is sanctioned by the globalists/global elite and is the future of the world as a whole.

    • Troll: Biff, Blinky Bill
    • Replies: @El Dato
  4. Rebel0007 says:

    I highly doubt that the individuals who have been claiming this integration to be a win-win situation for everyone have taken many extremely serious, yet obvious consequences of this integration into consideration, or they are simply refusing to let people know about these consequences for the sake of their immediate self-serving gains.

    One thing that is the most obvious consequence of this integration will be sky-rocketing real estate prices, pricing local residents out of their own real estate markets, unless specifically prohibited by law.

    The legal system is always lagging decades behind the realities of these globalist policies.

    • Replies: @Biff
    , @El Dato
  5. Rebel0007 says:

    You are hillarious PePe! It’s no woner that they even named a frog meme after you. You are basically a less wealthy version of George Soros with a cosmetic make-over.

    • Agree: PetrOldSack
    • Replies: @PetrOldSack
  6. Biff says:
    @Rebel0007

    One thing that is the most obvious consequence of this integration will be sky-rocketing real estate prices, pricing local residents out of their own real estate markets, unless specifically prohibited by law.

    The rest of the world isn’t as dumb as you think and have prepared themselves. As for real estate prices – the global market has already sky-rocketed despite anything else happening.

    • Replies: @PetrOldSack
  7. Welcome to the 19th century, China.

  8. El Dato says:
    @Anonymous

    > globalists/global elite
    > working together with China (can Jews even interwork with Chinese minds?)
    > warning the plebs via Uyghur internment camps

    This is the first time that I hear that conspiracy theory.

    which tells you all you need to know

    Maybe that the US is full of shit and all the anger about what’s going in a foreign steppe is 100% astroturfed?

    The views on what’s going on with Uyghur Camp Concentration differ markedly on whom you ask, and I wouldn’t ask anyone involved with US politics, these people just emit lies all the time (when was the last time a “Muslim minority” was palatable to US bill sponsors?)

    • Replies: @PetrOldSack
    , @Smith
  9. El Dato says:
    @Rebel0007

    One thing that is the most obvious consequence of this integration will be sky-rocketing real estate prices, pricing local residents out of their own real estate markets, unless specifically prohibited by law.

    Huh?

    You mean, like when you print money and your salary can’t pay for your house anymore?

  10. @Rebel0007

    Soros has a stake in the game, PePe does it for his daily grits. Hilarious, cheap, what a proposition for mankind. More trade, more mining, bigger cities, veganism, Chinese as a first language, and …shopping malls!

    Who is willing to sponsor such nonsense, is there really anybody here at unz.com that can read through the article and not get winded and and end up with an indigestion?

    • Replies: @Showmethereal
  11. @Biff

    The rest of the world isn’t as dumb as you think and have prepared themselves. As for real estate prices

    Geographically there is no “rest of the world”, there is a lump of the world that will get it’s next load of depression: the global commoner. Buffet et al. might be in on the game. As in talking head to head, what was not possible in China for the big corporations headed by non-Chinese? The elites take it a step further. So in conclusion, “most of the rest of the world” is again taken for a ride, and yes they are as dim as one might possibly conceive.

  12. @Hippopotamusdrome

    Do you really think that we have a reason to be smug and condescending towards the Chinese nowadays?

    Do their city streets reek of urine?

    Do they have 15-20% percent of their population that is effectively unemployable and has little interest in working anyway?

    Are their roads and bridges collapsing and decaying?

    Does it take them decades to get an infrastructure project done, if done at all?

    Are their city alleyways full of trash, piles of feces, and drug needles?
    (yeah can you tell we live in LA..? but it’s not just here, not at all.)

    Are their people so obese that they waddle?

    Have they surrendered their land, their common language, their traditional culture, and their political and social power to hostile or unassimilable peoples?

  13. @Hippopotamusdrome

    Since you pick that example to mock China, let’s compare the number of miles of usable railroad track in the USA versus China:

    https://www.railserve.com/stats_records/railroad_route_miles.html
    (USA, but 2014 figures)

    US freight railroad figures from 2015:
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/187342/miles-of-freight-railroad-operated-by-us-class-i-railroads/

    As for high-speed rail, China’s network is the largest in the world, and ours is pathetic:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_China

    I’m not happy about it, but it’s foolish to deny where the two countries stand or their current economic, social, and military trajectories.

    • Replies: @SaneClownPosse
  14. A123 says:

    We are cruising on a pristine, 380 km-long four-lane superhighway from Almaty to Khorgos – finished in 2016 for $1.25 billion, 85% of the cost covered by a World Bank loan.

    While a World Bank highway is good, the fact that it relied on public funding makes it difficult to repeat.

    Let us look at the “Iron Road” between China and Russia. Primarily rail, this now includes a functioning pipeline that was built without the help of the World Bank: (1)

    The presidents of Russia and China will today officially inaugurate the Power of Siberia natural has pipeline … Costs were calculated at $12 billion for the construction works and another $6.7 billion for the development of the fields that the gas will come from.

    “Iron Road” spending is beating “Silk Road” spending by ~15:1 in total, and by over 100:1 when subsidies such as World Bank support are removed.

    PEACE 😇
    _______

    (1) https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Russias-400-Billion-Pipeline-Project-Launches-Today.html

    • Replies: @Showmethereal
  15. @El Dato

    …working together with China (can Jews even interwork with Chinese minds?

    To a certain degree yes, the global corporations had no issues getting a hold on profits peddling Chinese made products, interacting with Chinese elites. So yes there could be a prolonged win – win – …loose (US, the West, the global proletariat and middle classes), over which outcome, the Western elite Jew will have no qualms.

  16. Smith says:
    @El Dato

    The UN is 100% pro-China.

    The UN even went as far as saying the Uighurs camps are okay and it’s the HK kids who are the violent ones.

    Never mind the troops China contribute to the UN.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  17. Yee says:

    It’s really quite simple, economic activities concentrate at the coastal areas all over the world because of transportation of goods by ship. Inland everywhere are less prosperous in comparison, they lack opportunities and people especially the young move to the coastal cities. People move to where money is, there’s no realistic way to stop it.

    This should show clearly that transportation to make trading possible is the foundation of prosperity. If you want to reduce regional disparity, lessen migrant pressure to big cities, you have to level the playground for the inlands.

    The US opposite to it because it can control all sea routes with a strong navy, land transportation would be out of its control.

  18. @RadicalCenter

    How many empires/dynasties have risen out of China?

    North America has only the one, short and sour, Petrodollar Empire.

    Face it, America has been a lie since the “puritans” sailed from England as a corporate (chartered in the City of London) profit seeking venture. Shares cost the amount of the average annual salary of the time. The same families are still profiting. They are the families that have produced every US President ever. The tragedy of the commons is a lie. Everyone involved was a shareholder. Blackwashing the concept of holding property in common for the Public good.

    In America, Corporations have more rights than Individuals, and without any persons being held responsible. Corporations can willfully commit illegal activities and pay 0.0001% of their illegal profits to have it all go away.

    • Replies: @Showmethereal
  19. Anonymous[378] • Disclaimer says:
    @Smith

    The global elites seem to be using China as a testing ground for the sort of repressive and genocidal policies that they wouldn’t be able to get away with in Western countries at the moment.

    They also seem to be using China as a means of normalising these types of policies to Westerners so that eventually Westerners will see such methods as a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with “dissidents”. Westerners also tend to have a lot of respect for East Asian ideas, which makes this process even easier.

  20. @A123

    Not really an apples to apples comparison. The economic heft of the territories involved has a lot to do with the funding. Not to mention roads are usually gov financed one way or another – while fossil fuels are one of the most profitable industries.

  21. @SaneClownPosse

    Well the real history is the mercenaries and the pirates sailed over to the Americas to profit long before the Puritans…. The Native as the supporting actor in the Thanksgiving story spoke English. He didnt get taught it by the people who Thanksgiving is about.

  22. @PetrOldSack

    You guys do realize the Silk Roads were not mythology right…?? You do know they existed and people travelled between Europe and Cemtral Asia amd China many centuries ago right…?

    • Replies: @PetrOldSack
  23. @Showmethereal

    Indeed it is an historical model of trade. No contest. Neither the Chinese state or elites getting the upper hand in global dominance in the short run. Best scenario possible.

    But…

    Upping world trade, logistics, resource exhaustion, consumerism and their derivatives, being in the long run considered humane, progressive, new, or round out visionary, we digress. The author must have some paid incentive to be that blind.

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