A China-Europe (Qilu) freight train carrying 1,040 metric tons of barley departs the first overseas assembly center in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Sept 3. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
Shandong province in East China has been actively working to serve and integrate itself into the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, continuously expanding cooperation with five Central Asian countries, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
As a bridgehead of Eurasia, Shandong has been leveraging its advantageous location and transportation infrastructure to promote the Belt and Road cooperation. It has made significant progress in constructing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization demonstration zone and expanding cooperation with Central Asian countries, making its path of opening up wider.
In recent years, Shandong has continuously strengthened the construction of trade routes with Central Asian countries, further expanding and increasing the frequency of China-Europe freight train routes to them.
Trade exchanges between Shandong and the five Central Asian countries, particularly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, have become increasingly close. Data shows that in the first four months of this year, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan ranked as Shandong's top two trading partners among the five Central Asian countries, accounting for 58.6 percent and 29 percent of Shandong's total imports and exports to Central Asia, respectively.
Yantai, Qingdao, and Linyi were the top three cities with the most imports and exports with Central Asian countries, accounting for approximately 60 percent of Shandong's total imports and exports to Central Asia. Regarding transportation modes, railway transportation accounted for over 50 percent of the province's foreign trade with Central Asian countries, with a total value of 4.36 billion yuan ($599 million).
In terms of types of goods, Shandong's exports to Central Asian countries of mechanical and electrical products reached 3.56 billion yuan, an increase of 44.1 percent, accounting for over half of the total export value. The main imports from Central Asia include crude oil and agricultural products, which accounted for over 70 percent of the total import value.
The Qingdao SCODA Pearl International Expo Center. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
By increasing investment and technological output, enterprises of Shandong province are expanding their presence in the Central Asian market.
In 2017, Shandong Lisente Agricultural Technology Co, based in Shouguang, began constructing a complex of greenhouses in Uzbekistan. To date, they have built more than one million square meters of greenhouses, producing approximately 100 tons of vegetables per hectare annually.
Wang Shoubing, the chairman of Lisente, said their vegetables produced in Uzbekistan are mainly supplied to the Russian and European markets. Lisente is also looking to enhance its investment portfolio this year and provide comprehensive services for tomato cultivation, including offering tomato seeds, seedlings, assistance with planting management, and sales services to local Uzbek farmers, Wang said.
Shandong's actual investment in the five Central Asian countries reached more than $3.57 million in 2022, reaching 2.089 million in the first quarter of this year.
In addition, Shandong also broadened cooperation with Central Asia in trade, investment, and other areas, leveraging high-level open platforms such as the SCO Demonstration Zone. Since its establishment in 2018, the SCO Demonstration Zone has focused on building platforms, creating models, clustering industries, and strengthening the mainstay enterprises.
Statistics show that, since 2018, the SCO Demonstration Zone has delivered over 1,600 China-Europe trains to the five Central Asian countries, with over 130,000 TEUs of import and export containers and a total cargo weight exceeding 1.1 million tons.