'Steel camel caravans' link 108 Chinese cities with 25 countries, enable efficient transport of goods
XI'AN — When Juan Carlos in Malaga, Spain, ordered a China-made ceiling light using the cross-border e-commerce platform AliExpress, he never imagined he would receive the product the next day.
"I have to admit, that was faster than I expected," Carlos said, expressing surprise.
The ceiling light came from a warehouse belonging to Qxbox Technology Warehousing Ltd in Madrid, which explains the rapid delivery. However, like 100,000 other products at the warehouse, it had already traveled over 8,000 kilometers from China. Carlos' speedy shopping experience and millions of other Europeans like him would be impossible without highly efficient logistics.
Departing from their point of origin in South China's Guangdong province, these items were first transported overland to a distribution hub in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province. They then headed to Spain via Chang'an China-Europe freight trains.
"Before 2017, it took more than 40 days to transport goods by ship, but freight train services help cut the time in half and at a lower cost," said Mou Jinwen, chairman of Qxbox.
About 2,000 years ago, in the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), a Chinese envoy named Zhang Qian began his expedition to the western regions and opened up a trade route that later became the Silk Road.
In 2013, China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. Since then, the China-Europe freight train service was launched, becoming modern-day "steel camel caravans "linking 108 Chinese cities with 208 European cities in 25 countries.
Qxbox has worked with local delivery companies and built four warehouses around the world. The one in Madrid covers an area of 12,000 square meters, handling an average of 6,000 orders per day. Buyers can receive their packages within two days.
Moreover, by cooperating with e-commerce platforms like Amazon and AliExpress, it provides overseas customer service, after-sales repair, returns and exchanges to domestic companies.
Diego Cimadevilla, managing director of Qxbox's subsidiary in Spain, noted that the competitive edge of freight train services lies in sustainability, stability and security. Meanwhile, Spanish products also have access to the Chinese market, which is both quick and cost-effective.
According to a report released by China's General Administration of Customs, the value of China's cross-border e-commerce imports and exports reached 2.1 trillion yuan ($287.5 billion) in 2022, marking an increase of 7.1 percent compared with 2021.
The Xi'an International Trade and Logistics Park, where Chang'an China-Europe freight trains depart, has attracted many foreign trade enterprises and logistics suppliers.
Sitting before a camera, Tagenova Selle, a 23-year-old livestreamer from Georgia, presents glistening earrings and necklaces to her viewers in fluent English.
"After choosing your favorite designs, you just need to click the mouse to complete the payment. The package will be shipped directly to your home, and you can also enjoy a 14-day return policy," said Selle.
Selle's company, Weiju Fanxing Global Cross-border Live Broadcast Base, was set up in the Xi'an International Trade and Logistics Park early this year. Currently, it has nearly 80 livestreamers from home and abroad who perform 50 livestreaming sessions every week, selling products to overseas customers.
"The base's parent company has branches in Shanghai, London and Los Angeles. As we began to focus more on overseas markets, we decided to set up a cross-border livestreaming center in Xi'an as the city's Chang'an China-Europe freight train service helps us have easy access to a complete supply chain and low-cost international delivery services," said Wang Fang, who is in charge of the base.
In 2022, the Chang'an China-Europe freight train made 4,639 trips, 198 of which were dedicated to cross-border e-commerce business, an annual increase of over 60 percent. It covers locations producing goods in Asia and Europe, like Mannheim, Germany; Prague, the Czech Republic; and Milan, Italy, with 17 international routes.
Ten years on, the BRI has evolved into a mutually beneficial program, with improving cross-border collaboration. Anita Jumekenova, a Kazakh entrepreneur, and her husband Yuan Zhaohui from China have felt the benefits deeply.
Starting from a brick-and-mortar store in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, they founded a cross-border e-commerce platform called the Silkroad City Shop and built six warehouses in Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus, and cooperated with more than 300 Chinese suppliers and 2,000 Kazakh delivery stations.
They also teamed up with over 2,000 local online influencers in Kazakhstan to promote products. "Just pick up your mobile phone to shoot and share videos about the products and you can get a commission. It provides local young people with opportunities for employment and business startups," said Jumekenova.
"We are fortunate to benefit from the BRI and Chang'an China-Europe freight train services, and we hope to bring benefits to more people along the route," she added.